Court vacates FCC’s Open Internet Order, echoing Klass vs Bell

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[Correction added on AT&T sponsored data]

It’s shaping up to be a tough year for network neutrailty.

verizon-faceIn its disposition of Verizon v FCC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that the FCC’s Open Internet Order is mostly null and void. Not because of the substance of the debate – that end-users need to be protected from the incumbent ISPs – but because of a jurisdictional flaw. The case was brought by Verizon, which now that they’ve more or less won, is saying they actually support an open Internet. When you read the policy blog post in question (“Verizon reiterates its commitment to the open Internet“), you have to marvel at Verizon’s capacity for managing self-contradiction. Continue reading

Ben Klass asks CRTC to stop Bell’s deliquency on Mobile TV

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Detail from roof of Brighton train station (rotated) – Aug 2013

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Bell welcomes any competitor, but they should compete on a level playing field.” — George Cope, BCE/Bell Canada, August 2013

“I provide evidence [below] in support of the assertion that Bell gives itself undue preference. It does so by applying an application-specific economic Internet traffic management practice (ITMP) to its Mobile TV service, causing unreasonable disadvantage to competitors and harming consumer choice.” — Ben Klass, CRTC Part 1 Application, November 20, 2013 

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November 25: I’ve added a number of edits and corrections to the running text below. My thanks to Ben Klass, J-F Mezei and Juris Silkans for their helpful suggestions.

Nov.25 – update #2. A formal request has come in already asking the Commission to transform Ben’s application into a full-blown public proceeding that would include a review of ITMPs put in place by both Rogers and Vidéotron, which apparently have the same idea as Bell about what’s meant by a “level” playing field. The request is from PIAC, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. I’ve uploaded a zipped folder with both PIAC’s letter and Ben’s reply here.

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This post is divided into two main parts (which may not be obvious to the untrained eye). Down to but not including Key elements of Ben’s complaint, you’ll find 3 sections: a) discussion of Ben’s application in general terms; b) an analogy based on the metered taxi cab as a familiar way to illustrate why Bell can’t treat different kinds of traffic differently to give itself a commercial advantage over competitors; and c) a bemoaning of the sad truth that very few people can bring themselves to care about this wonkish stuff, mostly because it’s so freaking hard to understand.

The second half – Key elements of Ben’s complaint – looks at his filing from the perspective of four underlying regulatory concepts. I have a dual purpose here: to clarify some of the muddier aspects of this process; and to talk a little about some of the past history and how we got to this juncture. The four concepts are:

  • a Part 1 Application
  • a new media broadcasting undertaking (NMBU)
  • data (or bit) caps
  • Internet traffic management practices (ITMPs)

These are all mentioned on the first page of Ben’s document. If you don’t know what he means by an “application-specific economic Internet traffic management practice,” you may find a glossary helpful.

Ben Klass is back and this time he means it

ben-klass-nov21-3Last August, Ben grabbed some well-deserved attention with the open letter he addressed to Bell CEO George Cope. In his “I am Canadian” piece, Ben debunked point after absurd point in Cope’s post, which ran on the Bell site under the title “An open letter to all Canadians.” Cope was delivering another salvo in the incumbents’ wacky wireless war against the Harper government and its outrageous idea they should let Verizon enter our market to compete with the Big Three.

For all its merits, Ben’s open letter was an irritant Cope could afford to ignore with impunity (I don’t imagine folks in Bell’s C-suite have been working on their sense of irony since August; and funny how whenever an incumbent CEO insists on a level playing field, you can be darn sure he means exactly the opposite). But that was then, this is now, and Ben has turned up the heat on Bell, way up. Continue reading

Netflix, YouTube traffic soar, while “pirate” transfers fade

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Sandvine has just released its latest half-yearly Global Internet Phenomena Report. The reports are based on data collected by Sandvine from among its 250-plus customers spanning, well, the globe. Several items jump out this time, but two are especially interesting.

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First, video continues to crush the numbers. Not that this is any surprise, since the dominance of video has been in the forecasts for years. What is surprising is the odd bedfellows that now account for 50+% of downstream traffic on wireline broadband in North America: Netflix and YouTube.

Netflix just won’t let up – in traffic share, share of mind or share price. Despite the ham-fisted attempts by ISPs like Rogers and Bell to make OVDs expensive for its customers by screwing them with data caps, Netflix’s traffic share is still holding at about the same level as six months ago – currently 31.6%. I’ve written a lot about Netflix over the last two or three years, much of that in defence of our right to choose what we watch in Canada. Continue reading

Broadband data for Toronto: more bad news and getting worse

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Polpo, Soho, London W1 – Aug 2013

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naf-1Yesterday, the Open Technology Institute, an initiative of the New America Foundation, released the 2013 version of its study, The Cost of Connectivity. Once again, Canada looks really bad in the rankings. And not just bad for 2013, but even worse than in 2012. (I wrote about the 2012 results last November in this post. I’ve uploaded the 2012 report here and the 2013 report here, both in pdf.)

Here’s the setup for the just-published report from this gang of lefties:

“Last year, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute published The Cost of Connectivity, a first-of-its-kind study of the cost of consumer broadband services in 22 cities around the world. The results showed that, in comparison to their international peers, Americans in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC are paying higher prices for slower Internet service. While the plans and prices have been updated in the intervening year, the 2013 data shows little progress, reflecting remarkably similar trends to what we observed in 2012 (my emphasis). Continue reading

Pick-and-pay, Netflix and the CRTC’s TV policy review (1)

7111-mayfair-car-1dCar detailing – Shepherd Market, Mayfair, London W1 – Aug 2013

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tv-flag-4Memo to the CRTC: Even if pick-and-pay were to be implemented, it will never on its own advance consumer welfare by lowering costs or expanding choice, thanks to the market stranglehold enjoyed by Canada’s vertically integrated congomerates (VICs). When Chairman Blais kicks off the so-called “conversation” on TV policy this Thursday (Oct 24), he’ll face a daunting task: having to promise real change in the face of a) legislation that’s two decades out of date (which the Tories are not going to fix); and b) a heavily concentrated industry determined to preserve its bounteous status quo (which the Tories are also never going to fix). The best indicator of a meaningful review won’t be whether TV subscribers can simply pick and pay from among Canadian services at BDU prices not disciplined by either competition or regulation.

The real barometer of any new TV policy and its success or failure will be whether subscribers can choose services freely from outside the regulated broadcasting system – especially non-Canadian services delivered online, like Netflix, and do so without being subject to anti-consumer punishments like price-gouging through data caps. Netflix is a good marker to watch because it has conquered the OTT space and continues to grow in popularity; and because if the big broadcasting groups see any threat from a new policy framework, the first words out of their mouths will be, tax Netflix! If the CRTC continues to allow the VICs to brandish undue preference in our vertically-integrated media universe, then we’ll know the TV policy review has been a failure.

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ballon_fire-1Trial balloons and red herrings

So the Harper government wants to help consumers. As the Speech from the Throne indicated, that help would allegedly embrace TV subscribers, who might some day be allowed to select which television channels they want to pay for, rather than being forced to pay for bundles. As Greg O’Brien at Cartt.ca pointed out, the timing is a little weird: “Who’d a thunk the first submission to the CRTC’s television policy review would come straight from the federal government.” Continue reading

The CRTC’s annual report is out: the good, the bad, the weird (3)

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Bricks and mortar with window, Spitalfields, London E1, August 2013

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How can the CRTC do a better job?

As I argued in the previous two posts, the CMR doesn’t have a life of its own; it reflects the CRTC’s larger priorities. The big one here is research and evidence-based policymaking. A close second is the Commission’s still awkward fashion of trying to reach out to the little people – i.e. anybody besides the inner circle. Here are my suggestions for how it can do what it apparently wants to do, only better:

1 – Stop wasting money on online consultations. Redeploy it for real consumer research. Online consultations aren’t just a waste of money; they can also be highly misleading. One reason for their being unrepresentative is that online “surveys” of the public can’t reach Canadians who aren’t online to begin with. Unfortunately, the Commission isn’t going to find any new money for research, not as long as it sticks to the current Expenditure Profile. As shown in the graph below, the Commission’s spending is pretty much flat from 2009 to 2016, especially if these figures were converted to constant dollars…

crtc-budget-2009-16Source: CRTC Departmental Spending Trend

Continue reading

CRTC’s annual report is here: the good, the bad, the weird (1)

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The Brighton Wheel, August 2013

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It’s always been a challenge to figure out who the CRTC is talking to in its annual Communications Monitoring Report (CMR). This year’s edition, released last week, shows some progress has been made on the goal of putting the consumer first.

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[Sept 30: some minor edits and corrections made]

What does the CMR tell us about its authors?

Blais pic(1)For anyone who cares to tackle well over 200 pages of really dense charts, tables and footnotes, with equally dense explanatory prose, the CMR can serve two very different purposes (this year it’s 262 pp: CRTC’s launch page is here). One is the obvious: use the data to better understand the trends in Canada’s legacy and digital media. The other is less obvious and to my mind a lot more interesting: use the details, the tone, the assumptions in these pages to gauge how the regulator is thinking about its changing role in the marketplace. Continue reading

Obsessed with Netflix (3): tips for reinventing Canadian TV

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What do [Canadians] think of this country’s ‘television’ system? Do they feel that the
public interest is being served? I speak of ‘television’ for lack of a better word, because technology has outpaced language.” –JP Blais on pending CRTC review of TV policy

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Blais pic(1)In his speech at the Banff Festival on June 12, Chairman Blais indicated the CRTC plans to undertake a top-to-bottom review of how to manage “television” in the digital age. The Chairman brings a tremendous amount of credibility to this exercise, which he’s earned in his first year at the CRTC helm (a Globe editorial called his speech “very promising” and “visionary”). But even this well-placed friend of the consumer is going to have a difficult time rescuing Canadian broadcasting from its current state of arrested development.

Here are a few of the challenges. Continue reading