Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

How will we know if we got it right?

I have been taking some time to write about last week’s CRTC decision creating a framework for evaluating ISP differential pricing practices.

I typically try to go beyond the simple reporting of what is in a decision, in order to help understand the background and interpret the strategic implications of the decision for industry stakeholders. Scott Prescott at Fasken Martineau produced a good summary of the decision itself.

The arbitrary nature of a number of aspects of the decision coupled with its failure to conform with the Policy Direction makes it difficult to apply my usual analysis. I disagree with the decision. As I told IT World Canada, “By removing choice, we’ve increased costs for consumers who decided to subscribe to [Vidéotron’s] service, while lowering costs for nobody. How is it anything but Orwellian to characterize that as ‘consumer-friendly’?” Would  the decision withstand an independent audit of compliance with the Policy Direction, notwithstanding the decision’s statement that it “(a) relies on market forces to the maximum extent feasible, (b) seeks to remove barriers to entry, (c) is a measure that is efficient and proportionate to its purpose.”

In any case, one might ask if there will be a way to evaluate the benefits of Canada’s differential pricing policy for internet service providers, given that the CRTC Chair said “A free and open Internet gives everyone a fair chance to innovate and for a vast array of content to be discovered by consumers.”

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly is trumpeting the decision as evidence of Canada’s support for net neutrality, providing “an advantage to Ottawa as it tries to encourage major digital media firms such as Netflix and Google to support and distribute more Canadian-made content.”

Is it an advantage for Canada to be enacting such a different framework for regulating the internet?

Among the first acts by FCC Chair Ajit Pai was to drop an investigation into differential pricing practices by US carriers. Earlier this week, a court struck down a prohibition on differential pricing issued by the Dutch Authority for Consumer and Market, since the practice is permitted by pan-European regulations.

So, as the FCC steers away from regulation of internet service providers and European courts re-affirm that regulators need to allow ISPs to differentiate their services, Canada becomes a testbed for what the CRTC has termed its overall “policy framework for net neutrality.”

As I have often asked, how will we measure success?

As one long-time observer of the Canadian regulatory scene was asking last week, should we expect capital to migrate to Canada because of our better rules? If we look at the rate of startups in Canada versus the rate in the US, should we expect that rate improve in Canada relative to US?

There will certainly be much discussion of Canada’s network neutrality framework at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 5-7 in Toronto. You can save $250 by registering before the end of April.

In search of greener pastures

It is almost a defining characteristic for Canadians to distinguish ourselves from our neighbours to the south. The untrained ear may think we speak English somewhat similarly, but Canadians emphatically define ourselves as “not American” while we roll-up-the-rim-to-win.

That doesn’t keep us from wishing we had American-style prices for gasoline, milk, eggs, airfares, clothing and alcohol. It is springtime, and it is natural for us to look wistfully at greener grass growing on the other side of the border. And we can add to the list, unlimited mobile data plans.

So the City Council for Toronto recently passed a motion calling for the CRTC to mandate “reasonably priced unlimited data packages” as an option:

City Council direct the City Manager to convey to the Commissioner of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission the request that major telecommunications providers across Canada be required, as part of their licensing arrangements, to provide consumers with options for reasonably priced unlimited data packages that would be part of the cellular packages they offer.

This motion was passed just a few weeks after that same city council was unable to balance its own budget without increasing taxes and adding additional user fees. Leaving aside the issue of CRTC “licensing arrangements” (and retail pricing forbearance), we might consider whether increased regulation is the best way to increase price competition.

I have frequently written about looking at greener grass elsewhere. We seem to lose sight of how many of these outcomes emerge. US unlimited data plans were not introduced due to regulation, but rather in response to signals of loosening regulation from the new FCC chair, Ajit Pai.

I have written before about the cost of regulation in Canada [such as here and here]. Is it really reasonable for Toronto’s City Council to think we can regulate our way to “reasonably priced unlimited data packages”?

A recent paper by Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane describes how Denmark “has pursued a largely laissez-faire approach to telecom regulation.”

Denmark has been praised as a broadband utopia, but observers often fail to understand the concrete decisions that helped create Danish telecommunications policy.

There is an official telecom policy direction requiring the CRTC to “rely on market forces to the maximum extent feasible” 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.”

Still, a growing number of CRTC regulations (including regulating the internet) have served to reduce differentiation between service providers, such as with mobile video services (such as NFL Mobile).

Has increased regulation limited choice and reduced incentives for pricing as a competitive response? Is there another approach that could lead to improved outcomes – greener grass?

There are a couple panels at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit [June 5-7, Toronto] that could examine this issue, among many, many more. The latest version of the brochure was updated today. Have you registered yet?

An easy way to save $250

More than 60 leaders who shape Canada’s ICT industry will speak at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, June 5-7 in Toronto. The event will include over a dozen keynote addresses offering insights into the future of Canadian ICT, examining the services, technologies, consumer & business trends and regulatory & policy initiatives that drive the information economy.

This year, in addition to the ever popular Regulatory Blockbuster, we are featuring sessions devoted to:

  • Cyber Security;
  • Disruptive Innovation;
  • Customer Experience Management;
  • Network Innovation & Service Integrity;
  • Advanced Mobility & IoT.

With so much public attention focused on telecommunications & broadcast issues, no other event is quite like The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit in covering the industry from every angle.

Now in its 16th year, The Canadian Telecom Summit has become Canada’s most important annual ICT event, attracting attendees from around the world.

For 3 days, The Canadian Telecom Summit delivers thought provoking presentations from the prime movers 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 network in a more relaxed social setting of genial conversation.

After being immersed in a full program of keynotes and panel discussions, plan to attend our not-to-be-missed Cocktail Reception. This is a chance to unwind, enjoy some delicious food & drink, catch up with colleagues and make new professional acquaintances.

Come meet with leaders from services and equipment suppliers, applications developers, policy makers, regulators and major customers.

Book your seat early.

The Canadian Telecom Summit is the only event you need to attend. For the complete agenda, visit the conference website or download the brochure.

Save $250 by registering before May 1.

Special Networking Events: All participants are invited to join us for our annual cocktail reception Monday evening, June 5.

Continuing Professional Development: Time spent attending substantive sessions at The Canadian Telecom Summit can be claimed as “Substantive Hours” toward the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements.

Legislative neutrality

For years, I have found the issue of technological neutrality in legislation to be a fascinating area.

Eleven years ago, I wrote about “Illegal content on the internet,” looking at how the industry needed to find ways to tackle child abuse images on the internet.

Carriers are not being asked to be censors. Canada already has laws that forbid certain types of content. If the illegal content is in printed form, our customs agents confiscate it at the border. If these existing laws are to have meaning, we should be taking steps to close the digital loophole.

There are numerous cases where we treat digital content differently from the same material in print form. Generally, those differences result in more lenient regulation of digital content than the print equivalent. The most significant exception to this rule is commercial marketing messages, which are subjected to extremely harsh legislative restriction in electronic form (For a discussion of CASL, see “Snacking on digital policy,” from 3 years ago), but are freely distributed in paper form.

European states, such as Germany, have been closing its digital loopholes for more than a decade. In 2006, I wrote about an EU directive requiring that service providers retain “data necessary to trace and identify the source of a communication” in order to provide law enforcement officials with access to the same information they would have in a paper environment. In 2008, I noted that France ordered ISPs to block hate content. In 2009, I wrote that Germany took steps to protect copyright for content on the internet. At that time, I asked “Are Europeans going to lead in treating digital and conventional content within a technology neutral legal framework?”

Earlier today, Reuters reported “German cabinet agrees to fine social networks over hate speech.” The report attributes to Justice Minister Heiko Maas the statement: “There should be just as little tolerance for criminal rabble rousing on social networks as on the street”.

Why do we still treat the digital world differently?

A few months ago, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains said “The digital economy is the economy.” He is right.

Perhaps in recognition of the transition of the economy, Canada’s recent Budget promised a review of the legislation that governs the internet:

To ensure that Canadians continue to benefit from an open and innovative Internet, the Government proposes to review and modernize the Broadcasting Act and Telecommunications Act.

In this review, the Government will look to examine issues such as telecommunications and content creation in the digital age, net neutrality and cultural diversity, and how to strengthen the future of Canadian media and Canadian content creation.

As part of that review, Canada might consider exploring those areas in which the digital economy receives different treatment from legacy and determine whether each of the distinctions are appropriate.

Innovating for success

The word “innovation” is at the core of the Trudeau government’s economic policy, appearing 368 times in the budget released 2 weeks ago [pdf, 2.6MB]. The term is part of the new name for Canada’s industry department.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that innovation figures prominently in Canada’s business community. The communications and information technology and services sector is no different. The theme for The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit [June 5-7, Toronto] is “Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future.” The event will explore what drives a more innovative economy, with leading thinkers examining the subject from various angles.

Dan Breznitz, Munk Chair of Innovation Studies, will be speaking June 5. On June 6, Len Waverman, Dean of the DeGroote School of Business at McMaster University, will host a panel discussion including David Bray, CIO of the FCC and Jack Mintz, President’s Fellow at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. And wrapping up on June 7, Namir Anani, CEO of the Information and Communications Technology Council, will host a panel that includes Jacques Magen, Chairman of Celtic-Plus EUREKA cluster, who will be able to share perspectives from Europe.

The full agenda for The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit is available at the conference website, or you can download a printable brochure.

Save $250 by registering before the end of April.

Have you registered yet?