Cancon redux: Canada’s TV “system” battles the Internet

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“Somebody called me a protectionist this week. I’ve been called far worse, but the term rankled because I had not argued that Canadian television should be protected from foreign competition.”

Kate Taylor, Jan 18: A contemporary argument for Canadian content

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The ball’s in somebody’s court and needs to be lobbed back.

Let’s start with who or what is protectionist. The only such reference I made was to  the policy regime we’ve had in Canada since the 1970s:

“Bell and Rogers (plus Shaw and QMI) have made fabulous amounts of money thanks to the vast protectionist apparatus they’ve enjoyed for decades.”

While life may be tougher now, it would be hard to argue that our broadcasters aren’t still benefitting from protectionism: foreign ownership restrictions, simultaneous substitution and restriction of US satellite signals to the approved list are three current examples. Simsub is also a good example of a policy designed to help our TV business rather than TV viewers, who hate it – as in, where are the Super Bowl ads? Continue reading

Net neutrality now as momentous as Janet Jackson’s nipple (1)

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Setting the bar for public participation in regulatory affairs

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  • Janet Jackson’s nipple: 1.4 million comments
  • Net neutrality: 1.1 million comments (est)

Realists like Farhad Manjoo at the NY Times have called it “the most important sleep-inducing topic around.” So imagine the surprise when, again last week, public interest in network neutrality hit a crescendo of comments so momentous that it crashed the FCC’s wobbly server setup. That leaves the arcane techno-regulatory idea a mere 300,000 comments behind the flood prompted by the Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction – dubbed Nipplegate – during the Superbowl half-time proceedings on February 1, 2004.

Timberlake yanks off Jackson’s bra and her nipple is exposed for 9/16 of a second. She’s treated like a whore and cancels appearances, while Timberlake keeps his endorsements and wins awards. “Nipplegate” makes the Guiness Book of Records in 2006 as the most-searched term in Internet history. The FCC attempts to levy a fine of $550,000 on CBS, and pursues its case for seven years. In 2011, the Supreme Court elects not to hear the FCC’s appeal, for the second time. Interest is so intense that Nipplegate prompts some guys to create a site for uploading cool videos, which becomes YouTube. Continue reading

“Neutrality” ruckus prompts FCC inquiry on broadband and congestion

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“We can’t have a situation in which the corporate duopoly dictates the future of the Internet and that’s why I’m supporting what’s called net neutrality.” — Barack Obama, podcast, June 2006

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[June 19: So much for pruning – added 300 words in corrections and background.]

On Friday, June 13, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made a short but dramatic statement headlined Broadband Consumers and Internet Congestion. Though barely 450 words long and presented outside any formal setting, Wheeler’s reaction to the public hue and cry over the reliability of retail broadband in the US marks an important step forward for end-user welfare. His announcement puts the lie to the vehement criticisms levelled at him about his betrayal of the Open Internet concept (the FCC’s term of art for net neutrality).

Many of his critics also assumed that the Wheeler FCC would never look into paid peering arrangements – well, they actually said they wouldn’t (“… the rules we propose today reflect the scope of the 2010 Open Internet Order, which applied to broadband provider conduct within its own network.” NPRM, fn 113 – pdf uploaded here). That is what Wheeler has now directed Commission staff to do (request “information from ISPs and content providers”).

While the American public are clearly confused by the net neutrality debate, and for good reason, many ISP subscribers have begun to question whether they’re getting the broadband they’re paying for – whatever the underlying business and technical issues may be. Excerpts from Wheeler’s statement follow (the full pdf is uploaded here):

“For some time now we have been talking about protecting Internet consumers. At the heart of this is whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provide connectivity in the final mile to the home can advantage or disadvantage content providers, and therefore advantage or disadvantage consumers. … 

“Consumers must get what they pay for. As the consumer’s representative we need to know what is going on. I have therefore directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need to understand precisely what is happening in order to understand whether consumers are being harmed. … 

“The bottom line is that consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially content they’ve also paid for. In this instance, it is about what happens where the ISP connects to the Internet. It’s important that we know – and that consumers know.” 

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Continue reading

CRTC demands answers from Bell on its Mobile TV shellgame

mirko-bibic-1Bell’s CRTC whisperer, Mirko Bibic, got bent out of shape when he saw the CRTC’s annoying interrogatories Friday morning

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Today saw another encouraging step in the CRTC’s management of the Ben Klass Part 1 application on Bell’s Mobile TV service. You can get the backstory in my prior posts (first one was in November) and from Ben’s blog, among other places.

That step was the interrogatories sent to Bell officials, asking for detailed information on Bell’s network architecture, subscriber invoicing, content exclusivity and competition, among other things. I’ve pasted in all 10 of the Commission’s questions below. A couple of comments in the meantime…

bell-mobileTVimageFirst off, the language of the questions demonstrates that the Commission is taking Ben’s application to heart, and that it sees a prima facie case against Bell for violating telecom rules. On one crucial point, whether Mobile TV is simply a broadcasting service as Bell claims, the Commission staff want to hear an explanation of the “inconsistency” in Bell’s statements on this matter – as well as of “how a data service that uses the Internet is not a telecommunications service” (yes, Bell argues that its quacking duck ain’t no water fowl no how). Continue reading

Intervening in support of Ben Klass complaint on Bell Mobile TV

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Last Wednesday was the deadline for followup comments on Ben’s Part 1 application, more accurately described as a complaint. In the text below you’ll find the main body of my intervention, minus the top and tail. I wrote about Ben’s original filing back in November: Ben Klass asks CRTC to stop Bell’s deliquency on Mobile TV. As of today, Ben’s current filing hasn’t yet shown up on the Commission’s site: I’ve uploaded it here. Of the other interventions filed this past week, two were especially critical of what Bell is being allowed to get away with. Teresa Murphy starts her comments by suggesting that Bell’s whole argument is founded on a phony distinction (para 2: her pdf is uploaded here):

It makes no sense whatsoever to treat competing services differently when the underlying technology and distribution method is the same. This is allowing vertically integrated companies to behave by one set of rules, and allowing them to treat their competitors differently, and frankly unfairly.

Continue reading

The Internet in 2025: which tech giants will dominate? (Pew 2)

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Screen grab from Pew/Elon survey questionnaire, January 2014

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The Pew survey included a question about tech firms that was set up a little differently than the others. As the screen grab above shows, participants were asked to rank the long-term success, or lack of success, among the Big 5 as listed, as well as among other firms of our choosing.

Although it’s about 10 years too early to say “I told you so,” the news over the last few days provides some support for conclusions drawn in my response. As you can see, I’m calling for Amazon and Apple to become “More important”… Facebook and Microsoft to become “Less important”… and Google to “remain the same.”

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Apple: too big to be successful any more?

A recent financial piece in the New York Times (Trying to See Apple From a Different Angle) says the stock market “doesn’t know quite what to make of Apple.” Two general reasons are adduced. One is cyclical: the company has had problems with sales of its cash cow, the iPhone. The other is structural: Apple has the largest market cap of any multinational, as well as the highest brand rating on the global Interbrand survey (all that engineering brainpower finally knocked a syrupy, dark-brown soft drink off its throne). Oh, and the $159 billion in cash it has lying around. Apple’s now so big and so successful that it’s scaring off growth investors who want to see a hit product every six months. Continue reading

Netflix, YouTube traffic soar, while “pirate” transfers fade

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Sandvine has just released its latest half-yearly Global Internet Phenomena Report. The reports are based on data collected by Sandvine from among its 250-plus customers spanning, well, the globe. Several items jump out this time, but two are especially interesting.

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First, video continues to crush the numbers. Not that this is any surprise, since the dominance of video has been in the forecasts for years. What is surprising is the odd bedfellows that now account for 50+% of downstream traffic on wireline broadband in North America: Netflix and YouTube.

Netflix just won’t let up – in traffic share, share of mind or share price. Despite the ham-fisted attempts by ISPs like Rogers and Bell to make OVDs expensive for its customers by screwing them with data caps, Netflix’s traffic share is still holding at about the same level as six months ago – currently 31.6%. I’ve written a lot about Netflix over the last two or three years, much of that in defence of our right to choose what we watch in Canada. Continue reading

Must-carry TV (4): Ottawa disconnects from the video revolution

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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).

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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