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 →
“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 →
[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 you’re just joining us, we recently had a lengthy conversation with Dwayne Winseck about media concentration in Canada. Dwayne provided many insights not merely on Astral but also on the big picture – in particular how this proposed acquisition will be entirely in character for Canada’s spineless regulator. In other words, we didn’t get into this horrible mess a few months ago. This relentless pattern of mergers and acquisitions has been going on for more than a decade. What’s different this time? Well, apart from being high up – 2nd – on the international list of developed countries ranked by degree of concentration, Canada will also win the gold star for having the highest degree of media cross-ownership in the developed world. Continue reading →
And he’s back. Our favorite media-myth-buster picks up the next segment of our recent conversation – which is now likely to turn into a 4-part mini-series.
Maybe “industry context” is better than backstory – including the long, sad history of how we got into this mess. Too bad learning the lessons of history isn’t high on Canada’s regulatory agenda. Here comes your next 17 minutes…
Say bye-bye to when phones stuck to the kitchen wall,
Here’s part 1 of the interview we did with Dwayne last week. It’s in audio, but probably won’t be music to your ears… Dwayne has devoted a lot of scholarly time to finding hard evidence about Canadian trends in concentration of ownership, vertical integration and cross-ownership in both old and new media. He’s particularly well placed to speak to these issues as the Canadian lead on the International Media Concentration Research Project (see more on Dwayne and this project here). 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 →
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.”
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 →