Ben Klass asks CRTC to stop Bell’s deliquency on Mobile TV

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Detail from roof of Brighton train station (rotated) – Aug 2013

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Bell welcomes any competitor, but they should compete on a level playing field.” — George Cope, BCE/Bell Canada, August 2013

“I provide evidence [below] in support of the assertion that Bell gives itself undue preference. It does so by applying an application-specific economic Internet traffic management practice (ITMP) to its Mobile TV service, causing unreasonable disadvantage to competitors and harming consumer choice.” — Ben Klass, CRTC Part 1 Application, November 20, 2013 

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November 25: I’ve added a number of edits and corrections to the running text below. My thanks to Ben Klass, J-F Mezei and Juris Silkans for their helpful suggestions.

Nov.25 – update #2. A formal request has come in already asking the Commission to transform Ben’s application into a full-blown public proceeding that would include a review of ITMPs put in place by both Rogers and Vidéotron, which apparently have the same idea as Bell about what’s meant by a “level” playing field. The request is from PIAC, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. I’ve uploaded a zipped folder with both PIAC’s letter and Ben’s reply here.

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This post is divided into two main parts (which may not be obvious to the untrained eye). Down to but not including Key elements of Ben’s complaint, you’ll find 3 sections: a) discussion of Ben’s application in general terms; b) an analogy based on the metered taxi cab as a familiar way to illustrate why Bell can’t treat different kinds of traffic differently to give itself a commercial advantage over competitors; and c) a bemoaning of the sad truth that very few people can bring themselves to care about this wonkish stuff, mostly because it’s so freaking hard to understand.

The second half – Key elements of Ben’s complaint – looks at his filing from the perspective of four underlying regulatory concepts. I have a dual purpose here: to clarify some of the muddier aspects of this process; and to talk a little about some of the past history and how we got to this juncture. The four concepts are:

  • a Part 1 Application
  • a new media broadcasting undertaking (NMBU)
  • data (or bit) caps
  • Internet traffic management practices (ITMPs)

These are all mentioned on the first page of Ben’s document. If you don’t know what he means by an “application-specific economic Internet traffic management practice,” you may find a glossary helpful.

Ben Klass is back and this time he means it

ben-klass-nov21-3Last August, Ben grabbed some well-deserved attention with the open letter he addressed to Bell CEO George Cope. In his “I am Canadian” piece, Ben debunked point after absurd point in Cope’s post, which ran on the Bell site under the title “An open letter to all Canadians.” Cope was delivering another salvo in the incumbents’ wacky wireless war against the Harper government and its outrageous idea they should let Verizon enter our market to compete with the Big Three.

For all its merits, Ben’s open letter was an irritant Cope could afford to ignore with impunity (I don’t imagine folks in Bell’s C-suite have been working on their sense of irony since August; and funny how whenever an incumbent CEO insists on a level playing field, you can be darn sure he means exactly the opposite). But that was then, this is now, and Ben has turned up the heat on Bell, way up. Continue reading

CRTC’s annual report is here: the good, the bad, the weird (1)

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The Brighton Wheel, August 2013

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It’s always been a challenge to figure out who the CRTC is talking to in its annual Communications Monitoring Report (CMR). This year’s edition, released last week, shows some progress has been made on the goal of putting the consumer first.

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[Sept 30: some minor edits and corrections made]

What does the CMR tell us about its authors?

Blais pic(1)For anyone who cares to tackle well over 200 pages of really dense charts, tables and footnotes, with equally dense explanatory prose, the CMR can serve two very different purposes (this year it’s 262 pp: CRTC’s launch page is here). One is the obvious: use the data to better understand the trends in Canada’s legacy and digital media. The other is less obvious and to my mind a lot more interesting: use the details, the tone, the assumptions in these pages to gauge how the regulator is thinking about its changing role in the marketplace. Continue reading

Wireless haters take note: our home broadband still sucks too

6755-portobello-1bLondon, Portobello market, August 2013

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Fresh data show Canada is still a mediocre performer among the dozens of nations measured continuously by Ookla on 5 broadband performance variables. Will the CRTC’s 2013 Communications Monitoring Report, due out this week, keep up the old tradition of pretending Canadian broadband is just fine?

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[Sept 24: added pointers to Ookla]

For weeks now, we’ve been pummeled by tales from the wireless wars. As recently as last Thursday, Michael Geist was reminding us how two-faced and hypocritical the incumbents can be, as if that was a surprise. Nothing gets the incumbents foaming at the mouth – behaving like “raving lunatics,” as Tony Lacavera put it – like the prospect of being disciplined by real competition.

I say it’s time to think again about the equally dismal and depressing state of wireline broadband in Canada. Wireline isn’t nearly as sexy as it used to be – not as fodder for controversy I mean. A couple of years ago, we started hearing forecasts from the likes of Cisco pointing to the triumphant rise of mobile everywhere. The mobile forecasts are holding (see Cisco’s mobile forecast for 2012-2017 here). But even 4G LTE isn’t going to make a lot of subs give up their residential DSL or DOCSIS any time soon. So let’s get back to making invidious international broadband comparisons, this time courtesy of Ookla and its ongoing Net Index broadband usage project. Continue reading

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.

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Continue reading

The wireless consultation: it’s still about competition (3)

This is the 3rd instalment of my comments on the CRTC’s wireless code consultation.

In part 2, I strayed into some wireline data to make a larger point about shortcomings in the CRTC’s handling of two major duties: conducting research and communicating with the public. Today I want to add some followup on the issue of competition.

Tuesday marked the official end of the online portion of the public consultation. In the Toronto Star, that milestone warranted a piece from personal finance columnist Ellen Roseman, who talked with the Commission’s new consumer chief, Barbara Motzney. Continue reading

A better CRTC: educate us, poll us, don’t consult us (2)

(Continues from previous post.)

Last time, I took the Commission to task for trying to build excitement over the level of cellphone penetration in Canada in their consultation video. Why? Because the only metric that really counts in 2012 is the takeup of smartphones: smartphones do data, feature phones don’t. Let’s consider penetration in a more meaningful context.

Penetration. Data released by the OECD in December 2011 says Canada is 24th out of the 34 member countries in terrestrial mobile wireless broadband subscriptions, as indicated in this chart (OECD broadband portal, spreadsheet 1d):

OECD: wireless broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants

Notice this dataset covers mobile devices like laptops using a dongle for Internet access. As it has done elsewhere with wireline broadband, the Commission has cherry-picked a more inclusive number (cellphones in general), rather than a more meaningful number (data-capable mobile devices). And that’s not the only way the Commission is glossing over problems… Continue reading

CRTC’s wireless code: educate us, poll us, don’t consult us (1)

“The Wireless Code is being developed through a public consultation, which includes this online consultation and a public hearing in February 2013.” – CRTC, Nov 13, 2012.

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Update (Nov 24). My blog is now running on the Canada edition of the Huffington Post. This post went up this morning in the Business section, which seems to have become my new home, alongside stories on the fracking ban lawsuit and the richest Canadians. I love having occasional dealings with real-life editors, despite their fondness for changing my post titles. This post e.g. has become What’s the CRTC Trying to Pull? (Another thing: As a guy who helps students learn about dangling participles and comma splices, I’ve always been curious as to why the HuffPo, the New York Times and everybody else on the planet with a red pen insists on changing “%” to “per cent.” As in strike “50%” in favor of “50 per cent.” Why?)

Wireless code, great – online consultation, not so much

Back in the summer of 2010, the CRTC decided to get the public’s input online as part of its proceeding on the “obligation to serve.” Big mistake. Continue reading