Tag Archives: CRTC

Online consultation on metered internet: Need we say more?

Now that the NDP, the Liberals, Green Party and Conservative Party(including the PM’s office and Minister of Industry) have all suddenly come out against the CRTC’s usage-based billing ruling, the CRTC has announced that they will be reconsidering and are seeking comments/submissions. Online.

It almost feels like I could end this post there, as conducting an online consultation about whether the public should be rationing their Internet usage is irony enough, is it not?

But I suppose I should post the consultation details:

  • Notice #2011-77 is here
  • It asks specifically for comments about the billing practices for wholesale residential high-speed access services, so they’re concerned here about the impact on small ISPs who get their bandwidth from the big guys, not necessarily on the impact on the public/consumer, libraries, Internet cafes, Netflix or innovation in Canada
  • In order to comment you have to register by Feb 22 and submit commenst by March 28.
  • This is what they’re looking for, in their own words:

Comments are invited on:

i.   How best to implement the following principles with respect to large incumbents’ wholesale services used by Small ISPs;

a.   As a general rule, ordinary consumers served by Small ISPs should not have to   fund the bandwidth used by the heaviest retail Internet service consumers.

b.   It is in the best interest of consumers that Small ISPs, which offer competitive alternatives to the incumbent carriers, should continue to do so.

ii. Whether the Commission should set a minimum threshold level for the sale of bandwidth by large incumbent carriers to the Small ISPs and, if so, what should it be;

iii. Whether it is appropriate to hold an online consultation as part of its review; and

iv. Whether it is appropriate to hold an oral public hearing as part of its review.

I encourage you to submit something. And to keep a copy, in case it gets lost the way my copyright consulatation submission did, because if you keep a copy it can get found the way mine did, too. Here’s the first example I’ve seen of someone (Jason Koblovsky) posting their UBB submission.

Technically you can submit comments via mail as well, but you have to dig to find out where & how. “Regular” people who might want to comment will presumably go the website and click on the “submit” button, fill out the online form, and be done with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the CRTC went ahead with point iii above and held a full-on online consultation process, complete with streaming video from Nik Nanos et al.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about how much bandwidth uploading your submission will eat up. Yet.

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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. OpenMedia.ca 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?

-Greyson

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

CRTC issues net neutrality ruling

And here it is.

I won’t have time to fully parse the policy decision till tonight, but my initial impression is that it’s a feeble gesture in the right direction (that being net neutrality), clad in nationalist bombast (“Canada is the first country to develop and implement a comprehensive approach to internet traffic management practices”).

At a glance, it seems that ISPs are still allowed to “traffic shape” but out and out throttling is discouraged unless the ISP feels it’s really necessary. Consumers are now supposed to be informed if their ISP is going to change traffic shaping practices, and consumers can complain, which will then possible trigger an investigation that will ask the ISP to explain what and why. There are also some new privacy guidelines for deep packet inspection.

So ISPs are still allowed to throttle, and to conduct deep packet inspection, but they have to jump through a few more hoops to do so now than they did before. There are also some new restrictions about wholesale ISP services, which I hope will help small ISPs remain competitive and viable.

Any other thoughts on the ruling would be very welcome.

Some initial coverage:

CBC coverage here (CBC’s been hot on the NN file since the throttling of Next Great Prime Mnister).
Excerpt:

“Big telecommunications companies such as Bell and Rogers can interfere with internet traffic only as a last resort, the CRTC says. Instead, they should use “economic measures” such as new investment and usage limits to combat congestion on their networks.”

Michael Geist’s take is here (Geist obviously knew some things I didn’t know about what was coming down the pipe on this one!  <–Unsurprising):

Impressively optimistic excerpt:

“The CRTC’s net neutrality (aka traffic management) decision is out and though it does not go as far as some advocates might hope, it unquestionably advances the ball forward on several important fronts…Today’s CRTC decision signifies that traffic management is not a free-for-all and the days of ISPs arguing that they can do whatever they please on their networks is over.  That said, it also guarantees that traffic management practices such as throttling will continue and it is going to take more complaints to concretely address the issue.”

More to come, after I’ve had a chance to read & digest more.

-Greyson

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Unicorns don’t exist; net neutrality is just distastefully fair

The top story on the CBC News website this evening is “Net Neutrality doesn’t exist, CRTC told.

Laugh or cry?

Internet congestion is inevitable and net neutrality does not exist, Canada’s internet regulator was told Monday at hearings on how internet providers control and manage internet traffic and speed.

But here’s the best part:

Congestion is a natural occurrence on the internet, partly due to unexpected events such as Michael Jackson’s death, said Don Bowman, chief technology officer for the network technology company Sandvine Inc.            

Got that?  It is Michael Jackson’s fault that you are being throttled! Hee.

According to the same CBC coverage, Bowman also asserts that deep packet inspection is necessary in order to keep VOIP from breaking up due to congestion.  I’m no ISP, but I have a hunch there are other options here…for example deploying other “shaping” technologies that don’t invade customer privacy, or the radical path of increasing available bandwidth.(On this note, I am quite intrigued by Scott Stevens’ suggestion “that some internet traffic management could be carried out by customers themselves rather than the ISPs” and interested in how that could work!)

What’s disturbing is that Bowman is not only acting as a CTO but speaking at this CRTC hearing, apparently without knowing that net neutrality is.  He is quoted as saying:

“In times of congestion, an unmanaged network is not a neutral network,” he said. “Inequalities in application design and user behaviour mean that an unmanaged network inherently favours certain applications and their users.”

Actually…an “unmanaged” network *is* a neutral network.  That’s pretty much the defninition, if by unmanaged you mean the ISP is not allowed to tamper with or discriminate among the content flowing across their lines.  A neutral network is a highway with no toll roads, no right to pull you over to see if you have pornography or the Little Red Book in your backpack in the passenger seat, and no ability to say that Hondas get a fast lane but Fords have to take the slow lane.

I don’t get how this guy can say net neutrality doesn’t exist.  However, if it works for him, I’m going to start declaring things I find either personally distasteful or bad for my wallet nonexistant.  Like…paying rent.  Rent payments definitely do not exist, you know.  They are but flights of fancy which we should no longer indulge. Also torture —  It doesn’t exist anymore.  And those people who say “liberry” and “I could care less” — totally fictional, you know.

Figments of the imagination.

Unicorns.

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CRTC Online “traffic management” consultation ends today!

If you are Canadian/in Canada/care about Canada and  haven’t had the chance to comment on the CRTC’s online consultation on internet traffic management, here’s your reminder that today is the last day!

(And I think the website runs on Eastern time zone, so for us left-coasters it may close before our midnight, as my posts last night were showing up stamped with today’s date.)

Even though the online process could have been better publicized, I am honestly impressed that the CRTC is trying something this new and, well, fairly innovative for government! (Wait, would lack of a neutral net hinder the CRTC’s ability to try such innovative endeavours as online consultations…?

There are 6 sections, each with a question the CRTC is soliciting feedback about. They ask about things like: impact on innovation, which “traffic management” approaches you’d find acceptable, what the CRTC’s role should be with regard to the Internet, and whether/how ISPs should notify customers about their practices.

If you tried out the M-Lab tools I wrote about a few weeks back, you can mention your results in the “Impact on User Experience” section of the consultation.

I meant to highlight this consultation earlier, but, well with the flu and all and conference season starting up, it just didn’t happen. *hangs head*

So, if nothing else, try to take a few minutes on your lunch break or something to agree or disagree with some of the posts that have been written over the past month.

Last summer we were all writing letters to the CRTC asking for a real, open public consultation, and here is the most open, accessible consultation I’ve seen yet from the CRTC, so I really felt like it was my duty to go respond in pretty much every category.

Now, after all that work, I will be really frustrated if they don’t seem to respond to the input provided on this e-consultation. And I’m fairly confident I’m not the only one. Join me?

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Canadian Net Neutrality Consultation

For people who found this page while looking for info on April’s CRTC  “traffic shaping” consultation, go here.

The CRTC’s “traffic management” (throttling) consultation is accepting comments from interested individuals right now.

This is the “Net Neutrality” consultation we’ve been waiting for. Many of us have asked the CRTC to hold this public consultation and it is happening.

Let’s make our voices heard!

The CRTC says:

“Members of the public who wish merely to file written comments in this proceeding, without receiving copies of the various submissions, may do so by filing such comments with the Commission by 16 February 2009 at the address or fax number noted above, or by filling out the online form.”

I know these CRTC “public” consultations can be byzantine and hard to know how to respond to.   If you want to participate, here are two options:

  • The online form to submit comments is here.

OR

  • You can quickly & easily send a boilerplate comment via the Campaign for Democratic Media’s Save Our Net coalition, right here.


Comment period closes Feb 23, so don’t procrastinate.

Need Some Background?

  • The CRTC public notice can be found here.
  • The Save Our Net coalition has background info in language that is comprehensible by regular people here.
  • The Canadian Library Association’s 2008 resolution in support of Net Neutrality explains why this is a library issue here.
  • Michael Geist’s take and useful links on this consultation cam be read here.
  • For “Net Neutrality 101” see my backgrounder from last spring here

-Greyson

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Filed under government, Intellectual freedom, net neutrality, OA, technology, Uncategorized

Freedom of expression lawsuit irony

I’m still planning to deliver a post talking more in depth about the freedom of expression claim CanWest Global is making in their DTCA lawsuit, as I promised here, but this week’s commencement of the British Columbia Supreme Court case in which Adbusters is suing Global Television, the CBC and the CRTC begs my attention.

Who?
Adbusters is suing Global Television, the major network of CanWest’s broadcast portfolio (“the Global Television network broadcasts via 10 television stations, reaching 96% of English-speaking Canada.”), national “public” broadcaster/crown corporation (operating at arms-length from the gov’t) the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and the regulator for Canadian television and radio media, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Why?
Adbusters says they’ve been trying to buy ad time from major broadcasters for over a decade, and are consistently turned down, often with little to no explanation. So Adbusters is suing the government and the biggest media company for infringing on their freedom of expression.

The irony:

Of course, at the same time that Adbusters is suing them for blocking free expression, Global TV’s parent company, CanWest Global, is suing the government for infringing on their freedom of expression by regulating the type of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical ads they can run/sell ad space to.

Hmm…who has the more legitimate case here? A not-for-profit public interest group vying for access to airtime to express their views and get people thinking about consumerism?

OR

A for-profit media conglomerate vying to overturn the national public health regulations in order to be allowed to make money off of other giant for-profit companies’ advertising expressions that may or may not endanger public health?

Not that it’s an either/or dichotomy…I just find it quite interesting to compare the arguments and watch these two cases play out side-by-side in different provinces. I expect that at least one of these will go to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Compare for yourself:
You can see some of the Adbusters ads here

Compare them, perhaps, with some of the Pharmaceutical DTC ads: Gardasil, Celebrex, Lunesta, Zoloft.

Now, tell me which seems more likely to (as stated in S.3 of the Broadcasting Act) “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.”

Interesting times we live in, eh?

-Greyson

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