Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

Countering fear, uncertainty and doubt

I am the family cynic, a title I wear as a badge of honour.

As I have written before, I am often asked to check out a story being shared on Facebook, an email being circulated, a link from Twitter. Is it true?

I tend to read the news with a critical eye. I subscribe to newspapers with opposing viewpoints and frequently read opinion pieces that make my blood boil. And I tend to follow links and check footnotes to see if references and studies are being accurately portrayed.

In other words, I seek information from outside the echo chamber. Unfortunately, most people don’t. A couple years ago I wrote about this in “Reading just what we want or what we need?” At the time (a few months before the last US election), I observed “In the absence of opposing viewpoints, partisanship continues to be amplified. People watch just the programs that serve up the same viewpoints; read articles from sources that reinforce the opinions already held.”

Social media networks have been forensically examining the use of their platforms by foreign actors to determine how political outcomes in elections and referenda may have been influenced, including the last US presidential election and the Brexit vote in the UK.

This is not really a new phenomenon; propaganda has gone digital and propagandists have learned how to succeed in generating messages that go viral using the same techniques that get hundreds of millions views overnight for some videos.

The digital world has lowered the cost and accelerated the spread of propaganda, but have we done enough to teach people how to recognize the tell-tale signs of misinformation?

Wikipedia says “fear uncertainty and doubt” (FUD, for short) is “a disinformation strategy used in sales, marketing, public relations, politics and propaganda. FUD is generally a strategy to influence perception by disseminating negative and dubious or false information and a manifestation of the appeal to fear.”

Today’s highly partisan social networks are filled with countless examples of FUD and other propaganda techniques, such as those we see deployed by a number of shell organizations masquerading as advocacy groups online.

Media releases and twitter streams of certain groups often show tell-tale signs of some of these techniques (among others):

  • Loaded language: use of words with strong emotional implications to influence the audience
  • Managing the news: sticking to a few points and repeating them over and over
  • Ad nauseam: tireless repetition of an idea such that it may begin to be taken as the truth
  • Name calling, Demonization of the enemy: Making those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman
  • Ad hominem attacks: attacking one’s opponent, as opposed to attacking their arguments

While a number of democracies are examining how they can control the use of social media platforms in order to limit the influence of foreign states in domestic affairs, we need to keep in mind that propaganda doesn’t have to come from foreign actors to have negative influence on domestic democratic institutions. Clictivism, fueled by calls to action by the propaganda practitioners, attempt to influence politicians and generate overwhelming volumes of submissions in regulatory consultations, as though quasi-judicial hearings are meant to be determined by popular vote.

Media awareness training can help train the public to watch for the use of these (and other) propaganda techniques being practised by those manipulating and mobilizing public opinion on social networks.

Last summer, the Canadian government announced $50M in funding for CanCode, a program to give 500,000 students from kindergarten to grade 12 the opportunity to learn computer coding skills. Yesterday, the government announced almost $30M to fund a Digital Literacy Exchange Program.

The Digital Literacy Exchange program will invest $29.5 million to support initiatives that teach fundamental digital literacy skills to Canadians who would benefit from participating in the digital economy. The program aims to equip Canadians with the necessary skills to engage with computers, mobile devices and the Internet safely, securely and effectively.

The FAQ page for the Digital Literacy Exchange Program indicates that the target audience are new computer users, or people who are not online today, such as: Persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, Individuals who have not completed high school, Residents of rural and remote areas, Language Minorities, low income individuals, seniors and newcomers to Canada.

Are we doing enough to provide citizens of all ages with digital literacy skills, helping them recognize problematic content on the internet? The vision of Media Smarts is to provide children and youth with “the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.”

We need to ensure that such skills are developed in adults as well. All Canadians need to be able to apply critical thinking skills when engaging with the types of disinformation that have become pervasive on social media platforms.

Coding skills might be useful for some of our kids; basic digital literacy skills are important for the Canadians who are not yet online. But there are other, more fundamental online literacy skills that need to be mastered by everyone in a modern digital democracy. Learning a little more cynicism; teaching how to read with a more critical eye. Helping people detect when stories simply don’t seem right; helping them develop a more sensitive ‘smell test’.

I have asked before, “How do we encourage reading alternate perspectives, consideration of dissenting viewpoints, and engaging in cooperative dialog?”

In a modern democracy, people of all ages, and from all walks of life, need “the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.”

Early bird savings end February 28

For 3 days (June 4-6), the leadership of the telecom, broadcast & IT industries will converge in Toronto for The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit. Join your peers, suppliers, policy makers, regulators, customers and competitors in attending the industry’s most important gathering, to discuss the key issues and trends that will impact this critical sector of the economy.

Other conferences promise but don’t deliver. Only The Canadian Telecom Summit allows you to hear from the leading ICT executives and influencers and provides the opportunity for you to interact with them and your colleagues. Don’t be disappointed by attending imitation events.

For 17 years The Canadian Telecom Summit has been the place for Canada’s ICT leaders to meet, interact and do business. As in past years, this year’s event will feature high-octane interaction, top-level keynote speakers and thought-provoking panel discussions.

Innovation and Disruption in ICT: reinventing and securing our business and personal lives
How does Canada stake out a world-leading position in an increasingly digital world? What kinds of communications infrastructure is needed to provide Canadians with a platform to excel?
What kind of policy framework will encourage investment and foster the development of innovative new applications and technologies to deploy in Canada and offer around the world?

As always, The Canadian Telecom Summit features cutting-edge topics. This year, we are featuring sessions devoted to:

  • Cyber Security: Securing your data; protecting your privacy
  • Customer Experience Management
  • The 5G journey: IoT, connected cars, mobile video and more
  • Regulatory Blockbuster
  • Network Innovation & Service Delivery: Transforming networks & applications for nexgen services
  • Cultivating an Innovation Economy
  • Artificial Intelligence: Should we embrace or fear what’s coming</li>

The Canadian Telecom Summit has something for everyone! It leaves no stone unturned in bringing you the most substantive and comprehensive line-up of speakers and topics. Hear from senior executives from across the industry. Meet with your suppliers, customers and peers for 3 full days of thought provoking interaction.

Reserve your place today
Save more than $200 by registering by February 28. Book your place today!

Special Networking Event
All participants are invited to join us for our annual cocktail reception Monday evening, June 4, sponsored this year by Cogeco.

Continuing Professional Development
Lawyers: The 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.

Canadian ICT Employer of Choice
The “Canadian ICT Employer of Choice” award program is now accepting applications. Don’t miss your opportunity to get recognized at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit as one of the best in the industry. For more information visit the awards website, or call Jeff at +1.416.886.7007

Blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy

Section 36 of Canada’s Telecom Act will be emerging from relative obscurity this week. It turns out that these 28 words puts the CRTC at the centre of defending intellectual property rights in a digital age.

  1. Except where the Commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.

A broad coalition of Canadian artists, content creators, unions, guilds, producers, performers, broadcasters, distributors, and exhibitors has applied to the CRTC [pdf, 1.6MB] to deal with websites that offer pirated content. FairPlay Canada has proposed a new approach to deal with online piracy.

The coalition wants the CRTC to establish an new independent agency, the Independent Piracy Review Agency (IPRA), to identify websites engaged in promoting the theft of content. The proposal will disable access to websites and services that are “blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy.” The application asks the CRTC to require Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take measures to prevent these sites from reaching Canadians.

The IPRA and CRTC processes would be subject to oversight by the Federal Court of Appeal.

When a draft of the application leaked in December, some erroneously described the plan as an attack on net neutrality, perhaps hoping to capitalize on the publicity associated with the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom declaratory ruling. It isn’t.

Let’s be clear. FairPlay Canada’s Independent Piracy Review Agency proposal has nothing to do with net neutrality.

The CRTC’s net neutrality framework doesn’t specifically deal with blocking copyright infringing content. In its 2009 decision on internet traffic management practices (ITMP), the first leg of Canada’s net neutrality framework, the CRTC affirmed that blocking content by service providers would require Commission authorization in advance, as provided in Section 36 of the Telecom Act:

  1. The Commission finds that where an ITMP would lead to blocking the delivery of content to an end-user, it cannot be implemented without prior Commission approval. Approval under section 36 would only be granted if it would further the telecommunications policy objectives set out in section 7 of the Act. Interpreted in light of these policy objectives, ITMPs that result in blocking Internet traffic would only be approved in exceptional circumstances, as they involve denying access to telecommunications services.

The CRTC said that it would not use the ITMP framework to assess complaints about blocking, “as the matter is not one of discrimination or preference”.

Even Tim Wu has acknowledged that blocking certain kinds of internet content can be “clearly justified.” In his 2003 paper “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination” [pdf], Tim Wu is credited with having coined the term net neutrality. In this paper, he recognized that one could define limits on users for certain types of applications or conduct.

At one extreme, many of the usage or application bans surveyed are clearly justified. For example, operators usually ban users from using applications or conduct that are meant to hurt the network or other users, like network viruses. It is true that this is a departure from network neutrality, because it disfavors a class of applications – those that are disruptive to the network. Yet, it is clear that the operator has acted to solve a problem of a negative externality – the costs imposed by one user on others. Few could or would argue that this is a bad thing.

Ultimately, this boiled down to “Broadband Users have the right reasonably to use their Internet connection in ways which are privately beneficial without being publicly detrimental.” The FairPlay Canada application is effectively asking the CRTC to make a determination about whether it is publicly detrimental for pirated intellectual property to be made available without authorization of copyright holders.

In 2005, the FCC adopted a policy statement [FCC 05-151] setting out principles “To encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet”. Three of the four principles included ‘legal’ qualifiers. The first principle stated “consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.” The second principle was “consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement” and the third stated “consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.”

The FCC’s 2010 Open Internet principles also deal with illegal materials being transmitted:

The second principle said “consumers and innovators have a right to send and receive lawful traffic – to go where they want, say what they want, experiment with ideas – commercial and social, and use the devices of their choice. The rules thus prohibit the blocking of lawful content, apps, services, and the connection of devices to the network.”

In 2006, Canada’s Final Report, the Telecom Policy Review Panel explored this issue. In its prescient section on “Access to Internet Content and Applications”, the Panel said:

non-commercial reasons for blocking access could include legitimate legal prohibitions, for example, national security, child pornography or other criminal concerns. Restrictions on access might also arise because of copyright. In such cases, the Panel believes that blocking access would be legitimate because the access provider would merely be implementing the law.

As such, the Report developed its open internet recommendation with a specific carve-out for copyright:

Recommendation 6-5

The Telecommunications Act should be amended to confirm the right of Canadian consumers to access publicly available Internet applications and content of their choice by means of all public telecommunications networks providing access to the Internet. This amendment should

  1. authorize the CRTC to administer and enforce these consumer access rights,
  2. take into account any reasonable technical constraints and efficiency considerations related to providing such access, and
  3. be subject to legal constraints on such access, such as those established in criminal, copyright and broadcasting laws.

When a draft of the FairPlay Canada application leaked in December, some erroneously described the plan as an attack on net neutrality, perhaps hoping to capitalize on the publicity associated with the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom declaratory ruling.

So it is pretty clear: the FairPlay Canada proposal has nothing to do with net neutrality. There is nothing in the proposal that will “kill the internet.” There is no slippery slope. There is no attack on charter rights of expression.

The coalition’s proposal seeks to defend intellectual property rights and secure an environment that encourages creators to practice their craft in Canada. The proposal is long overdue, bringing Canada in line with many of our most important trading partners.

The coalition’s application to the CRTC attaches a legal opinion that confirms “Freedom of expression does not authorize the use of private telecommunications facilities to blatantly, overwhelmingly or structurally engage in piracy, and even if it did, the Proposed Regime is a proportionate exercise of discretion.”

In a recent blog post [and Globe and Mail Op-Ed), copyright and intellectual property expert Barry Sookman wrote:

At least 27 other countries — including leading liberal open democracies and major Canadian trading partners such as the UK, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, South Korea, and Denmark – utilize website blocking. Numerous studies and court decisions have found it to be effective in combatting digital piracy.

Hugh Stephens recently highlighted a relevant observation in Shaw’s submission to the CRTC’s future of broadcasting distribution models consultation.

Shaw notes in its submission that there is a real possibility of a conflict between a court order against a website found to be enabling infringement and the CRTC’s administration of its own legislation.

“It would be a significant impediment to the future economic growth of Canada’s creative sector, as well as to the promotion and development of Canadian content and legitimate Canadian distribution platforms, if rightsholders were denied access to an effective tool to combat online piracy because the CRTC prevented ISPs from complying with a court order. It would also put Canadian ISPs (which both Shaw and Bell are) in the untenable position of either being in breach of a court order or in breach of section 36 of the Telecommunications Act”.

Shaw, which is not a member of the FairPlay coalition, makes an important point. As it stands, we could have a situation where a Canadian court issues an order to internet service providers that cannot comply because Section 36 of the Telecom Act requires CRTC consent. As Hugh Stephens suggests, “If the Telecommunications Act gives the CRTC the authority to order ISPs to block certain content, with or without a court order, why not deal directly with the body that has the power and authority? In a situation where an administrative body such as the IPRA was set up, this body would make recommendations to the CRTC which in turn would order ISPs to comply.”

FairPlay Canada’s proposal for IPRA envisions a broad-based independent Board. “The IPRA’s independence would be reflected in the fact that its Board of Directors would be nominated by its Members, rightsholders, ISPs, and consumer advocacy and citizen groups, with no single stakeholder group having a controlling position.”

The FairPlay Canada coalition is composed of organizations from Canada’s film, TV, radio, sports entertainment and music industry. Software development companies and various information technology associations should share a common interest as this application works its way through the CRTC. Those who are concerned about Canada’s place in a global digital economy have to be concerned about defending their ability to protect and defend intellectual property rights.

FairPlay’s proposal, targeting websites and services blatantly, overwhelmingly, or structurally engaged in piracy, merits serious consideration. And it should be one of the interesting topics to be discussed for the Regulatory Blockbuster at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 4-6 in Toronto.

Have you registered yet?

An affordable broadband strategy

Earlier today, the CRTC rejected an appeal of Telecom Decision 2016-496 (“Modern telecommunications services – The path forward for Canada’s digital economy”) by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now Canada (ACORN) together with the National Pensioners Federation and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC). The group had sought the creation of an “affordability funding mechanism for low-income telecommunications users” to be part of the modernization of Canada’s basic telecommunications service definition. In rejecting the group’s appeal, the CRTC reiterated what it had said in the original Decision:

… most ISPs generally recognized the issues experienced by certain vulnerable consumers in paying for their telecommunications services, but were of the view that these issues stem from broader socio-economic conditions and not exclusively from the pricing of telecommunications services. The Commission agrees with the ISPs and remains of the view that concerted efforts from a variety of stakeholders is essential to making progress in the area of affordability.

The CRTC cited statements from the original Decision, where the Commission identified “Affordability of broadband Internet access services” as one of the issues to be addressed in the decision. However, it determined:

A comprehensive solution to affordability issues will require a multi-faceted approach, including the participation of other stakeholders. In this regard, the record of this proceeding demonstrates that various stakeholders, including ISPs and community organizations, have begun to implement innovative solutions to meet the wide-ranging needs of lower-income consumers. The Commission is mindful that its regulatory frameworks should be sufficiently flexible to allow for such solutions and does not want to take regulatory action that would inadvertently hinder the development of further private and public sector initiatives.

In the CRTC’s submission to the Government’s Innovation Agenda (issued concurrently with Decision 2016-496), the CRTC wrote:

The CRTC considers that, in light of its necessity to participation in so many aspects of life, broadband access should be considered more holistically as part of the social safety net for vulnerable Canadians. The development of initiatives related to the affordability of broadband Internet access service for Canadians is of considerable concern and will require concerted efforts from a variety of stakeholders.

And with today’s Decision on the review application, the Commission has confirmed that it relying on the development of those initiatives in a multi-stakeholder environment.

On a number of occasions, FCC Chair Ajit Pai has said that closing the digital divide is his top policy priority. Earlier this week, the FCC held the fourth meeting of its Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. In his opening remarks at the meeting, Chairman Pai said:

I’ve long said that every American who wants to participate in the digital economy should be able to do so. And the plain reality is that if you live in rural America, you are much less likely to have highspeed Internet access than if you live in a city. If you live in a low-income neighborhood, you are less likely to have high-speed Internet access than if you live in a wealthier area.

I remember the first time I noticed the correlation between broadband adoption and income. It was about 10 years ago and I was preparing a proposal for a training session that we used to deliver for regulators. We noticed that the rate of adoption of internet services was slowing and the asymptote was approaching the low 80% or so of households. I noticed that this was also the level of computer adoption in Canadian households. Digging into the numbers in Statistics Canada’s Survey of Household Spending, we were able to see the correlation between income and computer ownership and similarly, between income and internet adoption.

In our opening remarks at The 2008 Canadian Telecom Summit, we first called for an examination of the practice to subsidize rural broadband without regards to means while so many urban households were unable to afford service that so many of us considered affordable. Over the next few years, we continued to prod (some might say we nagged) industry leaders, Industry Ministers, Opposition critics, Members of Parliament, regulatory commissioners and who ever would listen. I remember sitting with an industry executive back in 2010 at one of those business club luncheons in a 5-star hotel ballroom and we started talking about the unconnected schoolkids among Canada’s economically disadvantaged households. I still have the follow-up email I sent him:

I am quite passionate about trying to figure out how we get computers and broadband into the most economically compromised members of society. I am not known for being left leaning, but like you, I am troubled that there are households with school aged children that lack computers, let alone broadband.

How do those kids stand a chance of competing with their classmates and breaking out of their circumstances?

I remember a frustrated email to another industry executive shortly after the US cable TV industry launched its low income broadband initiative as part of the Comcast/NBC approval process. I wrote, “Internet penetration in homes is virtually 100% of households with computers: these are skewed, as you would expect, by income. Our problem isn’t access to broadband; it is affordability of computers and connections. This is more of a problem in urban areas than rural.”

Since that time, in their home internet territories, TELUS [Internet for Good] and Rogers [Connected for Success] have created programs that provide computers, connectivity and digital literacy training in thousands of low income households.

To bridge the digital divide in the US, the FCC Chair has decided to pursue an approach that removes “outdated and unnecessary regulatory barriers” in order to incent the “massive investment to construct, expand, and improve wired and wireless networks.”

It is notable that in Canada so far, industry has been leading the development of programs to get connected computers into lower income households with school aged children, without funding from the government. I can appreciate the frustration of ACORN that Canada still does not have a national initiative. There are large areas of the country where broadband is available, but beyond the reach of families struggling to pay for basic sustenance. An affordability funding mechanism was not necessarily the best approach, but we are long overdue for the development of a national initiative for affordable broadband and a champion to lead it.

There is funding planned by the CRTC for rural and remote broadband to supplement government funding for similar programs. The Commission has acknowledged the multi-stakeholder approach to develop private and public sector initiatives to address affordability. Should Canada establish its own Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to help guide a holistic approach to increase broadband adoption in urban and rural households?

Where do net-workers network?

#CTS18Registrations are now open for The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 4-6 in Toronto.

Join your colleagues in listening to and participating in executive presentations from those who have the greatest influence on the direction of Canadian telecommunications, broadcasting and information technology. Hear from global leaders and local trend-setters. Meet with your suppliers, customers and partners. Challenge your competition.

For three full days, The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit will again deliver thought-provoking insights from the prime movers of the industry. The Canadian Telecom Summit gives you the chance to hear from and talk with them in both a structured atmosphere of frank discussion and high-octane idea exchange and schmooze in a more relaxed social setting of genial conversation over espresso or cocktails.

The Canadian Telecom Summit reviews where we have been as an industry, provides an understanding of the dynamics that propel it and forecasts future trends and expected developments. Attendance is a must for telecom, broadcast and IT industry professionals – corporate users, carriers, content providers and manufacturers – financial analysts, consultants and investors. The Canadian Telecom Summit is the forum for the broad cross-section of stakeholders to meet, exchange views, share ideas, challenge assumptions and plan for the future.

Be sure to take advantage of early bird pricing. Register by February 28.