Category Archives: business

The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?


ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!


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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

Are you a social justice librarian?

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed that it’s basically become, well, all me.

That was never the intent. I’m not THE social justice librarian, I’m just A social justice librarian.

I’d prefer that this blog have multiple voices, with different perspectives and interests. However, my former partners in crime have moved on to other adventures in their lives and aren’t sure if or when they’ll be back.

Which brings me to the question…do YOU want to write for the SJL blog? Are you a social justice librarian, archivist, or other information professional type?

Can you add coverage of topics I don’t discuss much? Or a perspective that is different from mine? Ideally (but not necessarily), you do something other than health librarianship and live somewhere other than Western Canada.

If you’re keen, drop me a line to discuss your interest. If it seems like a fit, I’d love to expand the author list here again.


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Just an update

There are 3 partially-written Big Posts I’ve been meaning to finish up and get out on the blog lately:
1)    Weighing electronic medical records and privacy concerns
2)    Abandoning the “Serials Crisis” argument in open access discourse
3)    The Elsevier “fake journals” scandal, Bentham “fake articles” scandal, current ghostwriting and industry-sponsored journal practices, and what health librarians can and can’t do about it all

I’m working on it!  The semester ends soon, and hopefully once all the term papers are marked I will be more blog-productive.

Then maybe I can also come back and discuss some of my favourite issues again, including censorship and sexual content in comics (again), Angus’ new/reintroduced Net Neutrality bill, and consumer drug advertising.

All to say, stay tuned — stuff is coming!

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YouTube-Viacom lawsuit and IT-ignorant government

If you’ve heard about this week’s court order (ArsTechnica plain-English breakdown here) in the Viacom-YouTube lawsuit, you probably already know it makes a parody of privacy. It clearly states for the world that corporate IP such as search algorithms should be held in the utmost confidence. However, concerns over the revealing of personal information such as location, login names, and video viewing history are really just “speculative.” (This despite personal video usage history being explicitly protected by U.S. law.)

Now I may be a cockeyed optimist, but I don`t think Judge Louis Stanton had any nefarious intentions in making this ruling. I think Stanton is just the latest high-profile example of a government representative exercising government power over information technology without understanding how IT works. (Katie blogged about this same problem back here.)

The EFF`s Kurt Opsahl picks apart the court order in a nice blog post that really calls into question whether Judge Stanton understands IP addresses, user IDs, video technologies of the 21st century, and data protection legislation. The Washington Post`s Michael Arrington points out that Stanton graduated from law school over 50 years ago, so his ignorance in matters tech should not be shocking.

We have a similar problem with legislators. Even our very well-intentioned Bill C-552, aka the Canadian Net Neutrality Bill, has shortcomings that I can only assume are the result of MP Angus not being quite well informed enough. Yes, C-552 is on the right track, but…it could be better with a little more information and consultation with IT-literate stakeholders.

Of course, our largest Canadian example, hanging directly over our heads at the moment is Copyright Bill C-61, aka the Canadian DMCA. Anyone who listens to the CBC’s Search Engine knows that Industry Minister Jim Prentice (who has already been embarrassed by a wikipedia bio editing blooper) doesn’t have a clue (podcast here) about what the copyright bill really means. (Oddly, that show ended up being the last ever for Search Engine.) Talk about an IT-illiterate making telecom policy; sheesh. It would be funny if the stakes weren`t so high.

C-61 is actually a prime example of the dangers of tech-illiterate government, because it is the type of legislation that, if passed, will likely spawn lawsuits similar to the Viacom-YouTube in Canadian courts. Which can then be presided over by judges who, in turn, do not understand the way technology works.

IT-ignorant lawmakers make technology laws, and IT-ignorant judges interpret those laws when large corporations battle against scary new paradigms or information dissemination…it`s almost enough to make one become a luddite, merely in order to protect oneself.

Then, of course, one might be qualified for a technology-related government appointment.



Filed under business, copyright, digitization, government, IP, privacy, technology, Uncategorized

Holiday hiatus

Hope everyone has had a lovely time the past week or so whatever you do or do not celebrate this time of year.

While my co-bloggers have been visiting family I have been home sick but enjoying time with the kiddo nonetheless, the NIH Open Access mandate has finally been signed into law!

Expect regularly scheduled blog postings to resume soon.

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Blogging, Remembering and Forgetting

Blogging, Documentation and Retention

As I hemmed and hawed over my first blog post – changing topics, editing, deleting – I realized that behind my newbie jitters was lurking an issue I’ve been devoting a lot of time and space to over the last year. And that is: will this blog post be around forever? If I press ‘post’ and decide, in three years time, that the topic was all wrong, that my thoughts on the subject have now changed, that what I wrote was misguided or misinformed, will my text remain out there on the interwebs to haunt me?

This all stems from a series of talks, conversations, blog posts, etc floating around out there about ubiquitous memory. As an archivist, digital media’s promise for documenting communities from their own perspective is exciting. Projects like the Civil Rights in Mississippi Digital Archive and the ReMap LA project are exciting examples of different, promising sorts of digital archives.

But at the same time, forgetting can be a useful process for personal and social growth. Forgetting allows us a new start, to protect private identities or reinvent those identities. This comes home to me as I sit here trying to perfect my first blog post, with the realization that whatever I say in print, even – or especially – digital print, doesn’t have a clear expiration date.

There’s been a lot of academic-y talking about what to do about digital technologies and forgetting, but not a lot of writing. I expect we’ll see more in the next year, but an accessible (both literally and technologically – you don’t need a journal subscription to read it) article which says all this better than I have:

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger, a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School

More soon on a related issue: data retention legislation and its incumbent pressures on data ‘expiration’.


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Getting this show on the road

Welcome to the Social Justice Librarian blog!

The idea for this blog has been bumping around in my head for a while now, and I think it’s probably time to open it up and try it out.

What is the idea? A blog that is centred on social justice issues that relate to information and/or librarianship; that is not exclusively/primarily USAmerican focussed; and that combines newsy posts with viewpoints, analysis, fun, and whatever else comes down the pike.

Right now there are two of us blogging at SJL, and hopefully we’ll suck in a couple more info-people from other sectors and/or geographic locations. We’ll try to keep posts coming at a reasonably steady pace.

Pull up a chair -thanks for joining us – I hope you enjoy the show.


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