Solutions for unsucking Canada’s Internet

Choice, competition, and who owns content

Last week I asked you for help with my homework.  I promised the folks at Mesh, Canada’s Web Conference, a presentation on how to “unsuck” Canada’s Internet. But while I’m pretty good at identifying the problem(s), I’m less confident about what strategy will actually set things straight.

Should change be dictated by the government through progressive new digital policies? Or has the government done enough harm already, and what we really need is for them to back off and deregulate? Should consumers speak up through petitions and online activism? Or are our interests better served through direct action, routing around the lousier aspects of our networks and voting with our dollars for services like VPN and Usenet access? How can we move past promises and towards Open Government? What’s to be done about all the geo-blocked content? How do we fight back against the erosion of our privacy and digital rights? So much suck, so many questions…

I put them to you, and also to a number of influential voices on the national tech scene. I left it up to each respondent to interpret the “suck” how they saw it.  Here’s what folks said:

And here are the unsuck solutions that came in via this blog and through Twitter:

•Competition

•Foreign investment

•Revamp the CRTC

•Abolish the CRTC

•Last mile fibre through community co-ops

•Make Internet access a public utility

•Break-up the ISPs (TV+phone+mobile+Internet = conflict of interest)

•Educate the public on copyright, privacy, data mining, encryption

•Static IPs for a nominal surcharge

•Tax breaks for IPv6 migration

•Symmetric upload and download bandwidth

•Net Neutrality

•Complete deregulation OR fully regulated and publicly subsidized. Stop trying to do both.

www.fibreloop.ca

•Pay for service w/ ‘bitcoin’

•Abolish or wildly curtail copyright

•Better Internet access for our rural schools!

•Larger, more diverse local and national online shopping options from Canadian retailers

•Have the government take control of the backbone and lease it out to companies to create competitive market

•Drop the caps. Drop the DPI. Drop the traffic shaping.




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Solutions for unsucking Canada’s Internet

  1. Hmmm, the only idea there I find mildly interesting is the “Tax breaks for IPv6 migration”. That’s a friggin’ brilliant idea.

    Other than that, just Hack the Gibson to you’re hearts content. Don’t play by any of their rules until their rules make sense. Governments can try to assert themselves into the Internet, but there will always be ways to circumvent whatever the heck they’re trying today.

  2. Personally I’m leaning toward either the municipal fiber or the Fibre Loop project. It solves the competition problem and, with more competition, reduces the need for Net Neutrality legislation. 

  3. The solution? We need to increase our population by about 10-20 times to make it worthwhile for smaller companies to fight over our dollars, thus forcing the big ones to fight as well.

    We haven’t had a big startup here because the market’s too small, they might as well start up in the states and not have to deal with cross-border shipping since that’s where most of their market is going to be anyway.

    We don’t have as much free content here because the market’s too small to be able to afford giving stuff away as a loss leader.

    Our broadband speeds are slow because the market’s too small to justify fighting over it given the expense of it.

    Our internet has bandwidth caps because the market’s too small to make it worth worrying about the share they might lose to the little guys who do offer unlimited bandwidth.

    The only one we can really change is the privacy one.  And, well.. we just had an election to put the guys into power who are going to do that.  Incidentally, could you get back to Tony Clement and ask him what he thinks about that one specifically?

    Not that I expect an answer, it’s just good to make him dance for his pay-cheque once in a while.

    • Market size has nothing to do with it. Norway has half our population density if you don’t count the territories and a tenth of the population, yet they have decent internet rates at much lower costs. The duopolys owning all the last-mile infrastructure and shutting out competition is the problem. No one is going to roll out an entire second telephone or cable network just to provide more network access and as long as the non-redundant infrastructure comes with as many strings as the phone/cable companies can attach to them, no one else can use the existing infrastructure either.

      • How many big web startups does Norway have again? If you don’t count Pirate Bay, that is?

        Think about that. Half our population density if you don’t count a huge swath of our country, and a tenth of our population in a territory that’s how much smaller again? The simple physical act of wiring Norway is a hell of a lot less an engineering feat than Canada. It’s simple economies of scale.. and that’s assuming you completely ignore how close Germany and the UK are..it’s half the distance between Norway and Germany as it is from Alberta to Ontario, for goodness sakes.

        • Thwim, there’s plenty of dark fibre already connecting the most disparate parts of Canada. Here’s the network for just one company, Shaw:

          http://www.shawbusinesssolutions.ca/sbs/about/our_network_map.jsp

          Here’s Bell’s:

          http://www.wholesale.bell.ca/network.asp

          The fibre is laid, and has been laid for years now, which means that it’s no longer a simple density issue, since the biggest empty spaces have already been connected. 

          I’d say it bolsters the argument that a last-mile municipal or non-profit ownership structure would be ideal. 

          • Sure. If all we want is for a local municipal internet. What, you don’t think the companies that laid that fibre will simply up their rates to the municipality as a whole if it goes the “we’ll build it ourself” route?

            The “more competition” idea only works if we eliminate their monopoly over the lines already laid. There’s two ways to do that: 1. Some other company comes in and lays redundant lines. Back to square one as I pointed out.

            2. We use legislation to take away their monopoly control on the lines they put in. And while we’re at it, we’ll put a magical pony in every garage.

            And again, none of this does anything to address any other point that was originally made, except for the pricing. There will still be the blocks. There will still be the lack of web-startups.

  4. “Abolish or wildly curtail copyright”

    That’s a rather naive proposal.Copyright protects the creators and owners; it’s the equivalent of patent or trademark laws. Without the protection of copyright, anyone can take the work of another and make use of it without payment – o even sell copies of it for profit with no remuneration going back to the creator.

    The end of copyright laws would reduce creativity and investment, as the opportunity for profit would be greatly reduced. It would also make Canada a pariah; we are already regarded as one of the chief piracy nations, and weaker / nonexistent copyright laws would just encourage this. The result would be “geographical blocking” of much non-Canadian-sourced internet content.

    That’s not to say the law doesn’t need updating – or that the proposed changes floating around Parliament are the right ones. I’m fully behind the concept of format-free licence purchases: i.e. if you buy music, movies, whatever, in one format, it is the content not the format that you have purchased personal use of; transferring it between formats for one’s own use should not be illegal.

    Sharing it with the world without permission, however, is a different story.

    • Too much copyright is stifling innovation in Canada. There are too many rightsholders, too many rights to license, too many layers, too many collectives.

      • That’s a pretty thin reply, Leroy. A 30-second, soundbite-style nonanswer.

        Stifling whose innovation? The creators of the product, or those who want to make a quick buck knocking off copies? I certainly don’t see out current laws doing much to stifle the latter. How is it stifling the former?

        A lot of people today seem to have the opinion that they hold the “right” to acquire anything available in electronic format for free, and see copyright as a nuisance that gets in the way of unfettered access. But look at it this way: how much effort will the producer put into a freebie, as opposed to something that might give them a return on their investment? Exactly. If everything is free, we’ll get only crap.

        I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement to our outdated law; far from it. But you seem to be backing the ludicrous suggestion that we throw the whole thing out – and that proposal requires some serious explaining, not platitudes.

        • Hey, Keith! Cory Doctorow’s books are available freely – are they junk? Heck, no!

          IMO, Copyright should be limited to 25year term, extend able for an additional 25 years for persons – not corporate entities.

          • There’s a difference in someone choosing to offer something for free, and people simply taking it. There are plenty of authors who offer older titles for free in the hope it will generate extra interest in (and revenue from) their newer works. I’m in no way suggesting we prevent people from offering freebies if they choose. But ditching copyright altogether takes the choice (and remuneration, if desired) away from the creator. A lot just won’t create – or at least, not as prolifically – if they can’t make a living at it.

            I also don’t have any objections to your proposal – which is a nice, concrete suggestion. My problem was with Leroy’s blanket statement, which was too vague and open-ended to be of any real use to this discussion.

  5. In Montreal, I get 28 mbit DL consistently and have an unbreakably huge cap (60gigs/month) for $55 after taxes per month. That’s like about as good as you can get anywhere in the world.

    I dunno what’s going on elsewhere in Canada, but I think there’s a lot of hyperventilating going on about “bad internet” in Canada, yet I haven’t ever had a problem.

    • You appear to have nary the faintest idea about what a fat connection is, or what a huge cap is. Trust me. It gets WAY better. 

      Though this does point to a real way to unsuck Canadian Internet: show Canadians that there ARE options. They don’t appear to realize that what they have isn’t actually that good, because they’ve never been exposed to the alternatives 

    • In Alberta, I get 30mb dl speed AND 100 GB for under $60. Not bad for the black hole of the world.

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