Shock! Outrage! And other cool facts about the Bell fiasco

[Was supposed to continue from Oct 15 post on Ms Motzney…] 

What you’ll find in this post instead:

  1. The Bell/Astral decision is (virtually) unprecedented
  2. “Public” benefits now refers to “we the public” – not just dudes who make TV shows
  3. Cabinet won’t intervene
  4. 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

Net neutrality and the CRTC: what M. Blais needs to know (1)

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

Et tu, Brute?… aka Julius Genachowski, data cap booster (2)

(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).

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Continue reading

Open kimonos, closed minds: new risks for Canada’s Internet

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Artist’s rendering of Big Media opening their kimonos at secret CRTC meetings

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It’s very useful for the commission in our supervisory role to understand what they’re thinking and for them to open their kimonos. Some of them did offer new information, and we were grateful.

Denis Carmel, CRTC spokesman, Nov 25, in The Wire Report

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Fact-finding without the facts: must be OTT

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

How ITMP-based data caps punish light instead of heavy users

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Artist’s rendering of a world without data caps

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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

Sorry for UBBing, redux: Katz speech *did* upset ISPs

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Katz: Indie ISPs “must do more” about cybersecurity… oops, they already do!

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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.)

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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

Digital divides: UBB as part of a much bigger broadband mess

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The blogosphere has been abuzz recently over the FCC’s bold, brave outreach initiative, Connect to Compete. Not in Canada, you say? I do say, since there are four good reasons why Canadians haven’t got a snowball’s hope in hell of seeing a program of this nature until at least 2015:

1) Leadership. The FCC has been making headway with a real broadband strategy over the last 18 months, along with a set of network neutrality rules, because the vision comes from the top – the White House. Harper and his cabinet have never cared about world-class retail broadband, because that would put them on the wrong side of the consumer vs business divide.

2) Social policy. The most laudable thing about the FCC’s action is the agency’s deep conviction that the digital divide is a social issue requiring vigorous demand-side policies. C2C is a people policy, not a wires-and-boxes policy based on the kind of supply-side thinking that has led our nation to the bottom of the broadband barrel, if I may mix my containers. Continue reading

WoW! CRTC moves Rogers P2P/gaming file to Enforcement (5)

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UPDATE. I noted below – citing a report by Multichannel News on the latest Sandvine traffic data – that streaming video is now the primary driver of network capacity requirements, a reflection of the gradual decline of P2P traffic relative to overall consumer traffic on the Internet. The Sandvine study, the company’s Global Internet Phenomena Report for fall 2011, contains fascinating revelations about just how quickly Internet traffic patterns are changing (pdf here). Two points. First, from a business perspective, the emerging problem for ISPs isn’t congestion of the old-fashioned kind, the one which formed the basis for the CRTC’s ITMP framework. Second, from a technical perspective, traffic flows present new challenges for network engineering in the local access cloud.

Take a look at these big-picture numbers from Sandvine (pdf, p.2):

The four largest Internet services on North America’s fixed access networks, by daily downstream volume, are:

•  Netflix – 27.6%
•  HTTP – 17.8%
•  YouTube – 10.0%
•  BitTorrent – 9.0%

Although BitTorrent traffic as identified here would not account for all P2P transmissions, the lead now established by Netflix is still jaw-dropping. And jaw-dropping by comparison with Web traffic (which seems likely to be eclipsed more and more by the use of apps and other highly specialized platforms, as I discuss briefly in the previous post). Then things get curiouser… Continue reading