The Wireless Code vs the CWTA’s bafflegab: is there a winner?

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Bernard Lord, CEO of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association

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“Canadians would be willing to pay more for cellular services, study says.”

If you read that headline in the Globe and Mail on Monday, did you jump to the same conclusion I did? That the CWTA commissioned a consumer survey in which they asked about price points for wireless services? And found somehow that Canadians would pay more… than they’re already paying?

It turns out you had a good reason for your cognitive dissonance. No Canadians actually said to an interviewer, yes, I’d like to pay more. That’s because there was no consumer survey, and any suggested personal agency or willingness to pay was a lobbyist’s plant, based on a piece of economic theory about consumer surplus that bears no relation whatsoever to how any person I know feels about their cellphone bill. What the Globe meant, but didn’t know so, is depicted in the graphic below. The difference in the price that consumers would be willing to pay, if they had to, and the amount they pay now, is the consumer surplus – aka I wish I could pay Bell Mobility even more.

economic-surpluses

Continue reading

Must-carry TV: putting viewers last in the US and Canada (3)

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“Canadians have told us they want to see Canadian films on TV so we’re filling a gap that’s been created in recent years.”

— Starlight CEO Norm Bolen, January 23, 2013

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starlight-logoThe Starlight campaign to be declared a mandatory TV service is nothing if not slick. Just check out their website. It’s clean and beautifully designed, and features model schedules, along with testimonials from members of Canada’s filmic pantheon. They pop up on rotating video clips: Denys Arcand, Atom Egoyan, David Cronenberg, Patricia Rozema and others, making the case for an all-Canadian movie channel. The whole campaign is designed to be music to the ears of the CRTC commissioners who will decide this summer which services get greenlighted.

Industrial policy masquerading as cultural policy

What do the Deciders of Gatineau like? In my previous post, I outlined the official criteria the CRTC will use in assessing the 22 candidates for mandatory carriage. Today let’s look at the process from a slightly different angle. Before I get into the survey research I alluded to last time, consider yesterday’s announcement from the CRTC’s number-crunchers. It concerns the release of its 2012 financial results for specialty, pay, pay-per-view and video-on-demand TV services (Web page here). This is the overview:

Revenues for these television services have climbed by 35.4% over the past five years to reach nearly $4 billion in 2012. During the past year, a significant portion of these revenues, close to $1.4 billion, was invested in the creation of a variety of Canadian programming, resulting in thousands of jobs in the Canadian production sector and new television programs for Canadians. In 2012, Canadian specialty, pay, PPV and VOD television services created 226 new jobs, directly employed 6,176 people and paid $487 million in salaries.

By contrast with its abject inattention to the consumer perspective, the Commission tends to wax enthusiastic about two kinds of reporting results: new programs getting made “for Canadians” and economic prosperity in the sectors it regulates. The first of these has become self-justifying. We can never have enough Cancon, no matter who’s footing the bill. Occasionally we hear the rationale that Canadian programs are good for us because they allow us to “tell our own stories.” Apart from their citizenship, I fail to see how a Cronenberg or an Egoyan is telling “our” stories and not their own, but let’s not quibble. Continue reading

CRTC’s 2nd pro-consumer decree: 4 reasons not to celebrate (part 1)

“It really boils down to this. How can we compete if we don’t have cost-based input prices!? When incumbents have retail rates that are lower than the CRTC-approved costs and foreign investors run for the hills, you know something smells! We need real cost-based prices so that competition can work. We’ve tried it the other way, and it didn’t work. This has to be the solution.”

— Marc Gaudrault, CEO, TekSavvy (blog post – Oct 26, 2012)

The CRTC has done it again. On October 26, as Bell’s lawyers were just starting to lob hurt feelings about Astral in the direction of Ottawa’s Deciders, the Commission was issuing another pro-consumer decision. That would be Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2012-592: “Confidentiality of information used to establish wholesale service rates.” Bill Sandiford, president of CNOC, the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (which includes TekSavvy), said they were “very pleased” with the decision (Wire Report, paywall).

In a phrase, the Commission has taken away the blank check that allowed the incumbents to hide demand forecasts, service level costs, corporate cost factors and other inputs associated with wholesaling Internet access. Henceforth, the incumbents will have to reveal far more information about the costs of their Internet services than ever before. All in the interests of that noble precept we call transparency. As you can tell from reading the decision, the incumbents hate the idea that mere mortals finally get a chance to peer up their skirts. Continue reading

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

Oops.

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

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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)

 

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>> 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.

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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

Misguided assumptions behind the CRTC’s broadband target (3)

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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

Keystone Canada: Federal Court proves Ottawa isn’t Cairo – yet

Inmates in charge of asylum

Today I’m turning the tables on Tim Wilson, editor and publisher of Telemanagement. For the last several months, Tim has been posting “Comments” from me in the magazine, mostly on policy and regulatory affairs.

Tim sent me a link to the piece below, which he’s written in a non-journalistic style – pretty much a rant in fact, so it’s found a good home. Btw, the pic of beleaguered Minister Clement (after the jump) is not photoshopped. He was apparently looking through a tube at the time, an allusion to jokes made at the expense of the late Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, jokes that went on to become Internet memes. Tim dropped in the photo to suggest parallels between the senator and the minister – and the parallels are no joke. Continue reading

Some context for Jan 27 CRTC/UBB post

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On Friday I mass-emailed dozens of my closest friends asking them to read my previous day’s post, on the forces turning Canada into a digital banana republic: the Holy Trinity of Cope, Clement and Chairman von Finckenstein.

Several friends emailed me with feedback quite different from the comments that have gone up with the post itself. They break down into three kinds of reactions:

  1. Your post is way too long; why don’t you put in a much shorter summary. Fair enough, I’m not famous for brevity, and will follow up on this suggestion. Continue reading