By Colby Cosh - Monday, May 21, 2012 - 0 Comments
The national broadcaster is reaching outside its mandate with a free digital music service that has private firms crying foul
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is not sticking to its knitting. Until this year, nobody minded all that much. But it is a fact that the corporation’s mandate under the Broadcasting Act is to “provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains.” You see any mention of the Internet in there? When the CBC started colonizing the web, nobody’s ox in particular got gored; any grumbling was destined not to last long in an environment of infinite bandwidth and zero pricing.
But now the grey area befogging the CBC’s mandate has officially become a problem—specifically, with the February launch of CBCmusic.ca, the Corp’s free digital streaming music service. Private broadcasters are crying foul, saying that CBC mission creep has finally gone too far. And they have taken their complaint to the CRTC, the national broadcast regulator.
The heart of the CBC’s new digital service is a set of some 40 “genre streams,” or channels, curated by the Corporation’s existing programming staff. This represents an impressive liberation of the CBC’s enormous library: instead of having to make an appointment to listen to Radio 2’s classical music programming, and suck on a firehose full of Edvard Grieg if it happens to be Edvard Grieg week, you can switch to the website and listen to an all-piano channel, an all-opera channel, an all-chamber channel, or an all-modern channel. If you favour rock, there’s a generic catch-all stream, but there are also specific indie, “classics” and metal channels.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, March 2, 2012 at 3:22 PM - 0 Comments
It’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday in the Joe Blow household. Mom’s in the living room, watching a Netflix movie in HD. Dad’s making a video Skype call in his office. And Joe Jr. is playing World of Warcraft in the basement. The Blows are decent, law-abiding and bandwidth-thrifty folks. Piracy is not tolerated, and all screens are off by 10 p.m. They’ve never exceeded their monthly bandwidth cap.
So how much should they expect to pay for their Internet? According to George Burger, a veteran telecom executive currently advising the independent ISP TekSavvy, mainstream use like that could soon cost upwards of $150 a month.
That’s what’s to come in the post-UBB Canada, says Burger. This may come as a bummer to the 100,000+ Canadians who were active against Usage Based Billing, and who thought they had won. When the CRTC ditched Usage Based Billing for a capacity-based pricing model, it seemed to many onlookers (myself included) that reason had won. Continue…
By Alex Ballingall - Tuesday, January 31, 2012 at 11:53 AM - 0 Comments
League claims broadcasts can’t be shared with company’s wireless competitors
The National Football League has suited up and joined forces with BCE Inc. in its rumble with the Canadian Radio and Television Commission.
The CRTC ruled in December that BCE—which owns Bell Mobility, CTV and TSN—would not be allowed to restrict its hockey and football broadcasts to its own wireless subscribers.
The NFL, evidently, begs to differ. As reported in the Globe and Mail, the football league is arguing that no wireless providers except BCE can offer its content.
If you’re worried about how this is going to affect your Super Bowl party, don’t be. The NFL’s beef with the CRTC is only for content delivered on mobile devices like smart phones. (The league is refusing to allow Bell to share its NFL broadcasting rights with competitors like Telus, Inc.)
Now, it’s up to the CRTC to decide what to do. The commission can either let it slide, or set up a mad-dog blitz for a federal court ruling. Game on.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 20, 2012 at 1:27 PM - 0 Comments
Brian Topp has released his fifth policy paper, this one on the arts.
I propose a cultural industries investment fund for the rest of Canada, and a matching offer of federal support for SODEC to help promote its own work. The federal government’s program of targeted tax credits and other supports in the cultural industries would be reviewed to ensure they complement this new approach…
I propose a careful, top-to-bottom rethink of the CBC’s television and internet service; the re-launch of Canadian public broadcasting on a model that will work in the 21st century — and then a substantial, sustained investment in that model…
I propose a review and modernization of the Broadcasting Act, and some clear dialogue with the CRTC (perhaps in the form of a Cabinet directive) to ensure the Act is enforced – including in its requirements that broadcasters (conventional, cable and internet) earn their access to the Canadian market through an appropriate commitment to Canadian content…
I propose our party commit to updating and modernizing federal status of the artist legislation and, in the course of doing so, review how basic federal income support and taxation policies (pensions, EI, the issue of income averaging) work for people pursuing artistic careers.
Last night, he picked up the endorsement of Chris Charlton.
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 4:20 PM - 0 Comments
On Tuesday, independent Canadian ISP Teksavvy announced its new service plans, effectively dropping the other shoe in the long-running usage-based internet billing debate. While on the surface there are some things to like, at the core the new plans–and regulatory system they’re based on–paint a disturbing picture of the future of Canada’s Internet.
The CRTC set things in motion in November with its government-ordered revisit of the issue and came up with something called capacity-based billing, a sort of diet UBB. In essence, instead of large network owners charging indie ISPs for every byte their customers download, the new system requires the smaller companies to buy chunks of capacity based on how much they think they’re going to need on a monthly basis.
As Jesse Brown noted on this site earlier this week, while some commentators praised the decision, others–including Teksavvy–said the regulator screwed things up again. While the system itself was okay, the fees that a few big network owners are allowed to charge through it were way too high, the company said, which will inevitably result in price increases for customers.
All eyes have since been on Teksavvy, one of the largest and most vocal of the UBB opponents, to see what it would do. In the end, the company’s new plans and the accompanying explanation are something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, most existing plans are going up by $3 to $4, which fits the predictions by some observers that the CRTC’s ruling would push up rates by 10 to 15 per cent. The issue, as Teksavvy puts it, is that while its fixed costs actually went down somewhat thanks to the decision, the variable ones can potentially go up significantly. The company’s pricing notice reads:
If left to stand, these prices will ensure that residential Internet service prices will increase dramatically as consumer usage at peak times increases… in the face of the recent decision, we have to modestly adjust our rates.
On this front, if Teksavvy is to be believed and the rate increases are essentially going to further compensate network providers, the impact of capacity-based is the same as the intended effect of usage-based billing: Prices for consumers are going up.
On the plus side, Teksavvy is now officially offering higher speeds–up to 24 megabits per second–with usage limits that are generally much more generous than those of the incumbents at significantly lower prices. As many people pointed out on Twitter, even with the price increases, the company’s plans are still way better than what can be found elsewhere.
But there are plenty of downsides as well. For one, Teksavvy has introduced the concept of non-peak usage–meaning that customers can download all they want in the wee hours of the night without it counting against their caps. Some observers call this “innovative,” but it may well be the first step down a slippery slope. It heralds a future where internet usage is further compartmentalized–if it starts with file-sharing overnight, how long till someone makes it more expensive to watch online video in the evening, or call on Skype during the afternoon? Not only can this approach become confusing, it can also become expensive and limiting.
The only countries I know of that have adopted such non-peak usage concepts are Australia and New Zealand, both of which are in the process of building multi-billion-dollar next-generation fibre networks because their telco monopolies have failed to provide decent infrastructure on their own. The two countries, along with Iceland and Canada, are also the only ones where unlimited usage plans are uncommon if not completely absent. As I’ve pointed out before, one those countries (cough, Canada, cough) is unlike all the others. As far as anyone can tell, in fact, Canada is not an isolated island that must buy capacity on cables that run under the ocean.
Is the idea of compartmentalized internet service–where Canadians can only watch Netflix or other online video in the early hours of the morning for fear of exceeding their caps– an absurdist notion? It is indeed. It portends a dystopian scenario, which may or may not come true, but would be just as absurd as imposing a capacity-based billing scheme in response to congestion problems that large network owners have yet to prove exist.
It’s also thoroughly absurd to suggest that limiting how Canadians use the Internet–rather than expanding their use of it–is in any way “innovative.”
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 4:11 PM - 0 Comments
Last November the CRTC killed Usage Based Billing, the pricing scheme imposed by Canada’s telecom giants on small independent Internet providers that threatened the existence of unlimited (and high limit) download plans. When the news came, the 500,000+ Canadians who had protested against UBB celebrated their victory over big business. That lasted for about a minute.
Almost instantly, indie ISP’s pooped on their own party. Sure, UBB was dead, but what was it to be replaced with? A “capacity” based pricing scheme that seems fair in principle, but which breaks down when you get to the actual numbers–tariffs set by the same big ISPs without any transparency. These rates varied wildly between providers, suggesting that the big players would still find a way to gouge the little guys out of existence, while keeping unmetered internet out of reach for Canadians. Teksavvy, one of the biggest little guys, called the CRTC’s new plan an “unfortunate step back for Canadian consumers.”
In fact, when I interviewed George Burger, TekSavvy’s formidable representative, he all but suggested that the new pricing scheme would kill OTT (Over The Top Television) altogether. It was too soon to provide numbers, but the implication was that indie ISP customers were about to see their bills skyrocket.
That may have been an overly grim projection. Today, Teksavvy announced its new rates, adjusted to reflect the CRTC’s new pricing scheme. Most customers will pay $3 to 4 dollars a month more for unlimited plans or plans capped at 300 gigs a month (Teksavvy’s most popular plans).
It’s a sizeable bump, but nowhere close to the gouging that would have occurred under UBB. If “cord-cutting” indie ISP customers who get their TV and phone through the internet suddenly saw their rates double or triple, they may have gone running back to the big boys for landlines and cable boxes. But three or four bucks a month seems like a reasonable fee for a one-pipe solution to your every telecom need. What’s more, Teksavvy is turning their own meter off each night during off-peak hours. No matter what plan you’re on, you can download to your heart’s content while your neighbours sleep.
In other words, the unmetered Internet is alive and well in Canada for those who want it. Teksavvy’s bigger problem is that not enough Canadians seem to want it. Or, if they want it, they don’t know where to get it. All of the indie ISPs combined still only hold about five per cent of the market in Canada.
Perhaps Teksavvy (and the other small players) should have done a better job of using UBB’s defeat to make themselves known to the greater public and woo those 500,000+ protesters (and anybody else) over to their services. The media won’t likely pay the same amount of attention to small ISPs again. They could have used their victory to pitch their wares to the overwhelming majority of Canadians who are using more bandwidth than ever.
After all, unlimited access is not just for us BitTorrenting “bandwidth hogs” anymore. As mainstream services like Netflix get bigger, more and more non-geek Canadians are being hit with big overage fees. The only thing holding many of them back from switching to an unlimited plan is a lack of awareness that these plans exist. That, or a general sense that indie ISPs are only for the technologically savvy.
I wonder where they get that idea from?
By Peter Nowak - Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 8:08 AM - 5 Comments
I had a few days to be a tourist on my trip to Berlin last week and one of the more fun things I did was visit the DDR Museum, which provides visitors with an excellent documentation of what life was like in communist East Germany before the Wall fell in 1989.
The museum has exhibits detailing the obvious stuff, like shortages of everything from toilet paper to gasoline, as well as the spying efforts of the Stasi secret police. It also sheds light on some of the really dumb ideas, such as requiring school children to take communal potty breaks. The kids would all go take a dump together and could not pull up their pants until everyone had finished. Continue…
By Peter Nowak - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 2:56 PM - 10 Comments
The CRTC’s usage-based billing decision is in and boy is it a lot to digest, which is perhaps why there were so many conflicting reports in the media as to who the winners and losers are or will be. After reading and digesting the long document and speaking to a number of the small Internet providers that will be affected by it at the ISP Summit dinner on Tuesday night, it’s hard to see how anybody really wins with this decision. Burdened with the impossible task of trying to make everybody happy, perhaps this was the CRTC’s desired outcome.
To understand the ruling, we need to delve past the headlines and the press release. I swore I’d never use the phrase “the devil is in the details,” but the demon certainly is in the fine print. In the case of this decision, it’s in the appendix, way at the end, which is a bunch of prices. I’m not a network guy so I’m sure I’ll get some of this wrong—even the experts will need a few days to digest and crunch the numbers—so feel free to jump in and make corrections in the comments. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 2 Comments
Commission finds “no clear evidence” online services are harming broadcasters
The CRTC announced Wednesday it would not regulate online streaming services like Netflix. The commission had been investigating the possibility of imposing content rules on Netflix and other services similar to those levied against traditional television networks. But after months of consultations, the CRTC found, “There is no clear evidence that Canadians are reducing or canceling their television subscriptions” and turning toward the unregulated services to replace them. Another review is scheduled for next May, which could result in online content being regulated for the first time.
By Peter Nowak - Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 11:35 AM - 28 Comments
Last month, I broke down and bought a car stereo to replace the factory model that came with my 2003 Toyota Corolla. Given that the car is eight years old, the stereo didn’t yet have the necessary inputs to properly connect an iPod. I’d therefore been relying on one of those crappy FM transmitters that plug into the iPod, which not only results in crackly sound, but requires that you continually adjust the reception because of shifting FM stations in different towns and cities.
I shelled out for the new stereo, a simple $99 model from Pioneer, because I can’t take Canadian radio anymore. For one thing, there are all the ads. Since the CRTC allows radio stations to air as many as they want, the amount has been climbing and climbing. That’s good news for radio revenues, which are also climbing and climbing, but bad news for your sanity while driving. Continue…
By Jesse Brown - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 12:33 PM - 29 Comments
File this one under “Streisand Effect.” It’s a story I wouldn’t be writing if I hadn’t been warned not to.
Let’s start with some background: in Canada, we supposedly have Net Neutrality. That means your Internet service provider can’t mess around with the speeds of your connection based on which sites or apps you use. Yet ISPs in Canada still mess with the speed of our connections based on which sites or apps we use. How is this possible? Two reasons:
- Because there are exceptions to the CRTC’s Net Neutrality regulations (if ISPs say they have to slow you down in order to manage “network congestion,” they can).
- Net Neutrality rules are only enforced after they are broken, only if consumers complain, and only if the CRTC bothers to investigate and act.
Recently, Internet law prof Michael Geist obtained public CRTC documents revealing that, though dozens have complained about cases of speed “throttling,” the CRTC has only enforced Net Neutrality once, on a company called Barret Xplornet—a government-subsidized provider servicing rural areas with satellite service.
By Peter Nowak - Friday, July 15, 2011 at 3:00 PM - 42 Comments
Here’s an interesting if somewhat disturbing thought: can you picture a world without YouTube? Or more specifically, a country without YouTube?
It seems improbable, almost impossible, but it’s entirely conceivable if the CRTC loses its collective mind and decides to regulate such “over-the-top” Internet services in Canada.
The regulator, answering to cajoling from traditional broadcasters, has now concluded its “fact-finding mission” on whether YouTube, Netflix and other OTT services should have Canadian content rules foisted on to them. At some point, it will decide on whether to proceed with a new, full hearing, or whether it will just drop the issue, at least for now.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
The Canadian military heads for the far North while Manitobans stare at a massive bill for flood cleanup.
Boots on the snow
Canada is planning its biggest summer military exercise in the far North. More than ever, a grand show of force in the Arctic is vitally important. Russia recently announced that it plans to send two new military brigades to the Arctic and is boasting of plans to build a year-round port there. Tensions between Arctic nations are on the rise over the drawing of borders in this resource-rich part of the world. And while flag-planting displays may seem trivial, when it comes to Arctic sovereignty, Canada needs to use it or risk losing it.
The Greek government has prevented a likely tragedy by stopping a flotilla of pro-Palestinian protesters from embarking for Gaza. An attempt to break the Israeli blockade last summer ended in a confrontation on the high seas that left nine dead. With both sides bent for a repeat showdown, the results this year could have been even worse. The Greeks are offering to work with the UN to ferry the ship’s cargo—food, medicine and building materials—to the Gaza Strip’s many needy. A bit of reasonableness that should serve as an example to the radicals on both sides.
A liberating decision
Ottawa reversed course and approved trials for a controversial procedure used to treat multiple sclerosis called “liberation therapy,” which involves opening blocked neck veins. Canada, which has among the highest rates of MS in the world, said last year it would not fund the trials due to concerns about the procedure’s efficacy and safety. Advocates, though, argue it is life-saving. The trials may finally provide some much-needed answers.
Cellphones don’t cause cancer after all, according to a major academic review of research by experts in Britain, the U.S. and Sweden. The report comes two months after the World Health Organization said the devices should be classified as “possibly” carcinogenic (along with pickled vegetables and coffee). Such cancer scares haven’t curbed appetite for the technology. The last wireless patents held by Nortel were bought for US$4.5 billion by a consortium including RIM, Apple, Ericsson and Microsoft.
Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian dictatorship, one of the Middle East’s most repressive regimes, continues to plumb new depths as it confronts pro-democracy protesters. This week its security forces opened fire on peaceful crowds in several towns, wounding dozens and killing at least three. With the West focused on removing Moammar Gadhaﬁ from power in Libya, Assad seems to feel untouchable. And to our collective shame, he appears to be right.
A couple of months back, Treasury Board President Tony Clement was criticized for tweeting a comment on a CRTC decision that was effectively a change in government telecom policy. Now he’s been caught out sharing photos of Will and Kate snapped at a private reception. Clement says he’s done nothing wrong, but clearly his desire to self-publicize is getting the better of him. Facing similar aggrandizers, the BBC is reportedly considering adding a clause to its contracts with its talent to prevent tweeted leaks and spoilers. But it all pales compared to the numbskull who hacked the Fox News Twitter account on July 4 and shared the “news” that Barack Obama had been assassinated. Can’t we all ﬁnd better things to do with technology?
This case has no clothes
An Ontario court this week heard arguments about whether laws preventing public nudity are unconstitutional. Lawyers for Brian Coldin, who was arrested when he showed up naked at a Tim Hortons drive-through, argue police should have discretion when enforcing nudity laws. In Coldin’s case, restaurant employees testified they felt “uncomfortable” seeing his genitals on display. If anything, this case offers an all-too-clear example why nudity laws exist and shouldn’t be fiddled with.
Researchers writing in the American Journal of Public Health say they have calculated how many deaths may be caused by poverty each year: 133,000 in the U.S. That’s not to say money guarantees good health. A Canadian study found low-income, urban children are more likely to walk or bike to school and are therefore in better shape than their more privileged counterparts.
By Chris Sorensen - Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 10:15 AM - 4 Comments
As tech companies race to try to reinvent television, the industry is ready and fighting back
A stock analyst once called Reed Hastings’s company, Netflix Inc., “a worthless piece of crap with really nice people.” That was six years ago. Hastings and his agreeable team have since helped kneecap video-rental giant Blockbuster by convincing Americans that it was easier to rent DVDs through Netflix’s website, and then have them delivered (and returned, postage paid) through the mail. Now Netflix is in the process of upending the entire television business by using the Internet to stream movies and TV shows directly to people’s computers and big-screen televisions via Web-connected Blu-ray players, Xboxes and other devices. So much for Mr. Nice Guy.
Netflix has so far signed up more than 24 million customers in the United States, rivalling the subscriber base of cable giant Comcast. Hastings expects to add another one million Canadian subscribers by this summer, with each one paying $7.99 a month for unlimited access to Netflix’s ballooning catalogue of digital titles. And the stock price? It’s far from worthless, having surged more than 800 per cent over the past five years—a better performance than even Apple Inc.’s.
Not surprisingly, cable and satellite TV executives are getting nervous—Comcast’s CEO recently derided Netflix as “reruns TV,” referring to its lack of live content. And Hastings isn’t doing much to soothe fears when he describes Netflix’s potential customer base as one that goes well beyond existing cable or satellite subscribers. “One way to think about the upper limit is the number of people who have a mobile phone,” Hastings told Maclean’s. “That’s because they’re people with enough money, and are of the right age to own a device with a screen.”
By Jesse Brown - Friday, May 27, 2011 at 5:02 PM - 21 Comments
Last week I asked you for help with my homework. I promised the folks at Mesh, Canada’s Web Conference, a presentation on how to “unsuck” Canada’s Internet. But while I’m pretty good at identifying the problem(s), I’m less confident about what strategy will actually set things straight.
Should change be dictated by the government through progressive new digital policies? Or has the government done enough harm already, and what we really need is for them to back off and deregulate? Should consumers speak up through petitions and online activism? Or are our interests better served through direct action, routing around the lousier aspects of our networks and voting with our dollars for services like VPN and Usenet access? How can we move past promises and towards Open Government? What’s to be done about all the geo-blocked content? How do we fight back against the erosion of our privacy and digital rights? So much suck, so many questions…
I put them to you, and also to a number of influential voices on the national tech scene. I left it up to each respondent to interpret the “suck” how they saw it. Here’s what folks said: Continue…
By Jesse Brown - Friday, May 20, 2011 at 1:39 PM - 104 Comments
I know, I know—it’s the same Internet everywhere, the Internet knows no boundaries, etc. But work with me here! And consider the evidence:
- Many (most?) of the best commercial sites and services online are blocked to Canadians.
- We haven’t had a single major web startup in Canada, despite the incredible amount of engineering talent that emerges from this country every year (and from the University of Waterloo alone). Continue…
By Jesse Brown - Friday, April 15, 2011 at 11:56 AM - 28 Comments
Canada’s television networks are pressuring the CRTC to regulate Netflix, the emerging online subscription-based video service. Netflix is cheap, easy to use, and lets Canadians watch the content they want, regardless of where it was made. Clearly this cannot be tolerated in Canada.
If our legacy broadcasters are successful, Netflix will have to stock a set percentage of Canadian videos and kick back a chunk of their profits to the Canadian Television Fund and the Canadian Media Fund, who will use the money to produce Canadian Content, or CanCon.
But Netflix is only one web service among millions. Once the CRTC starts regulating the Internet, they’ll have much more work to do. Here’s what should come next:
CanCon regulations for YouTube:
If one commercial U.S. video service is to be regulated in Canada, why not another? Why not go for the big one?
From now on, if YouTube wants to compete with our own beloved television networks, distracting Canadian viewers from their own cultural heritage (i.e. MuchMusic’s Pants Off Dance Off), then surely YouTube must give something back and pay into the CanCon funding regime. But what should we make with the money we tax from YouTube? It doesn’t seem appropriate to fund TV shows with web video money. If Canadian creators are to thrive in this new space, then our production community must evolve with the times.
I suggest the establishment of a Canadian Viral Video Fund. A percentage of every dollar YouTube makes in Canada by streaming videos of cats on skateboards will be used to produce our own YouTube videos of cats on skateboards. But the cats will be ACTRA members, the skateboards snowboards, the videos shot by unionized crews, and the resulting product enriching to our sense of place and heritage (suggestion: narration by Donald Sutherland).
CanCon Internet Memes:
If the CRTC doesn’t act now to regulate Canadian Content in Internet jokes, fads and memes, we will soon be awash in slick American memes with no hope of establishing our own national identity of animated gifs and ridiculous 4chan pics. Why should Canadians be ‘RickRolled’ when they could be ‘HartHoled‘?
Why must it always be a Nigerian prince who needs $100,000 to untangle his vast petroleum fortune? Why not a Canadian prince, say Ben Mulroney, in need of $736 to get his SUV out of the shop?
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, March 8, 2011 at 1:08 PM - 21 Comments
The fact that Internet Service Providers feel comfortable calling their best customers “hogs” is a good indicator that something is not right with broadband service in Canada. It takes nerve (or a comfy monopoly) to call your own subscribers swine for using the services you offer in the exact way you offer them (“Extreme!” “Blaze Through Bytes!” “Push Your Surfing Limits!”).
(To be fair, when Maclean’s, which is owned by Rogers, published an editorial in support of usage based billing, the term “bandwidth hog” was not used. Every other highly-contested claim and opinion of the major ISPs was repeated, but at least they didn’t call users hogs!)
But just who are these “bandwidth hogs” anyway? My friends, they are the future of the Internet.
We are told that the average Canadian Internet user today consumes a humble 16 gigs of bandwidth per month—not like those greedy hogs who burn upwards of 100! But not long ago, sucking down 16 gigs of data would have made you a prize pig. In 2003 for example, Bell’s most expensive plan capped users at 5 gigs per month. At the time, that may have been plenty for most users, who surfed the web, checked email, and perhaps downloaded some MP3s. But if you were interested in online video, you could easily have gone over, incurring $8/gig overage fees as you did. Hitting 16 would have cost you $88 on top of your subscription fee- call it a “hog tax”.
But those hogs of 2003 were in fact early-adopters. YouTube brought online video to the mainstream in 2005, and the average amount of data downloaded per user quadrupled over the next three years.
Today’s heavy users are downloading HD videos and using the cloud as their own personal hard drive. With 18 gig BluRay files and 100 gigabyte Dropbox accounts, these power users can easily blast through an average subscriber’s allotment in an afternoon. ISPs respond as they did in ’03, deriding them as hogs and throttling their transfers while simultaneously dinging them for massive overages.
Of course, in a year or two, downloading HD movies and storing your entire hard drive online will be mainstream activities, and ISPs will be advertising their ability to deliver them at turbo speeds. Same goes for mobile, where tethering and video streaming are today’s highly-taxed hog habits, and tomorrow’s mainstream mainstays.
Maybe instead of gouging and insulting these users, ISPs should study their habits to glean valuable predictive data that can inform how they build out their networks for the future. Maybe they’re doing both.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, February 25, 2011 at 2:54 PM - 11 Comments
How Tony Clement got to be the most influential man in Ottawa
At least so far as Twitter is concerned, Industry Minister Tony Clement might claim to be the most influential man in Ottawa. According to Klout.com, which measures the reach of and demand for one’s tweets, the frequently tweeting minister rates 72 (out of a possible 100) in influence—14 points ahead of his boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Social media—whatever its potential for embarrassment—has become a necessary public relations tool for the modern politician, and Twitter has brought in a new era of instant communication. Clement uses the 140-character messaging service to discuss his daily activities and taste in music, but also once related his attempts to save a drowning woman. On several occasions, Clement, who has been front and centre on a number of controversial issues over the last year, has taken to Twitter to battle criticism of his decisions and policies. Earlier this month, he used Twitter to announce his government’s intention to overturn a CRTC decision on Internet usage—an announcement that has started a debate over the role and place of Twitter in the business of government.
For all that, Clement has won a reputation as a prominent tweeter. His score of 72 outpaces not only Harper, but also cabinet colleagues Jason Kenney and James Moore (57 for both), who post regularly on Twitter. Harper trails both Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff (69) and NDP Leader Jack Layton (65), but is four points ahead of Gilles Duceppe (54). Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae rates a 58, while Layton’s wife, NDP MP Olivia Chow, scores 55. For the sake of comparison, U.S. President Barack Obama rates an 88, while Sarah Palin scores 75. All remain well back of Justin Bieber, who rates a perfect 100.
Clement’s unquestioned domination of the tweet may soon be challenged, though. The House of Commons recently approved Twitter applications for government-issued BlackBerries, potentially enabling many more MPs to succinctly discuss their musical preferences in the near future. Indeed, following Clement’s lead, MPs might soon be hashing out complicated matters of public policy 140 characters at a time.
By the editors - Friday, February 18, 2011 at 9:20 AM - 827 Comments
The heaviest users comprise just two per cent of the total
The Internet is a many-splendoured thing. Among its countless and revolutionary contributions to 21st-century life has been the broad democratization of information and opinion. And this has given rise to the popular conceit that everything about the Internet should be free. Not so.
In spite of its many gifts, the Internet is certainly not costless. Billions of dollars of private capital have been invested in building and maintaining Canada’s high-speed Internet network. And more investment is continually required as demand and new services grow exponentially. Access to the Internet is thus like most other things in life: it has a real cost, and if you want more you should expect to pay more.
Last week we criticized the federal government for using Twitter to reverse a key decision from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, an independent agency, regarding Internet access pricing. This week we examine the practical implications of the move.
At issue is the ability of Internet carriers such as Bell Canada and Rogers Communications (the parent company of Maclean’s) to establish usage-based billing, by which all customers pay incrementally for the service they use. In its recent ruling, the CRTC agreed that usage-based billing offers the fairest and most convenient means of allocating Internet access. Currently, small Internet providers who connect to the carriers’ existing networks are able to offer unlimited access plans, which attract the heaviest bandwidth users and lead to network congestion for everyone.
The average Canadian Internet user consumes approximately 16 gigabytes of data per month. By contrast, the heaviest users, who comprise just two per cent of the total, gobble up hundreds of gigs on a monthly basis. And in the same way that roads become congested during rush hour, Internet networks also become clogged at peak times due to these heavy users. Solving this situation requires a means of reducing congestion.
According to the CRTC, management of Internet traffic congestion is best done through “transparent, economic measures.” And the most practical is the concept that heavy users should pay more. “As a general rule, ordinary customers… should not have to fund the bandwidth used by the heaviest retail Internet customers,” says a CRTC release. Closing a loophole by which average users were forced to subsidize the massive consumption of a few heavy users is in keeping with a commitment to fairness and market-oriented solutions.
It’s also worth noting that the CRTC did not ignore the situation of small independent providers. To maintain a competitive environment and encourage a diversity of services, the regulatory body also mandated that the large Internet carriers provide a 15 per cent “wholesale” discount to these smaller firms. Unfortunately, this significant quid pro quo has been entirely lost in the one-sided discussion over usage-based billing.
As a result of wild online outcries from the heaviest users and their Internet service providers, Prime Minister Stephen Harper quickly sent out a tweet that he was unhappy with the CRTC’s decision. Industry Minister Tony Clement followed up with his own Twitter posting that the agency would be forced to drop its existing policy and “go back to [the] drawing board.”
Such a casual approach to important public policy is an embarrassment to the government. It’s also another example of how the Harper government occasionally allows populism to interfere with sound decision-making. In much the same way the Conservatives seem convinced our country is besieged by criminals, they are now encouraging the popular delusion that usage-based billing will condemn Canada to backwater Internet status. Rather, we have one of the fastest and most modern Internet networks in the world.
There are no detached observers in the debate over Internet access. Everyone has a stake in the system, either as consumer or provider. Customers who’ve been receiving subsidized Internet service can naturally be expected to complain about any new system that forces them to pay for what they use. But on the whole, the CRTC’s original decision struck an appropriate balance. It protected the vast majority of average users while providing heavy users with a competitive marketplace and small Internet firms with a 15 per cent wholesale advantage. That may not be free, but it’s certainly fair.
Last month, Maclean’s editorialized on the lack of attention paid to minimum beer prices in Canada (“Why is your government standing in the way of cheaper beer?” Jan. 24, 2011). We’re pleased to see Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has since taken up the case, so to speak, and is arguing against minimum pricing. It’s a policy worth sharing with the whole country.
By the editors - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 2:39 PM - 35 Comments
Once upon a time, governments consulted with those affected, commissioned reports and weighed their options
As might be expected, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a lot on his mind these days. We know this from recent postings to his Twitter account. Last week, for example, he wished everyone a “Happy Lunar New Year!” Before that he passed along Christmas greetings from “Rachel, Ben, Laureen and myself” and congratulated Ontario-born baseball player Joey Votto on being named National League MVP. Oh yes, he also rewrote the nation’s Internet policy. All in 140 characters.
Twitter is the popular social networking tool that allows users to send out short, frequent blasts of information. Celebrities, sports stars and anyone else who sees a need to provide continual updates on their latest thoughts and activities have flocked to Twitter. Add politicians to this list as well.
Harper has been tweeting since September 2008. Many of his cabinet ministers and parliamentary rivals tweet as well. As a marketing and networking tool, Twitter has become useful, perhaps even necessary, to the business of politics. But is this how Canadians expect their government to make policy? Is it possible to rule a country 140 characters at a time?
By Jason Kirby - Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at 9:26 AM - 34 Comments
The increasingly erratic policies of the Harper government could spell trouble for corporate Canada
The announcement from Canada’s telecom regulator that it would end unlimited-use Internet plans unleashed a populist uprising that swept the nation. Hundreds of thousands of irate Web surfers signed an online petition opposing the decision, and the issue was blogged, shared and tweeted to no end. Amidst all that seething, though, only one opinion really mattered. “I will be reviewing CRTC decision forthwith with a view to protecting Canadians & promoting choice,” federal Industry Minister Tony Clement declared via his Twitter account. And with that, a 98-character missive threw the $60-billion telecommunications sector into chaos.
As the weather vane of public opinion swings, so do Canada’s policies toward business. Over the past two years, there have been repeated cases where Ottawa has stunned investors with populist decisions that took precedence over sound policy. The moves raise the question: is the supposedly laissez-faire government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper actually hurting Canada’s reputation as a stable and open market for business and investment? “No one likes risk and these interventions add yet another source of uncertainty when it comes to investing in Canada,” says Stephen Gordon, a professor of economics at Université Laval. “Clearly we’re not Russia, but then again, we’re not the Canada we used to be, either.”
But while critics like Gordon may be concerned, corporate Canada is mostly silent. With tax cuts on the table, instability is a price executives seem willing to pay. Besides, with federal politicians deep into the business of picking winners and losers, companies are keen to stay on the winning side.
No issue has sparked as much public fury as Internet download limits. In its ruling, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered that major telecoms, which are required to sell Internet capacity to smaller independent providers, can now charge for usage above certain limits. As it is now, the big providers, Telus, Bell Canada, Shaw and Rogers (which owns Maclean’s) all impose download limits, while independents have been free to offer unlimited access. In response to Clement’s knee-jerk statement, the CRTC has delayed the changes for 60 days while it reviews its decision.
By Jesse Brown - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 11:44 AM - 65 Comments
WIND mobile may be done-for in Canada; a Federal Court has ruled that because WIND’s parent company is backed by Egyptian investors, it violates Canada’s laws against foreigners owning our wireless spectrum.
This is bad news, right? After all, when WIND broke in Canada (high-five!) a whole new tier of affordable cell-phone plans popped up. The entrance of one new player forced a correction in the entire market! Who could hate that?
ACTRA hates that. Stephen Waddell, the National Executive Director of the Canadian actor’s union, calls the anti-WIND ruling “a victory for culture!”
Ok, here’s ACTRA’s logic on this- follow it if you can:
If cellphone services operating in Canada can be owned by foreign companies, then cable TV companies might also ask for access to foreign capital. And if these scary foreign interests end up controlling our cable companies, then they may escape the CRTC’s jurisdiction. Without CRTC control, these stations may avoid having to funnel their profits back into the production of Canadian content, and the forced production of Canadian television may cease.
And that’s why every time you call your mom on a WIND phone plan, Joey Jeremiah cries.
Of course, the existing Can-Con regime is on borrowed time anyhow. Internet video falls outside of the CRTC’s reach, and with more Canadians watching on their laptops, the days of mandatory, subsidized Canadian TV shows may be numbered.
If that happens, then the only reason anyone would produce a television show in Canada would be if they thought people would watch it. And we can’t have that, can we?
By macleans.ca - Friday, February 4, 2011 at 10:46 AM - 13 Comments
Regulator stands by usage caps, but delays implementation by 60 days
The CRTC will delay the implementation of usage-based billing by at least 60 days while it reviews its controversial decision on the matter. Customers were quick to react to the regulator’s ruling allowing the major Canadian Internet providers to charge smaller companies by the amount of data they transfer, effectively eliminating unlimited Internet service in Canada. In testimony before the House of Commons, CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein said he’d decided to review the decision before the Conservative government threatened to overrule the commission. Von Finkelstein nonetheless added he stands by the principle behind the ruling. “The ordinary users should not subsidize the heavy users,” he said. “We are convinced that Internet services are no different than other public utilities,” he said.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, February 3, 2011 at 12:13 PM - 59 Comments
Industry minister announces decision on Twitter
What better way to challenge a regulator’s decision to end unlimited Internet use than by announcing it via Twitter? That’s exactly what Industry Minister Tony Clement, the most active Twitterer on Parliament Hill, did on Wednesday, when he tweeted “CRTC must go back to drawing board” on usage-based billing. The tweet was followed by a somewhat heated exchange with Maclean’s own Andrew Coyne over the merits of foreign competition and the government’s approach to trade policy. Prime Minister Harper has also personally intervened in the CRTC’s decision to allow telecom companies to charge consumers who exceed their bandwidth caps. The ruling also prevents smaller Internet service providers from providing unlimited access to consumers by leasing network space from larger telecom companies. CRTC chair Konrad von Finckenstein will appear before the House Industry Committee on Thursday to explain the ruling.