A Canadian coalition of consumer advocates, civil society and social justice groups, policy experts, activists and independent ISPs will come together in a national Day of Action on Tuesday to demand the immediate implementation of federal measures to deliver affordable internet and wireless services in Canada and to put an end to constantly increasing bills. This week’s Law Bytes podcast brings together three people that bring unique perspectives to the issue:
- Madeleine Redfern, the former mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut and currently the Chief Operating Officer at CanArctic Inuit Networks.
- Dr. Mary Cavanagh, the Director of School of Information Studies (ÉSIS) at the University of Ottawa and an active researcher on consumer issues in the telecom marketplace.
- Matt Stein, the CEO of Distributel Communications, a leading independent ISP and the chair of CNOC, the Competitive Network Operators of Canada
Madeleine, Mary, and Matt all joined together for a virtual conversation on the impact of access at the community level, the effect on consumers, the state of competition, and what Canada should be doing about the issue.
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With broad-based criticism of the Bell website blocking plan, supporters have tried to dismiss the opposition by characterizing much of their analysis as “misinformation”. Yet a review of many expert submissions reveals widely held concerns regarding the proposal. Many point to the absence of court orders as a key flaw and no one – whether supporter or critic – disputes that the majority of countries that have used site blocking require court orders. Further, claims that human rights concerns are unfounded ring hollow in light of the critical submission from the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. Efforts to dismiss the cost implications of site blocking are undermined by the clear position of the majority of Canadian Internet providers that the expenses associated with blocking are likely to lead to increased consumer costs and reduced competition.
Many submissions similarly point to the risks of over-blocking legitimate content.
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The second day of the CRTC hearing on usage based billing left the Commission with three fairly divergent views on Canadian networks, traffic management, and the wholesale tariff (coverage from the Globe, Cartt.ca, Wire Report). While Bell focused on network congestion in its presentation on the first day, the cable providers and independent ISPs provided a much different perspective, focusing instead on incentives to invest (cable) and competition (independent ISPs).
While the cable and independent ISPs provided most of the substantive debate, the much-anticipated appearance of Open Media garnered the most fireworks. Open Media (and CIPPIC) were told that much of their submission was outside the scope of the proceeding, since it focused on retail UBB and the Commission had already rejected extending the hearing to cover those issues. Instead, it faced questions about its membership, funding, and self-interest as well as shocking questions from new CRTC Commissioner Tom Pentefountas, who asked “I am trying to find out what is undemocratic about the system we have right now ‘allowing a few companies to control the Internet access market would be irresponsible and undemocratic’.” The question came in the context of questions that suggested independent ISPs were tremendously profitable without needing to invest in networks. While many Commissioners have asked informed, tough questions over the first two days of all sides, that line of questioning is precisely the sort that generates public skepticism about the CRTC.
Once Open Media was done, the floor was open to lengthy sessions with both the cable companies (Rogers, Videotron, and Cogeco) and independent ISPs. The cable companies provided a well organized opening presentation that avoided the focus on network congestion (the word congestion was barely mentioned) and instead emphasized the complexity of networks, the differences between cable networks and Bell’s network, and the need for policies to encourage ongoing investment.
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The Canadian Network Operators Consortium, which represents two dozen independent ISPs, has asked the CRTC
to expand the scope of its usage based billing consultation. Rather than limit the review primarily to UBB, CNOC says the review should:
include a comprehensive review of the regulatory framework applicable to all wholesale high-speed access services (â€œWHSASâ€) provided by incumbent local exchange carriers and cable carriers (collectively â€œincumbentsâ€) to their competitors and to include from the outset, in the expanded proceeding, an online consultation and a public hearing, and certain additional procedural steps.
The letter makes it clear that CNOC is seeking nothing less than a complete overhaul of the regulatory framework for broadband competition in Canada. The organization argues that “incumbent wholesale high-speed services, including the last-mile access, constitute the broadband platform that competitors need to offer almost all telecommunications and broadcasting services to consumers.” It adds:
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