What you don’t know about your ISP service will hurt you (1/2)


Infographic released by TekSavvy in February, from omnibus survey by IDC Canada


How much do you pay each month for Internet access? What speed tier are you on? What’s the size of your data cap? Is it measured in bits or bytes? Can you complain to the CRTC about your ISP? Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?

We get the ISP we deserve

To the wonks with a vested professional interest in these questions, it’s hard to believe most people don’t know the answers – in fact, don’t know what the questions mean in the first place. Part of the puzzle comes down to a simple matter of caveat emptor: why would anyone pay year in and year out for a pig in a poke? Especially when that particular pig keeps growing in importance. We all pursue a wide range of critical activities online, like education, government services and job searching. We’re also spending more and more money on communications services (as the CRTC noted last fall, Canadian families spent an average of $185 each month on communications services in 2012 , up from $181 the previous year). Continue reading

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


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


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 


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.


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

A consumer’s guide to CRTC rulings on Internet pricing (1)


I’ve been gathering reactions to last week’s CRTC decisions on wholesale rates for Internet access. My takeaway is a lot of people are having trouble understanding what the hell it all means. So in this series of posts I’m going to provide some plain-language context.

Today, I’m covering broadband competition, and the unusual structure of Canada’s wholesale and retail Internet access market. In the next post, I’ll look at how the CRTC arrives at wholesale costs and what that will mean for your residential bill. Finally, I’m going to focus in the third post on the UBB controversy of two years ago and how that relates to the recent rulings.

A pig in a poke

Communications services play an increasingly important role in our lives. Yet the evidence is that awareness among consumers about what they’re getting when they buy broadband is stunningly low. Continue reading

Infringement assault on TekSavvy: Voltage Trolls come north

Mandatory mittens for men on casual Fridays has been shown to reduce sexual harrassment at Voltage*


Some updates and changes (Thursday, December 13)

Monday’s court hearing. Voltage has managed to schedule a hearing at the Federal Court for Monday, December 17, which leaves little time for targeted TekSavvy subscribers to organize their defence. TekSavvy couldn’t notify these customers until it had churned through a huge pile of logs, in order to correlate subscribers with the thousands of numeric IP addresses Voltage dumped on them. And it wasn’t until December 7 that TekSavvy was served with the final Notice of Motion, the document that compels TekSavvy to attend at court where, Voltage hopes, it will be ordered to turn over all relevant customer information so the bullying can proceed.

Many people I’ve talked to seem to have missed the crucial point that TekSavvy itself is not a defendant in this case as it is not liable for any putative infringing activity on its network. In Canada, when a customer requests a file from, say, The Pirate Bay, and the customer’s ISP simply provides the platform over which to have the file delivered, that ISP is deemed to be acting as a mere carrier. The ISP is not deemed to be a “user” nor considered to be “authorizing” the download. Hence TekSavvy is not a defendant in the Voltage claim. I raise this point simply so that interested parties, especially possible defendants, are clear on TekSavvy’s legal standing in this action. Continue reading

In today’s Globe: Gen D – the dumbed-down generation lives


Update: Not in a reading mood? You’re in luck. Here’s Devin with the spoken version. You know what to do…
[haiku url=”2012-06-27-DE-Post.mp3″]

Great minds think alike. One of those minds would belong to a “hip, articulate 36-year old computer whiz” name of Sang-Jin Bae. Thanks to Devin H for pointing me to a story about his views in today’s Globe and Mail: “Are we breeding a generation of app-loving, web-addicted digital illiterates?


In addition to being a big-time digital animator, Mr Bae teaches. And what he says about the students who turn up in his classes is pretty strong vindication for the unkind words I’ve had to say about Millennials and the malarkey about their being “digital natives”…

“When kids come into my class they divide into three groups,” he says. There are the pure geeks who love technology. There are those trying to understand. And then there is the biggest group: “Those who couldn’t care less.”

Remember, these kids have signed up for highly technical instruction on computer applications used for animation. Even with my cynical attitude, I’d have guessed that a group like this would not have prompted comments like the following from Mr Bae:

“The kids I have, and that is roughly two dozen of the brightest young digital artists a semester, often have no idea what Microsoft Word is. They can’t tell a Mac from a PC. And forget Excel,” he says. He struggles to get his students to use basic computing etiquette.

Continue reading

Digitally divided: it’s not Ottawa’s problem (2)


A day late, a dollar short… The frickin site crashed yesterday, to the chagrin of untold thousands of frustrated visitors. In the meantime, I got an update from Stats Can (see previous post), and landed on a really snarky backlash to the recent NYT piece (Matt Richtel, May 29) – Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era – in which poor people are portrayed as the real online time-wasters. I’ll get back to that after I finish with Ottawa’s digital sins.

“Even when you give poor people access to technology, they don’t know what to do with it! Might as well give a paleolithic tribe access to a chip fab, pffft.”

–Christopher Mims, MIT Technology Review, May 31

[continues from previous post]

3 – IC has excluded consumers from digital policy – except as workers and online shoppers 

Ever since Tony Clement, the previous Industry minister, began mooting a strategy for the digital economy, he left plenty of signs that he intended the beneficiaries to be his party’s business constituents. And that his approach had nothing to do with a broadband strategy. The distinction between a strategy for the digital economy and a digital strategy for everybody is not a trivial one. Two years ago, the Tories launched a public consultation process, dressed up with a 40-page backgrounder entitled “Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage” (uploaded here). I wrote a post shortly thereafter in which I laid out evidence of the government’s anti-consumer bias. To cite one small point:

“The digital consultation has tossed consumers over the brink, while lavishing its attention on the needs of business. Here’s a semantic clue: The consultation background paper uses the word investment over 70 times; it uses the word affordable exactly once.” Continue reading

Digitally divided: the DC haves vs the Ottawa have-nots (1)



>> Updated with correction on CIUS

As noted below, I sent an inquiry to Industry Canada about whether or not the Canadian Internet Use Survey had been cancelled. The question was passed on to Stats Can, and yesterday their media relations office got back with this message:

“Statistics Canada will conduct the Canadian Internet Use Survey in 2012.  Collection will take place in October and November.”

I stand corrected – though if you look below under what was “2 – Industry Canada has cut off funding for the CIUS” (now with strikethrough), I’m sticking by my guns on the other comments.


FCC’s Genachowski in San Diego to declare war on the digital divide

In my last two posts I took Genachowski to task for his retrograde stand on data caps. Today I come to praise him. Genachowski gave a pep talk last Thursday at San Diego’s Horace Mann Middle School. He was there to promote a Connect2Compete pilot program. San Diego is one of 20 school districts in the country “participating in the FCC’s Learning-on-the-Go program, which is helping schools implement mobile learning solutions like interactive digital textbooks” (transcript of JG’s talk here).

Connect2Compete is an ambitious outreach program, designed to close the digital divide by helping millions of disenfranchised Americans become onliners. The offer is a smart one-two punch: 1) get folks the gear they need, free or cheap; then 2) help them learn the many things they need to know to use the gear comfortably and become engaged, real-life onliners.

C2C tackles the tough social policy issues surrounding Internet adoption and requires unaccustomed behavior for bureaucrats: escaping the Beltway, meeting citizens on their own turf, and dispelling the belief held by millions, especially low-income families, that they have no reason or right to be on the Internet. Moreover, the cost to taxpayers is pretty much zero. This bargain is made possible by a public-private collaboration that brings together a number of non-profits, plus some big IT firms, working hand-in-hand with officials from the FCC. The agency has released a 5-page brief outlining the details (I’ve uploaded the pdf here). Continue reading

Sorry for UBBing: the CRTC giveth, Katz taketh away?



Funny how we’re all still talking about last week’s CRTC decision on wholesale pricing for Internet access. The one thing pundits and stakeholders have agreed upon is to disagree about the possible outcomes of the decision. Especially when it comes to the money.

Take Nick Kyonka’s piece in last week’s Wire Report, which begins thusly:

“Incumbent Internet service providers (ISPs) and the smaller players who lease access to their networks are scratching their heads over new billing rates for wholesale Internet access and what those rates mean for long-term competition in the Canadian Internet service market.”

There’s lots more. Michael Geist and Peter Nowak have each been mulling the decision three times in the last week, including posts from each of them yesterday designed to interpret the various interpretations we’ve heard so far: see The UBB Decision Aftermath: Is the Pricing a Killer? (Geist); and On UBB, the fat lady has not yet sung (Nowak).

I have information that may help clear up some of the confusion. Rather than provide you with a hard-headed analysis of network costing issues, however, I’m going to indulge in a little textual exegesis… Continue reading