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Category Archives: government

Raising broadband definition would shame Canada’s woeful speed goals

turtle

Perhaps eager to make up for its chairman’s recent resoundingly dumb proposal to allow fast lanes on the internet and thereby kill net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with a much smarter and welcome proposition: the redefinition of what broadband actually is.

According to the current definition, high-speed internet access in the United States currently qualifies as any connection having a download speed of four megabits per second or higher, with an upload speed of one or higher. Given that this isn’t enough to even properly watch Netflix, let alone use many modern bandwidth-intensive applications, the regulator is planning to ask the public to comment on whether the thresholds should be modernized and raised to 10 or even 25 megabits down and 2.9 up.

If such a redefinition were to go through, the number of Americans who can be said to subscribe to broadband – currently around 94 per cent of the population – would decrease significantly. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on June 6, 2014 in crtc, government, internet

 

Government has its head in the sand with privacy

Conservative leader and Canada's Prime Minister Harper pauses while speaking during a campaign stop at an automobile parts factory in Brampton

There’s stubborn, and then there’s Canada’s federal government.

The steadfast refusal by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Justice Minister Peter MacKay to listen to reason when it comes to Bill C-13, their proposed cyber-bullying privacy legislation, is really quite astounding. They’re like the figurative donkeys that refuse to budge, which might be funny if the rights of the entire country weren’t at stake.

C-13, properly known as the “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act,” has been roundly criticized since its introduction last year for being too broad. While few pundits have disagreed with its supposed intent – the outlawing of cyber-bullying – the proposed legislation also covers all manner of unrelated activities, from stealing cable signals to wire taps.

The most contentious part of the bill is that it would give immunity to telecom service providers when they hand over subscriber information to security agencies and polices forces. With customers having no legal recourse against those companies in such situations, the already voluminous extent to which they are sharing this information will certainly increase dramatically. Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

Net neutrality revolt kicks into high gear

FCC Chairman now appears to be alone in his quest to create an internet fast lane.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now appears to be alone in his quest to create an internet fast lane.

For a while there, it looked like Netflix was on its own in fighting the Federal Communications Commission’s bone-headed and double-speaking effort at institutionalizing “net neutrality” rules, but on Wednesday the floodgates burst open. A raft of technology companies, venture capitalists and even FCC commissioners added their voices to the now-strong opposition chorus. Suddenly, it’s FCC chairman – and former cable industry lobbyist – Tom Wheeler who appears to stand alone.

In case you missed it, Wheeler set the internet on fire earlier this month when it emerged that he had a plan to institute a right for internet providers – cable and phone companies – to create a “fast lane” for online services and websites. In a blog post defending his proposal, he suggested such rules would prevent ISPs from blocking content or slowing it down, and that fast lanes would have to be negotiated at “commercially reasonable” rates.

No one seems to be buying that argument. On Wednesday, 150 technology companies – including giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft – sent Wheeler a letter decrying his ideas, saying they represent a “grave threat to the internet:”

Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low. (Emphasis added)

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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in government, internet, net neutrality

 

Digital strategy is government’s Phantom Menace

"Me'sa so happy to get 5-megabit broadband!"

“Me’sa so happy to get 5-megabit broadband!”

The year was 1999 and nerds around the world were abuzz for something they had been waiting a seeming eternity for: a new Star Wars movie. Anticipation and expectations couldn’t have been higher going into George Lucas’ long-promised return to the pop culture phenomenon he had set in motion with the Original Trilogy back in 1977. But then, The Phantom Menace happened. And things got even worse with the next one, Attack of the Clones. Lucas redeemed himself somewhat with his third prequel, Revenge of the Sith – I know this because I just rewatched them – but in the end, there was no denying it. The new Star Wars movies were terrible.

And so it is with the equally long-awaited digital strategy from the Canadian government, titled Digital Canada 150. Believe it or not, there are actually a number of similarities between the movies and this bit of government policy. Nerds like me have been waiting for it forever and it has indeed been in the works for a long time. But most crucially, it’s also abjectly terrible.

Divided into five “pillars” – connecting Canadians, protecting Canadians, economic opportunities, digital government and Canadian content – there’s almost no actual “strategy” in the short, 25-page document, which is perhaps why that word isn’t actually in its title despite it being presented as such. Rather, Digital Canada 150 is more a collection of bullet-point reminders of the government’s recent efforts across a number of technologically-related subjects, such as its development of an app commemorating the War of 1812 and the lowering of corporate taxes. And oh yes, there are lots of pretty pictures and useful factoids, like the one that predicts internet usage is going to increase over the next few years. Good thing that’s in there.

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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in government

 

Canada’s wireless policy has lacked ambition

Is Industry Minister James Moore out of wireless tricks?

Is Industry Minister James Moore out of wireless tricks?

With the imminent unveiling on Friday of Canada’s long-overdue digital strategy – titled Digital Canada 150 – it’s perhaps timely to take a look at how the federal government has fared in its most visible – and often volatile – technology-oriented policy: wireless. Since the declaration in 2007 by then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice that the Canadian wireless market suffered from too high prices and too little choice, the Conservatives have effectively waged war on the country’s three big incumbents, Bell, Rogers and Telus.

Its main weapon in this battle was spectrum, or the public airwaves that all wireless carriers need in order to operate. In 2008, the government held a spectrum auction that blocked off 40 per cent of these airwaves for new companies, which ultimately gave rise to the likes of Wind, Mobilicity and Public Mobile, as well as new wireless operations from cable companies Videotron and Eastlink. Six years later, the cable companies are doing well, but the other three are either dead or on their way to the grave.

Consumers apparently reaped the benefits over that time, with one government-funded study finding that prices had generally gone down nearly 20 per cent thanks to all the new competition. Even if subscribers didn’t sign up with any of the new carriers, the very presence of these companies in the market forced the Big Three to moderate or lower their prices. But, with competition now ebbing, the status quo – and inevitably continual price hikes – is re-establishing itself once again. Here’s how things look, according to the latest figures from the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Wireless Matrix, otherwise known as the industry’s bible:

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Posted by on April 4, 2014 in government, mobile

 

National broadband is anything but a failure

Railroad construction: what a waste of taxpayer money, am I right?

Railroad construction: what a waste of taxpayer money, am I right?

Telecom consultant Mark Goldberg had some fun the other day in slagging suggestions (like mine) that the Canadian government might want to get more directly involved in the country’s broadband and wireless markets. He pointed to an article by Jeffrey Eisenach, an economist for the American Enterprise Institute and professor at the George Mason University School of Law, that criticizes Australia’s efforts to build a super-fast government-owned National Broadband Network.

With $7.3 billion being spent so far to connect just 260,000 premises – about five per cent of the nation’s households, representing a cost of $28,000 each – it’s “a failed experiment” that never should have happened. The best way to get great services and prices, Eisenach argues, is to continue letting companies compete against each other. “As the Australians… have learned the hard way, however (sic), there is nothing romantic about pouring billions of dollars down a broadband rathole – especially when, as the U.S. experience has amply demonstrated, the real path to better broadband lies in letting the market work.”

Where to begin? Perhaps it’s best to start with some background. The AEI is a well-known conservative think tank that has received funding from many of the biggest U.S. corporations including GE, Kraft, Ford and, of course, the AT&T Foundation, according to Right Wing Watch. Its board has included executives from the likes of ExxonMobil, American Express and Dow Chemicals. If there’s a pro-big business position to be taken, the AEI has probably taken it. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in australia, government, internet

 

Federal budget also a technological snoozer

It looks like Bitcoin is about to be regulated in Canada.

It looks like Bitcoin is about to be regulated in Canada.

The pundits warned us it was going to be a boring federal budget and well, they weren’t wrong, especially when it comes to technology. In that vein, the Canadian government on Tuesday delivered a fiscal plan highlighted by a repeat of a previously announced effort, a vague promise of another, the renewal of an ongoing program and a few other minor tidbits.

There were no surprises when it comes to wireless, with the budget confirming the Conservatives’ plan to amend the Telecommunications Act “to cap wholesale domestic wireless roaming rates to prevent wireless providers from charging other companies more than they charge their own customers for mobile voice, data and text services.” Industry Minister James Moore first announced this intention – which will ultimately make it easier for smaller wireless companies such as Wind to use the networks of Bell, Rogers, Telus and other incumbent operators – back in December.

The budget also repeated a proposed change, announced at the same time as the roaming plan, that would allow the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission and Moore’s department of Industry Canada to levy fines on companies if they violate established rules such as the Wireless Code. It’s worth noting that the CRTC has been asking for this ability since, well, at least 2008. Better late than never, obviously. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2014 in government