Mark Goldberg


www.mhgoldberg.com





Fox Group Dispatch

#CTS19 – Hold the dates: June 3-5, 2019

Now in its 18th year, The Canadian Telecom Summit is Canada’s leading ICT event, attracting the most influential people who shape the future direction of communications and information technology in Canada.

For 3 full days, The Canadian Telecom Summit delivers thought-provoking presentations from the thought leaders of the industry. This is your chance to hear from and talk with them in both a structured atmosphere of frank discussion and high-octane idea exchange and networking in a more relaxed social setting of genial conversation.

The theme this year is “Converging networks: a foundation for innovation leadership.” In-depth panels will examine:

  • Regulatory Blockbuster
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Technology Innovation
  • Cyber Security & Privacy
  • Network Innovation: 5G and more
  • Innovation Economy
  • Customer Experience Management

If your interests are in the Telecommunications, IT or Broadcasting sectors, you need to attend The 2019 Canadian Telecom Summit.

Mark the dates on your calendar: June 3-5, 2019 at the International Centre, near Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. I hope to see you there.

Don’t trust the headlines

Charles Spurgeon (in a quote often mis-attributed to Mark Twain) was somewhat prescient in saying “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

More than a few years ago, when I did my graduate work in Ottawa, I would frequently have lunch on Parliament Hill. My room mate did part time work for a Member of Parliament and the cafeteria on the Hill was heavily subsidized back then, making it one of the best places for a student to have a more balanced meal (for less than $2, including dessert!) than you could get from a box of mac and cheese.

Afterwards, I liked to catch Question Period and then watch the media scrum before heading back to the National Archives to do some of my research. At night, it was always entertaining to see how a seemingly innocuous statement by a Cabinet member would become the lead story, ignoring the context in which it was said.

That was before social media amplified polarities in opinion.

A recent study produced by the Colorado Media Project found that nearly 60% only read the headlines or brief summaries of stories, while 34% say they prefer full-length articles. Only 5% reported they regularly dig into long-form journalism. The study matches other reports that indicate the vast majority of online users only read headlines before commenting on or sharing articles.

That is why I found it disturbing to read a post by a University of Ottawa professor entitled “CRTC Chair Opens the Door to Weakening Canadian Net Neutrality Rules.” In his post, Michael Geist claims “CRTC Chair Ian Scott used a keynote speech last week to open the door to watering down Canadian net neutrality rules, noting his desire for ‘flexibility’ with the legislation.”

But in reality, his speech didn’t call for “watering down Canadian net neutrality rules.” As Professor Geist wrote later in the article, what the CRTC Chair actually said [November 1 at the IIC] was:

The Telecommunications Act provides the CRTC with the tools and flexibility to establish and enforce a net neutrality framework. The framework we have built over the past 10 years will likely be tested as needs and technology continue to evolve. There may indeed be situations relating to public safety or security, telemedicine or self-driving cars where a certain flexibility will be required and should therefore be maintained in the legislation.

Parse that carefully and you will see that it is simply not accurate to say that the CRTC Chair called for any kind of loosening or “watering down” of net neutrality. “The Act provides flexibility” and “flexibility will be required and should therefore be maintained”.

Yet the professor writes in terms of “watering down Canadian net neutrality rules” and refers to a non-existent “call for greater net neutrality flexibility.” Let’s be clear: calling for maintaining flexibility is not calling for greater flexibility.

But as a result of the misleading headline, many disciples are tweeting links to the professor’s article and spreading allusions about the Chair and ‘incumbent talking points’, having never read the actual speech or even seeing the contradictions in the blog post itself.

Science Post recently had an article saying “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting.” Be sure to read the full article.

There is an important lesson to be learned. Don’t trust headlines. Other than my headlines, of course.

Is it time to focus on demand?

I get together every month or so with a long time colleague and friend and we try to solve many of the world’s problems over bagels, eggs and kippers. I’ll note in passing that this morning, we created a new dish this week – Kippers Benedict – that combines just the right amount of salt and fat to make a cardiologist’s head explode. [That is the kind of Canadian innovation we need to stimulate!]

Among this morning’s topics, we discussed how government programs tend to focus on the supply side: restricting access to the supply of foreign content, stimulating the supply of Canadian content, investing in the supply of broadband access facilities.

We observed that there are fewer government programs that examine the demand side. Demand is a lot harder. It generally means education and making investments that intend to change behaviours. Not only are such programs longer term in nature, they are also harder to measure.

For broadband access, it is easy to develop metrics to measure effectiveness of supply-side programs: How many new access lines were funded? What was the cost per access line?

On the demand side, we wondered if it is tougher to measure program efficiencies. Sure, you can examine broadband adoption rates, but how do we (or how should we) examine the effectiveness of spending on digital literacy? I’m not just talking about teaching people how to turn on a computer and connect to the internet. We need to do more than teach kids coding as part of our literacy development. How do we teach how the importance of accessing diverse news sources and viewpoints? In a world where a generation has thought of The Late Show as a trusted news source, are we doing enough to invest in teaching how to read and watch with a critical eye?

We tried to limit spam and telemarketing with restrictions on the supply of calls and emails, yet the effect has been to limit ‘real companies’ while the air duct cleaners and credit card offers continue to get through. How much more effective would it have been to focus on teaching people to learn how to ‘just hang up‘?

It isn’t a matter of having to choose between supply side or demand side stimulation. We need to work on the balance. There is some investment in helping on the demand side of some programs. Maybe we need to work on putting our thumb on the scale a little bit more.

Which programs and how much more demand-side investment is required? That may take a few more orders of Kippers Benedict. Hold the fries.

Toward a national broadband strategy

On Friday, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains announced agreement had been reached with his provincial and territorial counterparts on the principles for a national broadband strategy.

The strategy is based on 3 key principles: Access, Collaboration and Effective Investment. These form what could be a “table of contents” of a more complete strategy document.

As we move forward and engage in this work, we will be guided by the following connectivity principles:

Access

  • Access to reliable, high quality and affordable services are necessary for Canada’s success in a digital world, to allow all Canadian businesses, households, and public institutions to realize the economic and social benefits of connectivity through the use of advanced technologies and applications
  • Work towards establishing universal access of at least 50 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload taking into context scalability and longer-term growth.
  • Businesses should have access to networks that support their ability to utilize technology, compete, and contribute to the economy.
  • Mobile connectivity on major highways and roads is an important need, including for safety.

Collaboration

  • Collaboration is essential to address the scope of the challenge and maximize the effect of our actions.
  • Shared objectives and priorities will lead to better outcomes.
  • Gathering, having access to, and sharing reliable data can significantly improve analysis and deployment strategies, as well as enable public reporting on progress.
  • Recognize the unique circumstances of Indigenous communities, especially in remote and isolated locations.

Effective Investments

  • Targeting market failures allows governments to direct support to where it is needed most.
  • Coordination of regulatory and spending levers helps ensure effective implementation.
  • Open access requirements can promote competition, affordability, and greater choice and should therefore be considered.
  • Addressing deployment barriers can significantly reduce constructions costs of digital infrastructure.

Improving broadband adoption is predicated on two key elements: an effective strategy needs to be concerned with increasing the availability of high speed services (supply), as well as ensuring that all Canadian households are able to get on-line (demand).

The elements in Friday’s announcement set out a framework that needs to reach beyond the various levels of government and encourage increased private sector investment, potentially unlocking billions of dollars per year in capital spending.

There are many ways that government can help, especially in improving access to rights of way and access to existing government infrastructure, as well as providing faster processes for investment approvals. The recent court decision striking down a bylaw from the City of Calgary shines a light on how some policies have restricted telecommunications industry access to rights of way and municipal infrastructure, creating disincentives for investment. I have written before “How smarter policy can create smarter cities.” And more than 11 years ago, I wrote that a “city would be better off with a declaration that it will no longer fight carriers looking to invest and it will get out of the way of service providers that want to improve fibre access to their customers. The best way to support industry may be for the city to just get out of the way.”

Canada should examine the rules recently put in place by the FCC that require accelerated timelines for municipalities to approve or reject construction projects and the federal regulator also imposed limits on the fees that municipalities could extract for communications infrastructure projects.

The strategy appears to endorse the CRTC’s pragmatic approach for implementing its new Broadband fund. “Work towards establishing universal access of at least 50 Mbps download / 10 Mbps upload taking into context scalability and longer-term growth.” As I have written recently, the Commission recognized the challenges of extending broadband to some remote area, even when it set its ambitious national broadband target. “In some underserved areas, achieving the objective will likely need to be accomplished in incremental steps due to many factors, such as geography, the cost of transport capacity, the distance to points of presence, and the technology used.”

How do we increase demand?

This past June, Minister Bains announced the coming launch of “Connecting Families“, a project in collaboration with most of Canada’s major telephone and cable companies, that is designed to help hundreds of thousands of low income Canadian households get affordable internet services. It is a major step in the right direction. While Rogers and TELUS have been offering similar services for a number of years, the national program is supposed to be launched very soon.

As the Federal and Provincial ministers agreed, “Gathering, having access to, and sharing reliable data can significantly improve analysis” to improve our understanding of other factors that are inhibiting increased adoption, as I wrote in “Building a broadband research agenda.”

The new national broadband strategy, based on the principles of Access, Collaboration and Effective Investments, will help drive supply of advanced broadband infrastructure. The launch of Connecting Families will be an important step in helping to increase subscriber adoption.

With far less fanfare than the previous government’s widely ridiculed national digital strategy – perhaps better characterized as a national digital pamphlet – Minister Bains has put forward a more actionable broadband strategy. Digital issues have moved higher on the national agenda evidenced by the multi-stakeholder broadband strategy, the Broadcast and Telecom Legislative Review and the CRTC’s Broadband Fund.

These are encouraging signals. We will continue to watch the file as greater detail is released.

Isn’t some broadband better than nothing?

The following is a piece I wrote for the National Newswatch Opinion page:

Isn’t some kind of broadband better than nothing?

The CRTC thinks so. And I agree.

When the Commission released its plans for its $750M Broadband Development Fund earlier this fall, it decided that it would accept applications to provide broadband service at download speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and 5 Mbps up, despite having previously announced an aspirational target for all Canadians to eventually be able to get twice those speeds.

Activists wrongly claimed that the Commission had cut its objectives in half from the bold universal service objective set less than 2 years ago. Indeed an opinion piece at cbc.ca asked, “Why would service providers hold themselves to CRTC targets when the CRTC itself won’t?”

The fact is, in its 2016 policy, the CRTC itself recognized that “in some underserved areas, achieving the objective will likely need to be accomplished in incremental steps.”

The newest CRTC policy isn’t making any kind of a change to the 2016 policy; it is executing precisely as envisioned in 2016. In both cases, the Commission realized that the current state of technology makes it impractical to provide 50 Mbps service to some parts of the country at anything close to a reasonable subsidy per household.

The reality is that funds are limited. As the CRTC found in 2016, “Closing the gap in broadband Internet access service availability in Canada is an enormous financial challenge, requiring billions of dollars in funding and investments that can only be overcome through shared responsibility.” Various government programs are helping bring affordable broadband access to Canadians in rural and remote regions.

If those subsidies were only applied where speeds of 50Mbps are possible, then some Canadians will continue to have no access at all. While we would all like to have faster internet at a lower price, I think most people will agree that access to some level of broadband is better than no broadband. And let’s not forget that that the speeds being required by the CRTC are the kinds of broadband that nearly half of all Canadians chose for our own homes.

When some Canadians are wanting for any kind of affordable broadband, it takes a certain kind of arrogance to proclaim that 25Mbps just isn’t good enough.

There are lots of reasons Canadians like to gripe about the CRTC – it is part of our national birthright. The Commission’s Broadband Plan isn’t one of them. It’s time to stop complaining and get on with building more broadband networks.