Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Do CRTC’s numbers add up?

The CRTC issued a press release earlier today to announce “CRTC publishes a citizen’s guide to participating“.

In the release, the CRTC said “According to Statistics Canada, communication services represent the fifth largest family expense for Canadian households.”

In addition, this was highlighted in a section called “Quick Facts”:

  • Canadians spend an average of $191/month on communication products and services, the fifth largest family expense.

I tried to source these numbers from Statistics Canada, but could not reconcile them against published data. The CRTC tells me that the $191 figure comes from the soon-to-be released version of the Communications Monitoring Report. It represents a modest increase over the $185 spent a year earlier (2012) and $181 in 2011. To clarify, this figure represents average household spending, not spending by the average Canadian.

According to a CRTC spokesperson, calling the amount a “family expense” was sufficiently clear for readers to understand that the press release was not talking about $191 per Canadian. Are we all clear on that point? Do you agree?

It was more of a challenge to reconcile the statement that asserts communications services represent the fifth largest family expense.

The latest Survey of Household Spending from Statistics Canada reports annual spending by Canadian households. At $191 per month, we are talking about annualized spending in the order of $2,292. How does that rank against other Statistics Canada categories?

The survey shows:

  • Shelter ($15,811)
  • Income taxes ($13,060)
  • Transportation ($11,216)
  • Food ($7,739)
  • Personal Insurance ($4,272)
  • Recreation ($3,773)
  • Clothing ($3,461)
  • Health care ($2,285)

It appears that communications is tied with health care in the 8th position.

Can anyone reconcile the statement “According to Statistics Canada, communication services represent the fifth largest family expense for Canadian households”?

Don’t do stupid stuff

Prior to yesterday’s scary admission that there is no strategy to deal with ISIS, US President Obama’s foreign policy was said to be guided by a policy of “Don’t do stupid stuff“, the phrase having been cleaned up for prime-time viewing.

Increasingly, it appears that Canada needs a digital conscience in Ottawa to teach the Obama doctrine: stop doing stupid stuff.

Threatening to introduce legislation to ban charges for paper bills is another in a growing list of actions that are at cross purposes with achieving policy objectives.

According to the Digital Canada 150 strategy,

Digital Canada 150 represents a comprehensive approach to ensuring Canada can take full advantage of the opportunities of the digital age. It envisions a country of connected citizens armed with the skills they need to succeed.

The Government plays a key role in ensuring that consumers are protected and action is taken to end price discrimination. We have introduced measures to protect Canadians and their families while encouraging healthy competition and lower consumer prices.

By Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, our vision is for a thriving digital Canada, underscored by five key pillars: connecting Canadians, protecting Canadians, economic opportunities, digital government and Canadian content.

As I wrote Thursday, in 2006, a Directive was sent to the CRTC [Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implementing the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives]. At that time, Canada’s cabinet called for the CRTC to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible as the means of achieving the telecommunications policy objectives, and when relying on regulation, use measures that are efficient and proportionate to their purpose and that interfere with the operation of competitive market forces to the minimum extent necessary to meet the policy objectives.”

Yesterday, the broadcasting and telecom vice-chairs of the CRTC convened a closed door meeting of telephone and cable company executives, representing Bell, Bragg Communications (Eastlink), Cogeco, Globalive (WIND Mobile), MTS Allstream, Rogers, Sasktel, Shaw, TELUS and Videotron. The agenda for the meeting called for discussion on “a clear and predictable approach to fees for paper bills”, examination of “Specific Circumstances: disability / income level / seniors / others”, but the agenda did not say that the CRTC sought elimination of the charges altogether.

So it is not clear why the CRTC chair was disappointed at the outcome: “While the companies agreed to adopt consistent exemptions to such fees, they were unable to reach a consensus to eliminate them entirely.”

The Industry Minister was quick to announce action:

Canadians should ask “why?”

The companies already agreed to provide exemptions for Canadians with disabilities, customers who don’t have broadband, seniors and veterans. At least half of low income Canadians are already captured in those exemptions because the government has yet to deal with embarrassingly low adoption of computers and broadband for that segment.

So what is the problem we are trying to fix?

Why would we discourage incentives for Canadians to adopt digital billing? Why would we disadvantage Canadian companies that will spend millions of dollars sending bills? Why would we introduce legislation that will raise the cost of doing business – costs that are certain to cost Canadians.

I wrote yesterday about “Roadblocks for an innovation economy.” Legislation to mandate no-charge paper bills in a competitive environment is yet another one of those roadblocks.

How many roadblocks would be removed if we could get the government’s digital strategy simplified to mirror Obama’s doctrine?

Roadblocks for an innovation economy

An article yesterday in the Washington Post by Larry Downes says that the net neutrality debate has missed the point.

How did we get here?  Despite the doomsday scares of a technology apocalypse, the current fight over who and how to regulate the Internet is not about the future of innovation, Internet access, broadband pricing, competition, fairness, or motherhood. It’s something much less exciting, though, depending on the outcome, much more dangerous.

Downes’ conclusion, “At best, a full or partial government takeover of Internet access would almost certainly slow future network evolution” sounds similar to what I wrote in 2008 in a post called “Can net neutrality limit innovation?

Canada led the world in introducing enforceable net neutrality regulations when the CRTC introduced ITMP protocols for the implementation of internet traffic management in 2009.

Eight months earlier, in February 2009, in its Digital Britain strategy document, the UK said there was no need for net neutrality legislation. The UK was concerned that net neutrality regulation might prevent pricing innovation, differentiation of offers and serve to discourage investment in higher-speed access networks.

In its review of Mobile TV services, we see the CRTC’s regulatory forum being used to discourage precisely the kinds of pricing innovations that concerned the UK authorities. Downes wrote in his article in the Washington Post, “Just as taxicab companies are using regulators to stop Uber and Lyft, and hotels are lobbying for prohibitions on Airbnb, Netflix is using the net neutrality debate to improve its own bottom line.”

My views on Canada’s anti-spam law (CASL) are well known. I don’t think that it is a source of pride for Canada to have the democratic world’s toughest anti-spam regime. See, for example: “CASL is indefensible” and “CASL costs consumers“. As early as 2008, I warned “Worst case will see us get it wrong and introduce costs on legitimate businesses while doing nothing to stem the flow of the real garbage filling our inboxes.” In 2010, I wrote, “the bill would be better titled the Electronic Commerce Restrictions Act: it discourages many efficiencies that should be available to businesses of all sizes in reaching out to new customers.” CASL is yet another inhibitor for Canadian businesses to adopt digital technologies, and as I wrote earlier this summer, we should be wondering if CASL will limit the development of new technologies.

The CRTC’s own focus groups found that Canadians thought the Commission was “playing catch-up most of the time. The industry it regulates is changing so fast that the Commission never seems to be ahead of the change and is more reactive than proactive.”

This impression is a reality of attempting to regulate in the light-speed of our evolving digital economy.

Earlier this summer, Khosla Ventures had a “fireside chat” with Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They were asked “Can you imagine Google becoming a health company?” Brin replied:

Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It’s just a painful business to be in. It’s just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we’ll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.

The zeal with which regulators and legislators have intervened in Canada’s digital economy should be a concern to all of us. Is regulation protecting competition or competitors? Is regulation safeguarding consumers or building roadblocks for innovation?

In 2006, a Directive was sent to the CRTC [Order Issuing a Direction to the CRTC on Implementing the Canadian Telecommunications Policy Objectives]. At that time, Canada’s cabinet called for the CRTC to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible as the means of achieving the telecommunications policy objectives, and when relying on regulation, use measures that are efficient and proportionate to their purpose and that interfere with the operation of competitive market forces to the minimum extent necessary to meet the policy objectives.”

Are we seeing regulatory measures from the CRTC and Industry Canada that are as “minimally intrusive and as minimally onerous as possible?”

As I wrote last year (echoing calls from two years earlier), we are long, long, long overdue for a fresh look at Canada’s telecom policy.

10 tips for back-to-school online safety

Last year, I wrote about the launch of the TELUS WISE programme, an initiative available to Canadians free of charge to help advance “Wise Internet and Smartphone Education”.

This year, in time for the back-to-school season, TELUS and TELUS WISE have produced a list of 10 tips [infographic here] to encourage online safety.

  1. Review the permissions before giving permission. Apps and social sites often ask for access to personal information that could put you at risk. Set rules around what info you and your kids will share and with whom.
  2. Keep it private. It is vital to constantly check and adjust privacy settings within apps and social sites to keep up with ever-changing defaults. Looks for app settings that share information publicly and change it to close friends only.
  3. Set-up a 24/7 watchdog for your name. Create a Google alert for yourself and each of your family members to track how your names are being used online and where you’re being mentioned. Find out more on the TELUS WISE site.
  4. Less is more. Limit the amount of potentially sensitive information posted online to lower chances of theft or abuse – think twice before posting last names, age, school names, vacation location or other personal info.
  5. Keep connections personal. A good general rule is to only connect and share with people that you know in real life. “Friending” people online whom you’ve never met increases your risk of exploitation.
  6. Think before you click. Always read the full path of the URL link you are about to click to make sure it’s going to take you where you want to go.
  7. Don’t be found. Turn off geo-tagging on smartphones and tablets to keep from being tracked. When this feature is enabled, your exact location can be exposed even if you’re just posting a photo. Ensure that apps that rely on location (e.g. Google Maps) are the only ones that have location enabled.
  8. Lock it down. Set passwords that are at least six characters long. Use at least one symbol, number and uppercase letter; for extra security use different passwords for each website or account you use.
  9. Don’t log in and leave it. Always be sure to log out of social accounts and apps when you aren’t using them. Disable or deactivate accounts and apps you no longer use.
  10. Keep your digital household clean. Set a recurring 3-month calendar appointment to check your online profiles, confirm privacy and permission settings on the social media sites you subscribe to and review any apps that you’ve downloaded.

Many kids will be getting their first mobile phones or personal computers as they head to school next week.

I think these tips are worth sharing with your family and friends.

Hold the date – #CTS15

Hold these dates in your 2015 calendar: June 1-3.

We are at the preliminary planning stages for The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit, the 14th annual gathering of stakeholders in Canada’s information and communications services and technologies sectors.

Plan to join us in Toronto next June.

You can still see the schedule from the 2014 event on the conference website. Some of the sessions are available to view on demand – click here for a listing.

Over the next month or so, we will be starting to put together the 2015 website. Be sure to get in touch if you are interested in speaking, sponsorship or attending.