As I’ve noted earlier in this series, the Americans have their own version of Canada’s anti-consumer, mandatory-carriage policy. But with this difference: the US is also seeing the rise of a video revolution that’s opening up new vistas for a more curious, engaged and demanding audience. The old guard, who got rich and complacent on top-down, linear TV, are fighting the upstarts tooth and nail. The courts in both countries have been alive with the sounds of the old guard squawking about their right to keep making gobs of money – up to and including threats to take their over-the-air networks off the air and make them cable-only (says Fox COO Chase Carey, among others).
Must-carry isn’t Ottawa’s only anti-consumer, anti-Internet policy failure
Let’s consider one regulatory development in Canada first of all, in order to put the current must-carry proceeding into context. That context draws from the same old story: the CRTC has never felt bashful about making consumers pay to keep broadcasters thriving. In other words, the must-carry proceeding is not an aberration; it’s business as usual for Ottawa’s costing of “cultural” initiatives. Continue reading →
I think the CRTC’s decision to get the incumbents’ financials out of the closet is very positive – another demonstration of Chairman Blais’s public-spirited philosophy. But even Chairman Blais has a corporate history to live with, and that’s not going to be a cakewalk. So before we start counting our chickens, let me outline four factors working against consumer-friendly broadband in this country:
Canada’s market share failure
misgivings about switching providers
the unfulfilled goals of the Telecommunications Act
the 2006 Direction to the CRTC on market forces.
1 – Market share failure. The long-standing failure of Canada’s broadband competition policy is summed up in the time series above, which I concocted from data in the CRTC’s latest Communications Monitoring Report (pdf uploaded here; see Table 5.3.2, p.150). The graph contrasts total market share for the independent ISPs, in blue, with that of the incumbents, in green (both exclude business services and dialup). For all the pontificating over the years from the von Finckenstein CRTC and Tory politicians about how super-duper competitive everything is in Canadian telecoms, the data tell a very different story. Continue reading →
[Was supposed to continue from Oct 15 post on Ms Motzney...]
What you’ll find in this post instead:
The Bell/Astral decision is (virtually) unprecedented
“Public” benefits now refers to “we the public” – not just dudes who make TV shows
Cabinet won’t intervene
Consumer-loving Bell shocked and outraged
CRTC watchers eat crow. Don’t you hate it when the world changes faster than you can write about it? Thursday’s triumph over Bell is wonderful for consumers; for the thesis I was developing here, not so much. The comments I’ve read – Geist (This Is Not Your Parent’s CRTC); Cartt (CRTC says “Non!”); the Globe (Ottawa says it can’t intervene in CRTC’s BCE-Astral decision); etc – all indicate the Astral decision shows Chairman Blais really does intend to build a consumer-oriented CRTC. I trust he will understand why industry watchers, present company included, had been pretty much unanimous in predicting he’d never, ever turn down Bell on this acquisition. Continue reading →
If only net neutrality were as simple as “taxi neutrality”
My students have been reading what academics like to call a “seminal” work. It’s the 2004 paper by Tim Wu that put network neutrality on the map: Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination (uploaded here).
Eight years on, Canadians have lots of broadband discrimination and very little network neutrality. Yet hope springs eternal. And with the arrival of Jean-Pierre Blais as the new CRTC chair, the pro-Internet community may have an opportunity to change some of the misguided thinking that has undermined the Commission’s policymaking for years.
Taking the common out of carriage
One of the problems inherent in defending net neutrality is defining it. Let’s say for the moment that, as a necessary if not sufficient condition, net neutrality requires that broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic, nor block lawful and non-harmful content, applications, services or devices. This concept is hardly newfangled or unique to the Internet. It lies at the heart of what a common carrier is expected to do for the privilege of sellling its services in a regulated or quasi-regulated market – like carrying coal in barges on English canals or people in taxicabs (the fare meter is part of the system that ensures everyone is treated on an equitable basis).
What is unusual if not unique to the non-discrimination principle on the public Internet is the telecom firms that used to be common carriers – firms like Bell – are no longer prohibited from owning, controlling or manipulating the content that travels across their networks. Thus, Bell not only provides carriage facilities for your content, like personal messages; it also owns large content providers such as CTV, whose content Bell distributes over the same network platform as your tweets. Continue reading →
(This continues yesterday’s list on why caps are bad for you.)
4 – Throttling has been debunked and (might be) discontinued in Canada.
Throttling was foisted on Canadians for years, until the incumbents finally got shamed into giving it up as an alleged solution to congestion. This year both Rogers and Bell will (they say) end the practice. If Comcast and its sister incumbents are trying this on, Americans can look North for guidance.
Incumbent ISPs in many jurisdictions have long been enthusiastic about throttling, a form of subscriber traffic-shaping that relies on deep packet inspection (DPI). Throttling and data caps are different but related. Throttling is a technical form of Internet traffic management (hence technical ITMPs); data caps constitute an economic form of Internet traffic management (hence economic ITMPs). For reasons I have always found misguided, the CRTC ruled in October 2009 that economic ITMPs should take precedence over technical ITMPs (Review of the Internet traffic management practices of Internet service providers, Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2009-657).
As I’ve noted before (e.g. here and here), the CRTC’s handling of the over-the-top review is a travesty of due process. It’s based on a fact-finding proceeding that wasn’t a proceeding, and more secret meetings to continue where they left off in March. Denis Carmel’s expression (above) of “gratitude” to the participants for dropping by to grind their own axes, without the bother of rebuttal or outside scrutiny, is a less than comforting way to honor the principle of ex parte meetings. FCC rules require that private meetings with 3rd parties be disclosed, and that the content of discussions be summarized in public minutes. As Free Press noted last July: “The ex parte process may seem obscure to most people, but these meetings have a significant impact on FCC decisionmaking.” (That article was a commentary on the FCC’s proposal to strengthen its ex parte rules.) Continue reading →
Yesterday I noticed a pointer in Michael Geist’s blog to an intriguing post at Fiberevolution: Do data caps punish the wrong users? The post piles on the evidence that data caps are a lousy way to discipline what the author calls “disruptive users”…
“Data caps, therefore, are a very crude and unfair tool when it comes to targeting potentially disruptive users. The correlation between real-time bandwidth usage and data downloaded over time is weak and the net cast by data caps captures users that cannot possibly be responsible for congestion. Furthermore, many users who are “as guilty” as the ones who are over cap (again, if there is such a thing as a disruptive user) are not captured by that same net.”
Upside-down policy goals
Through most of 2011, we’ve heard lots of criticism about the use of data caps in Canada, concerning both their inherent unfairness to customers and their inadequacy as a way of managing congestion. Continue reading →
Katz: Indie ISPs “must do more” about cybersecurity… oops, they already do!
Update: I’ve just read Dwayne Winseck’s superb critique of the CRTC’s vertical integration and UBB decisions, posted on his blog last Thursday (Nov 29). This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand, as Dwayne puts it, not what the Commission has done in these proceedings, but what it has failed to do – and the opportunities it has thrown away as a result.
(I’ve also added an item at the end to illustrate why cybersecurity is a non-issue compared to obliging ISPs to explain their terms in plain English.)
Checked against delivery
In my previous post I wrote a critique of the speech that Len Katz, CRTC vice-chair, gave to the ISP summit the day of the wholesale pricing decision (Nov 15). I wasn’t in the room at the time. I’m therefore back on this issue briefly after hearing from some folks who were present for the unkind words and rubber chicken. (I’m coming at this kinda late after flu-related postponements.)
My sources confirm two things. First, Katz gave the speech pretty much according to the published speaking notes – so I wasn’t making it up. Second, I’m told many people in the room were very upset to hear Katz talk about the indie ISPs in such a disdainful way. (For example: “I sat through that dinner and listened to Katz and my blood was boiling listening to him.”) Continue reading →