Category Archives: internet

Raising broadband definition would shame Canada’s woeful speed goals


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


The internet’s fate is being decided right now

"Rarrrr! Hulk want net neutrality!"

“Rarrrr! Hulk want net neutrality!” (Image courtesy Marvel)

There probably isn’t anything more exciting to watch right now for tech nerds than the situation regarding net neutrality that’s unfolding in both the United States and Canada. In the space of a week, it has gone from a fomenting revolt to a full-out war, especially down south.

Following last week’s letter from 150 technology companies, Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler backed down somewhat on his original proposal to allow internet providers to institute so-called paid prioritization of traffic, or the effective creation of a fast lane for online companies willing to pay extra.

Feeling the heat from big tech firms including Google, Amazon and Microsoft, not to mention some of his fellow commissioners, Wheeler instead suggested that the FCC might want to consider reclassifying internet provision so that it qualifies as a telecommunications service, which could then be subject to regulations.

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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


The journalist’s lament: does it ever get better?

Old typewriter keys. ©Robin NelsonAnother day, another layoff. That’s the life of a journalist in today’s world. And it’s depressing as hell.

The latest involves 657 full-time jobs being axed at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation over the next two years, mainly thanks to the loss of NHL rights to Rogers. With hockey accounting for about a third of the CBC’s revenue, the cuts were inevitable. Many of the layoffs will be from sports and sales, but some will be coming from news operations too. I’ve lost count of the total jobs lost in Canadian journalism over the past year or two.

Whenever students or young people ask me for advice about getting into journalism, I earnestly tell them, “Don’t.” Why anyone would want to subject themselves to this kind of non-stop barrage of doom and gloom is beyond me. At this point, being a crack dealer has more appeal (especially in Toronto).

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Posted by on April 11, 2014 in internet, journalism


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Canadians’ heavy internet use is nothing special

undayflagsThe Canadian Internet Registration Authority has released its 2014 Factbook, and it’s full of interesting statistics. One of the stronger points the report drives home is the digital divide that’s happening in Canada, where “only 62 per cent of Canadians in the lowest income quartile have internet access, compared with 95 per cent of Canadians in the highest income quartile.”

The report also stresses how behind e-commerce is in Canada, with fewer than half of businesses having websites and online spending well below countries such as the United Kingdom. It’s fascinating reading for anyone who’s interested – you can check it out here.

The Factbook does skew some things with its methodologies, though, like its inclusion of New Zealand in the top 10 countries in the world for internet penetration. That may well be technically true, but if it’s broadband we’re talking about and not dial-up, New Zealand certainly isn’t a world leader by any stretch of the imagination. The country’s poor status by that measure consumed the government’s and public’s attention in my time there just a few years ago. Things have improved recently, but the country still ranks a firm middle-of-the-pack among developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

It’s that sort of discrepancy that made me look at the report a little more closely. As it happens, the one finding that really bugs me is the repetition of the old saw that Canadians are world leaders in internet usage, like that’s some sort of triumph to be proud of. According to the Factbook, Canadians spend an average of 41.3 hours online, second only to Americans and their 43 hours, and just slightly ahead of Brits and their 38.9 hours. Following those top three are the likes of Russia, France and Germany. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in internet


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 »


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


Broadband status quo strengthening digital divide

subdivisionsOne of the first things I did before putting in an offer on a new home last summer was call my internet provider. I wanted to know what kinds of speeds I could expect if I ended up living there. Fortunately, I got the all-clear – the fastest connections were indeed available – so my wife and I went ahead and ultimately bought the house.

It turns out I’m not some weird tech nerd with mixed-up priorities. A home’s internet connectivity is becoming an increasingly vital selling feature, like a big backyard or a new roof, to the point where houses without good access are being valued up to 20 per cent lower, according to real estate experts in the U.K.

Buyers are now typically considering fast broadband the “fourth utility,” after electricity, water and gas.
“The more demanding buyers now want fibre-optic superfast speeds as, whether working from home, streaming entertainment or managing the stack of equipment that now relies on this, a property needs to have 21st-century connectivity,” property expert Henry Pryor told The Guardian. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on March 4, 2014 in comcast, internet