The Canadian government has prioritized innovation as a marquee policy issue. There are signals that Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains will use the upcoming budget to overhaul the myriad of innovation funding and support programs that have cost billions of dollars with only a limited return on investment. There is no reason to doubt the commitment to innovation, but a national strategy must involve more than changes to how the government doles out cash incentives.
Yet when presented with the opportunity to address a core component of any serious innovation strategy – the communications sector that provides the foundation for the digital economy – Mr. Bains last week took a look at a market that the Competition Bureau found suffers from coordinated behaviour among the three dominant providers and simply whiffed. The decision to approve the merger of BCE and Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) with only minor tinkering seems certain to increase wireless pricing for Manitoba residents and eliminate one of the few competitive bright spots in Canada.
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Canada’s net neutrality rules, which require Internet providers to disclose how they manage their networks and to treat content in an equal manner, were established in 2009. The policy is administered by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which releases quarterly reports on the number of complaints it receives and whether any have been escalated to enforcement actions.
At first glance, the reports on the so-called Internet traffic management guidelines suggest that net neutrality violations are very rare. My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that last year, there were typically a few complaints each month and all were quickly resolved. The CRTC does not disclose the specific targets or subject matter of the complaints.
Yet according to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, the complaints and their resolution give cause for concern. There are generally two types of complaints: those involving throttling technologies that limit speeds to render real-time services unusable or treat similar content in different ways, and quality-of-service issues that seem like throttling to the customer.
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Last week I posted my response to Xplornet’s press release warning others to not pick up on my report on CRTC net neutrality documents involving the company. Now Jesse Brown and David Ellis have written their own responses, that are both well worth reading.
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Earlier this week, Xplornet Communications Inc. (formerly Barrett Xplore Inc.) issued the following press release in response to my post on the CRTC’s net neutrality enforcement:
Xplornet Communications Inc., (formerly Barrett Xplore Inc.) is aware that allegations made online by Michael Geist on Friday July 8th, 2011 have been reprinted by various media. The statements made in Mr. Geist’s original article omit material information and draw incorrect conclusions regarding Barrett Xplore Inc.’s actions. Reprinting this blog entry, or Geist’s allegations regarding Barrett Xplore Inc. (or Xplornet Communications Inc), represent the publication of materially misleading statements regarding our company.
To say I was surprised by the release would be an understatement. Xplornet never contacted me to discuss the post or express concern about its content. The original post did not directly target Xplornet, but rather focused on the CRTC enforcement record. It pointed to complaints against several different providers and listed all complaints I obtained as part of an Access to Information request. With respect to Xplornet, I stated the following:
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