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Talking Internet data caps with Open Media

Regulators are starting to come around, says the activist group


 

When it comes to broadband Internet, it seems like you can always count on regulators to turn a positive into a negative. Such was the case earlier this week when the U.S.’s Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski defended so-called tiered pricing by internet providers–known in these northern climes as usage-based billing–as worthwhile efforts in fighting network congestion.

Critics in the U.S. quickly jumped on Genachowski for swallowing the industry’s excuses for shrinking caps, which was ironic given that his comments came only days after Comcast–the country’s largest cable provider–announced it was raising or doing away with its limits.

Up here in Canada, the reaction was similarly negative. York University professor David Ellis pointedly noted that Genachowski, who was once admired for his supposed progressiveness on Internet issues, has now apparently been suckered by the same fallacious reasoning our own regulators were once (and might possibly still be) enamoured with.

It’s a cliche that Canada might as well exist in a bubble, particularly technologically, as far as the U.S. is concerned because Genachowski should have looked north, where this topic has been debated ad nauseum, before making such a foolish proclamation. As Ellis points out, caps-as-congestion-fighters is an argument that has been largely discredited here. Too bad nobody told the Americans.

That said, I’m still wondering why many Canadians have such ridiculously low caps compared to Americans (typical plans on Bell and Rogers offer 60 to 70 gigabytes, compared to 300 or more on Comcast and the like). I put the question to Steve Anderson, head of activist group Open Media, and we ended up having a bit of a back-and-forth over email.

He said the reasons why Canadians are still paying too much for Internet services boils down to the following:

We only stopped things from getting worse with UBB – and now we’re only starting to actually fix the market – it’s a slow process. The government has completely failed to do anything to encourage next generation broadband. Other countries like the U.S. are investing I think like $100 billion. Here’s a bunch of other things they could be doing. [Network owners] repeatedly make it difficult for indies to deliver services.

Anderson also advocates patience with regulators, who are starting to come around:

I’m frustrated that we’re not really moving forward more quickly here in Canada. That said I actually think the CRTC is doing a reasonable job as of late – the state of the market developed over decades and it will take some time and multiple good decisions to fix it. I actually think the UBB decision was mostly good. They got the model right and costing wrong. The indies have survived and Distributel actually moved in to Quebec to offer serious competition to Bell and Videotron etc.. When they did so they explicitly cited the UBB decision for enabling them (they sent a letter to the CRTC to thank them). Also, more importantly – when the decision came in our main issue was that the costing was off and that they needed to start a transparent process to get at what the costs should be. The CRTC actually listened and is holding a consultation to considering that matter now… I think we need to be encouraging not slamming the CRTC right now.

I suggested that perhaps Open Media was being too Canadian, as in too polite. With Americans screaming bloody murder about their 300 GB caps, shouldn’t Canadians–and Open Media by extension–be more vocal in their opposition?

Anderson doesn’t think Canadians or Open Media are apathetic, but they’ve quieted down somewhat because there is positive movement in the right direction:

The CRTC really has taken a positive turn, and I think it’s just smart to give them space to do good things. If I just piss in their face even when they start moving in the right direction then I don’t carry much weight later when they fuck up… When the CRTC messes up, or the telecoms do something to create an inflection point – the outcry will happen again…  If you look [at] the campaigns about internet issues we’ve run in the last year and a half it’s amazing how many people are active on these things. I actually think we have the most robust pro-internet movement in the world. Groups in the US and UK are copying our campaigns, and not the parts Open Media dreams up, the parts like #tellVicEverything that creative pro-internet [people] came up with after we raised the alarm. It’s inspiring to watch the EFF try to use that with CISPA and UK with their own issues.

One other issue we touched on was structural separation, one of my favourite topics. In some countries, governments have forced telecom giants to spin off their network operations into completely separate companies. Those companies then sell access to the network to all comers on equal terms, with the idea being that no one ISP is unfairly advantaged. Each is free to compete on items such as price, speed and service.

Anderson says the CRTC is starting to seriously listen to Open Media’s suggestions that such a system should be implemented in Canada. But with incumbent companies fighting like hell to avoid structural separation in countries where there’s just one of them, I retorted by suggesting this is a pipe dream in Canada. With the combined lobbying power of a whole host of big cable and phone companies, there’s no way it’ll happen.

On that, Anderson capitulated somewhat.

“I still think it’s still worth raising separation,” he said. “It’s wise to ask for more than you think you can get.”


 

Talking Internet data caps with Open Media

  1. The reason why North Americans have the slowest, most expensive broadband in the developed world is because private monopolies and duopolies own the basic network infrastructure which severely limits competition.

    In Europe and Asia they achieve the fastest, cheapest broadband (wired and wireless) with government intervention and regulations. This may sound counter-intuitive, but by regulating network infrastructure using the “open access” method, this reduces costs and duplication while promoting competition and innovation.

    On this issue we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but we do have to get rid our current ideological government before moving forward into the 21st century.

    • …like that is going to happen with harper and the conapitalists in power…

  2. NY Times: Open Access: Ending the Internet’s Trench Warfare
    “Imagine that for $33 a month you could buy Internet service twice as fast as what you get from Verizon or Comcast, bundled with digital high-definition television, unlimited long distance and international calling to 70 countries and wireless Internet connectivity for your laptop or smartphone throughout much of the country.

    “That’s what you can buy in France, and similar speeds and prices are available in other countries with competitive markets. But not in the United States [or Canada.]”

    http://nyti.ms/c4CnQu

    Canadian broadband blasted by Harvard study
    “These high rates and ‘regulatory hesitance’ likely contributed to fewer new competitors making investments, the study said. Other countries that have had strong rules have fared better. France, as one example, has very little cable-versus-phone-company competition, yet it ranks well in Harvard’s survey — seventh overall — because of strong enforcement of open-access rules.”

    http://bit.ly/1SUqZX

  3. There may be some change brewing and our ISPs probably could have avoided the calls for it had they not been too greedy and instituted data caps around 2-300GB, rather than going for the gold and knocking us all down to pathetic lows. I say this in spite of the fact that I have not ever gone over the 90GB that I have (I don’t know how I could watch more TV or movies with so little of worth being produced) that it would be nice to know that I’m effectively unlimited under my usage patterns. Otherwise I’m happy with the speed, price, and performance of my service.

    if our conception of “Usage-Based Billing” remains at something tiered (but with higher monthly transfer caps), I can accept that, but if they ever fashioned it into a per-GB, sort of service, I’d be somewhat upset. Otherwise, to be perfectly honest, I’m only jealous of South Korea’s far superior service on an “on paper” basis. Perhaps because I don’t spend my time torrenting collections of Anime fansubs or BluRay ISOs.

  4. Why on earth do these companies (telcos and cablecos) continue to tie speed to the number of GB? I mean, other than to force people to purchase more than they need just so they don’t have to ‘go for coffee’ while their page loads. The CRTC would do well to require all ISP’s to post their ‘per GB’ price at each speed level, and allow customers to purchase the number of GB per month they require. Ten GB increments should do it. In our house, with four adults, we have exceeded 20 GB twice in the past two years (21 & 22GB, respectively) – obviously, we are not streaming HD movies, so why am I forced to purchase 200GB per month, at a higher price?! There is no option to purchase less at the same speed – why not? Allow consumers real choice – not just a choice between not enough speed or spending too much. If we MUST have caps, lets make them work for everyone, not just the telcos and cablecos.

    • These data caps are a manufactured limit whose only purpose is to milk customers for a lack of competition. According to the OECD broadband portal, 20 of 34 countries have no data caps whatsoever, including 2nd world countries. Canada is one of the worst abusers. The only no-limit plans we have are on backwards 5 Mbs connections from resellers — a technology Bell offered 10 years ago (or a million years ago in technology years.)

      What North Americans have to realize is that they are paying more than what the rest of the developed world is paying for internet, phone, HDTV and mobile coverage. So add up your media bills per year and divide the number in half. The figure is about a $1500/yr media tax North Americans pay so corrupt corporations can have the economic freedom to fleece customers.

      OECD Broadband portal
      http://www.oecd.org/document/54/0,3746,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html

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