Friday October 18, 2013
Without the CETA text, it is very difficult to assess many of the
purported benefits of the draft agreement (additional posts on the need
to release the text, the IP provisions, and the big win for pharmaceutical companies
declining Canadian investment in research and development). Consider
the benefits for telecommunications and electronic commerce discussed in
the government's summary document. On electronic commerce, the government states:
Businesses engaged in electronic commerce will benefit from greater certainty, confidence and
Twenty years ago, electronic commerce was in its infancy. Today,
electronic commerce is a part of our daily lives. Canadians shop and
plan holidays online, and buy and download software and entertainment
content, including movies, television and music. Advertisers are making
increased use of “smart advertising” on the Web to track our shopping
habits and promote specific deals likely to interest us.
TagsShareFriday October 18, 2013
Tuesday October 08, 2013
On the same day that revelations
about CSEC spying on the Brazilian government for economic purposes
generated headlines around the world, the Canadian government rejected
the proposed acquisition of MTS Allstream's Allstream division by
Accelero Capital Holdings, a company co-founded by Naguib Sawiris, an
Egyptian billionaire who first captured Canadian telecom attention by
backing the entry of Wind Mobile. Industry Minister James Moore indicated
that the rejection of the proposed deal involved the national security
provisions of the Investment Canada Act. Both companies expressed
disappointment with the decision, as MTS Allstream noted its surprise and disappointment and Accelero described it as an "unfounded and unexpected decision."
While the decision sends a disturbing signal about the government's
willingness to block foreign investment just months after indicating
that it was open to such investment, it is worth noting that the change
in telecom foreign investment policy was publicly opposed by the Public
Safety Canada. In 2011, Public Safety responded to Industry Canada
questions about changes to the foreign investment restrictions with the following:
It is important to fully appreciate the scope of the potential impact
of reducing or removing restrictions on foreign investment in Canada's
telecommunications sector. The lessening of current restrictions could
create new, and increase existing vulnerabilities in our
telecommunications networks, further exposing them and the users and
services that rely on them, to an increased threat of cyber espionage
and denial of service attacks. It could also impede law enforcement and
national security investigations by further challenging the ability of
authorities to execute judicially authorized warrants to intercept
telecommunications. As options are considered to maximize Canada's
competitiveness in the telecommunications sector, Public Safety
officials will work with Industry Canada to further develop options to
help ensure that any change to the telecommunications market will be
accompanied by necessary security safeguards.
When the Public Safety submission first came to light last year, the
potential application of the national security provisions in the
Investment Canada Act was discussed.
In light of the MTS Allstream decision, it would seem that Public
Safety may have lost the battle to retain foreign investment
restrictions, but has won the war to keep out many potential
competitors. TagsShareTuesday October 08, 2013
Tuesday September 24, 2013
Appeared in the Toronto Star on September 21, 2013 as How Ottawa Can Put Digital Consumers First
Reports over the past week have indicated that the government plans to
unveil a "consumer first" agenda for its upcoming Speech from the
Throne. The speech, which will set out the federal legislative and
policy agenda for the next two years, is widely viewed as the unofficial
start of the 2015 election campaign.
There is little doubt that the battle over wireless pricing, which hit a
fever pitch over the summer in a very public fight between Industry
Minister James Moore and the incumbent telecom companies, will figure
prominently in any consumer agenda. The government is convinced that it
has a winner on its hands - consumer frustration with Canada’s high
wireless prices suggests that they’re right - and will continue to
emphasize policies geared toward increasing competition.
Yet a consumer first agenda should involve more than just taking on the
telcos on spectrum (or the airlines over their pricing practices). A
digital consumer first agenda should prioritize several other issues
that have similar potential to strike a chord with Canadians across the
country. At the heart of those digital issues are two ongoing consumer
concerns: pricing and protections.
On the pricing front, monthly wireless bills are only part of the high
price Canadians pay for communications services. The Canadian
Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has embarked on a
review of wireless roaming fees, which studies have found rank among the
highest in the world.
Broadband Internet services would also benefit from a more aggressive,
consumer-first regulatory approach. The government previously objected
to usage-based billing schemes, but its emphasis on facilitating
competition through independent providers has encountered resistance in
recent months. For example, some customers of TekSavvy, a large
Ontario-based independent ISP, have been stuck for days without service
as Rogers has been slow to address problems that arise from its network.
Inflexible and costly television packages should also come under closer
scrutiny. The history of broadcast distribution through cable and
satellite providers is one in which consumer interests were largely
ignored. A consumer first approach would increase choice by opening the
market to greater competition (eliminating foreign investment
restrictions would be a start), mandating the availability of
pick-and-pay services so that consumers could shift away from large
bundles of channels they don’t want, and requiring providers to offer
broadband Internet services without television packages, so that
consumers can "cut the cable cord" if they so desire.
Lower wireless, Internet, and cable bills would be a welcome change, but
Canadians also need better digital protections against online harms.
The long-delayed anti-spam law, which provides safeguards against spam
and spyware, should be brought into effect by finalizing the necessary
regulations. The law has been delayed by intense corporate lobbying,
however, it enjoys strong support from consumer groups and was passed by
Parliament in 2010.
Consumers similarly require better privacy protections since Canadian
private sector privacy legislation is now woefully outdated. Reforms
arising out of hearings on the law that date back to 2006 died with the
prorogation earlier this month, leaving Canadian consumers with a law
that no longer meets international standards. Putting consumers first
should mean that businesses are obligated to disclose security breaches
and face tough penalties for violations of the law.
Canadian consumers would also benefit from protections against misuse of
intellectual property rights. That includes safeguards against patent
trolls that threaten small businesses and increase consumer costs as
well as provisions to ensure that thousands of Canadians do not get
caught up in questionable lawsuits over copyright claims that seem
primarily designed to pressure them into expensive settlements.
A consumer first agenda is long overdue in the digital environment,
where the interests of individual Canadians have often been forgotten.
The next Speech from the Throne offers the chance to change course by
promoting policies that result in fairer pricing and stronger online
Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and
E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.TagsShareTuesday September 24, 2013
Friday August 30, 2013
Throughout the battle this summer over the potential of a Verizon entry into
Canada, the incumbent telecom companies have tried to paint their
position as supporting more competition, but rejecting the rules the
government believes are needed to facilitate that same competition.
Wind Mobile CEO Tony Lacavera recently called
out the incumbents and their association - the Canadian
Wireless Telecommunications Association - for opposing more
The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications - which we joined being
assured it would equally represent all wireless companies in
Canada - is a mere puppet of the Big Three. Far from
supporting the new entrants like WIND Mobile, CWTA has been
advocating against bringing more competition to the marketplace.
Today in Toronto, two of Canada's largest unions will hold a rally
not over the wireless spectrum rules but rather over the very
prospect of more competition. The release
from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the
Canadian Auto Workers states that the rally is planned:
to protest the Harper government's decision to allow U.S. telco
giant Verizon to compete in Canada's telecommunications market.
Notwithstanding persistent claims that the wireless fight is about
"fairness", this rally lays bare the real motivation of many - stopping
new competitors from entering the Canadian market.TagsShareFriday August 30, 2013