Broadband as a basic service: be careful what you wish for (3)

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I’m taking a further shot in this post at the question of the decade: should Ottawa guarantee Internet access to all Canadians?

This question is now drawing a great deal of attention. In April, the CRTC launched a new proceeding to review “basic telecommunications services.” As I wrote previously:

“The most important single question to be addressed in this proceeding is whether the time has come to start treating a broadband connection to the Internet as an essential service to be provided to all our citizens, just as we have done for decades in the provision of basic telephone service.”

As luck would have it, that is exactly the issue the FCC voted to examine on June 18: FCC Takes Steps to Modernize and Reform Lifeline for Broadband.”

Nevertheless, the two agencies see what is at stake in very different terms. These differences are evident in a comparison of the relevant public notices and agency research documents. My reading indicates our American friends are way ahead of us in the assumptions they’ve made about the public interest, as well as in the tools at their disposal to make a success of this epic broadband venture. Continue reading

Rebooting basic telecom services: hope for policy reform?

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The recent Rebooting conference in Ottawa was a terrific experience. Lots of people with lots of good ideas and the opportunity to debate them at length.

cbc_logo_1940_1958Oversimplifying a little, I would divide the conference participants into two general groups. The first and larger of the two was reform-minded, with many calling for serious changes, especially to the CRTC. The second group, while smaller, was just as eloquent in defending what I’d call the status quo. By that I mean maintaining or expanding subsidies for program production; a bigger role for the CBC; and measures explicitly designed to protect broadcasters with a view, among other things, to protecting jobs in the broadcast sector. This perspective tended to cast the socio-cultural objectives of the Broadcasting Act in a favorable light.

My six minutes of fame featured a half dozen reasons as to why there’s an urgent need to reboot the Broadcasting Act, and in particular to redraw the policy goals in section 3 from the ground up.

Why we need reform

1 – The 1991 Act is older than the Web. One simple argument for reform is chronological. The 1991 Act predates the Web by six months: the first publicly available Web page was posted on the Internet in August 1991. Worse still, most of section 3 is based on what became law in 1968 – 47 years ago! The main difference is that the current version is over three times longer and now refers to “programs” and “programming” 31 times. Continue reading

Broadband speeding up, broadcast TV slowing down?

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This morning brought news that the CRTC has launched a national broadband measurement initiative using the SamKnows platform (“The global leaders in broadband measurement“). The announcement comes hard on the heels of Michael Geist’s Tuesday post entitled Missing the Target: Why Does Canada Still Lack a Coherent Broadband Goal? Ironically, after his well taken lament, the Commission suddenly seems ready to answer Michael’s question – though not in the way some of us might like.

“The CRTC is recruiting up to 6,200 Canadians to help measure the Internet services provided by the participating ISPs. Volunteers will receive a device, called a “Whitebox”, that they will connect to their modem or router. The Whitebox will periodically measure broadband performance, testing a number of parameters associated with the broadband Internet connection, including download and upload speeds.”

On this Commission page, the visitor is offered some details, including how to sign up. In a discussion with some other folks today, there was agreement that the Commission is going to have to work hard to attract mainstreamers who have no technical background. To do so, the project team is going to have to take a more didactic approach, and give up self-congratulatory marketing lingo like a “world-class communication system.” Continue reading

Net neutrality now as momentous as Janet Jackson’s nipple (2)

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Happy updates (July 25)

1) Ms Marsha. One of the best illustrations of the political clout wielded by the incumbent US broadband providers lies in their ability to kill any attempt at the creation of muni broadband networks. Twenty states have passed laws banning public-sector broadband alternatives, encouraged by the industry lobbies and those who might be harmed by competition, like poor, struggling Comcast. As I note in the 2nd para below, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is one of the great congressional champions of this free-market exercise. She is more determined than ever to ensure nobody in her own state or any state ever gets better, more affordable service. Such is her reputation that in a comment posted to a story in Ars yesterday, a reader added this apology:

A bit off topic: As a Tennessee state resident, I’d like to personally apologize to the rest of the country, hell the world maybe for that matter, for Marsha Blackburn. Another fine example of what you can buy of [sic] you are a corporation with enough money to line the right pockets.

On the upside, Brodkin’s story is entitled “FCC gets its chance to overturn state limits on broadband competition” – reporting on a petition to the FCC from a community-owned electric utility to overturn the state law barring it from providing fiber-based Internet access – in Chattanooga (Tennessee!).

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2) Transparency enforcement. And in other good news related to policing the ISPs, the FCC on Wednesday issued an Enforcement Advisory that holds two surprises. The FCC will fine any broadband provider that intentionally misleads its customers; and the rule behind this notice is one of the few survivors of the DC Circuit appeal by Verizon that vacated most of the 2010 Open Internet Order. The advisory begins thusly:

Providers of broadband Internet access services must disclose accurate information about their service offerings and make this information accessible to the public. This requirement, known as the Open Internet Transparency Rule, has been in full force and effect since 2011. The Transparency Rule ensures that consumers have access to information that helps them make informed choices about the broadband Internet access services they buy, so that consumers are not misled or surprised by the quality or cost of the services they actually receive.

I’ve uploaded the pdf here.

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How about we blame the Republicans instead? (cont’d)

As I was saying in the previous post, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should not be getting the rap for the open Internet NPRM issued in May. Especially not for his alleged determination to push through paid prioritization, since a) Wheeler has plainly disavowed it, and b) the Notice spends far more time analyzing other issues I see as a greater threat, like the utter lack of transparency or accountability in what broadband providers sell to the public. And picking this fight with paid prioritization is going to do nothing for the pro-Internet movement in the US or elsewhere (NPRM pdf here).

rep.-blackburn-2Instead, say I, opponents of the big-business, anti-consumer school of thought should pay more attention to what the black hats are saying – who, for convenience, we’ll call “Republicans.” These guys include a broad swath of personalities, from the FCC’s two Republican Commissioners, to the incumbents like Verizon that want no regulation and lots of “flexibility,” to my favorite right-wing curmudgeon, Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee congresswoman who has succeded in getting a bill passed to call a halt to all that outrageous muni broadband that competes with Comcast, TWC et al. They have main three arguments, all of them pure sophistry, but great headline-grabbers. Continue reading

Digital Canada 150: why the Tory plan is risky, not just foolish

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April 17 and a couple of updates

1 – Data caps. Not quite a breaking news update (on my caps comments at the end ofpost-dc150-caps-2 this post), since this story appeared in Ars Technica on March 13. “Time Warner Cable has been offering customers $5 monthly discounts in exchange for giving up unlimited data for the last couple of years, but almost no one has taken the company up on its offer.” In fact, only a few thousand of TWC’s 11.5 million customers have done so.

Here’s the deal: any TWC sub who wants to save the $5 a month can do so by cutting their cap from unlimited to… 30 GB! Jon Brodkin does the math and figures that three months of “excessive” Internet use and that sub loses a year’s worth of savings. The USA’s second most-despised ISP (after Comcast) has a story for that. CEO Rob Marcus claims his customers must value unlimited – duhdoy. Continue reading

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

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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)

 

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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

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

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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