Economic practices are the most transparent ITMPs. They match consumer usage with willingness to pay, thus putting users in control and allowing market forces to work.
In my previous post, I suggested the consumer ISP complaints revealed recently are bad enough, but only the tip of a much larger iceberg. The more unsettling issue is that the complaints in question were effectively secret and had to be dragged out of the CRTC through an Access to Information request by Michael Geist.
Yet there might be a silver lining in the complaints fiasco. It may prove to be a useful step in moving the debates on Canadian broadband away from the much-coddled incumbents and, at long last, over to Canada’s much-ignored consumers. Peter Nowak wrote a recent post on the fiasco, referring to it as “the net neutrality bombshell” – and suggested von Finckenstein’s inability to create a viable network neutrality framework will be seen as his “biggest failure at the CRTC.” Continue reading
How do you know?
This is an important question in many walks of life. In the natural sciences, it’s the most important question.
I’ve been doing some work with my son recently and had a chance to see that for myself. As a medical geneticist, Jordan devotes a lot of time to carrying out research and sharing his findings with other scientists in peer-reviewed journals. In his field, the standards of proof are extremely high, both because molecular medicine is so complex and because peoples’ lives are at stake.
I’d be exaggerating if I said lives were at stake in my classroom. Yet what I teach liberal arts students in a seminar about the Internet is based on a sense of respect for the same principle: you can’t write a research essay based on hearsay.
Students make bold assertions without giving a thought to why we should believe them. Of course, it’s a lot less work for the student writer to forget the “proof” and move on. But it’s well worth the effort on everyone’s part to encourage an understanding of when empirical evidence is important and when it isn’t.
Which brings us to the CRTC. Continue reading
(Updated May 25)
Broadband’s 3 A’s: access > adoption > activity
There are three distinct stages of broadband development for policy purposes.
The first is access or availability - the physical presence of a DSL, DOCSIS or other connection a consumer might lease if she so chooses. As the data show, however, the presence of a backyard drop is a necessary but far from sufficient condition of broadband purchase. Our would-be customer must also be aware the potential connection exists; own a computer; feel comfortable with technology; and feel she can afford the cost. (New evidence for this well-established finding appears in the FCC broadband report released May 20: “… the FCC report also finds that approximately one-third of Americans do not subscribe to broadband, even when it’s available. This suggests that barriers to adoption such as cost, low digital literacy, and concerns about privacy remain too high.” From the press release; emphasis original. See end of this post for more on the FCC.)
The fact alleged by the CRTC that 95% of Canadians enjoy theoretical access to wireline broadband means nothing to the average consumer, let alone a Canadian too poor or technically illiterate to adopt. Last year some provincial politicians went even further, claiming their citizens enjoy 100% broadband access. As the Wire Report noted in an article dated August 25, 2010, “Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick may boast 100% penetration, but according to Statistics Canada, [only] 77, 76 and 73% of residents, respectively, use the Internet [in those provinces].” And some of those users are still on dialup, which makes the real broadband takeup in those provinces even lower.
Canada’s mighty broadband policy: build it and they will come
A colleague of mine emailed me recently. He was responding to my April post on Rescuing Consumers from the Scourge of Netflix. He was amused. Then came this sobering thought: “Maybe things will change. Maybe. Keep pushing that rock up the hill.”
Thanks a bunch. Lately the soliloquies posted here have been sounding like a broken record and, yes, playing Sisyphus is a lot less fun than it looks. Why the annoying repetition? The problem has something to do with certain misguided policy assumptions that simply will not die – like those behind the CRTC’s May 3 decision, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-291. As the press release says: “CRTC sets speed target for broadband Internet and maintains obligation to provide basic home telephone service.”
Here it is, one more time: having access to broadband and being a broadband adopter are from different planets (as I explained in 2 previous posts, here and here)
Reactions to the broadband target dwelt mainly on a) why aren’t we doing more for our poor compatriots in rural Canada; b) what particular speeds to target; and c) who’s gonna pay for any buildout. I was disappointed PIAC’s Lawford stayed mostly with the rural ethos, leaving too much room for the interpretation that broadband is all hunky-dory in urban centres:
“If there is no rural broadband now, there will not be any more thanks to this decision,” PIAC counsel John Lawford said in a press release (Wire Report, May 6). Continue reading
While not due for release until next week, some astonishing details have leaked from Industry Canada about the new National Broadband Strategy. We’ve been able to obtain some big chunks of the document, which would mark a major about-face for Canada on a whole range of issues. Here’s a summary of some of the major provisions. We’ll be following this remarkable story very closely in the days and weeks to come.
Government can influence the broadband ecosystem in four ways:
- Design policies to ensure robust competition and, as a result maximize consumer welfare, innovation and investment.
- Ensure efficient allocation and management of assets government controls or influences, such as spectrum, poles, and rights-of-way, to encourage network upgrades and competitive entry.
- Reform current universal service mechanisms to support deployment of broadband and voice in high-cost areas; and ensure that low-income Canadians can afford broadband; and in addition, support efforts to boost adoption and utilization.
- Reform laws, policies, standards and incentives to maximize the benefits of broadband in sectors government influences significantly, such as public education, health care and government operations. Continue reading
At the end of the last post, I promised to pass along some info about two new research studies that dig further into a) digital have-nots; and b) the billions of dollars the US economy may be flushing away by ignoring broadband illiteracy.
“Everybody don’t have coffee shops.”
A community worker and broadband researcher working with a young man in Philadelphia. A new report describes forcefully how much the urban poor are losing out by being digitally excluded. The authors describe the outcome as a “de facto non-adoption tax” on low-income Americans (photo: Amalia Deloney).
These two studies are fascinating. In their very different ways, they provide detailed insights into the social costs of excluding large numbers of people from the broadband population. Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities, prepared by the Social Science Research Council and released this March, is qualitative, based on 170 in-depth interviews. The Economic Impact of Digital Exclusion takes a mostly quantitative and equally serious approach (the bib alone is 8 pages). It’s the work of a Philadelphia-based non-profit advocacy organization, Digital Inclusion Group (DIG), in collaboration with economic consultancy Econsult Corp.
Social injustice in the digital age
These studies don’t just offer new data. They re-frame some big ideas about broadband in two very important ways. Continue reading
Proficiency in the use of digital technologies
The FCC’s Broadband Plan is coming to Congress on March 16 and it’s already making a difference. It has us talking about broadband in an unaccustomed way. Not just can we get faster, cheaper broadband. Not just can we get it to everybody. No, the FCC team recognized early in the game that even the most generous supply-side solutions would never solve the problem of the missing one-third – the proportion of Americans without broadband, which is roughly the proportion of Canadians without broadband.
Wanna buy a nice black box that will change your life?
New research is getting to the bottom of some interesting demand-side issues – particularly about broadband holdouts. Survey researchers have developed good tests for gauging the technical skills of respondents while they’re being interviewed over the phone. But there has long been a puzzle as to how to treat responses like “I’m just not interested in broadband” – a puzzle shared by both researchers and policymakers. Continue reading