It ain’t free, babe

I was visiting with family in the Kawarthas (about 2 hours east and north of Toronto) today and I couldn’t help but notice the signs advertising Wireless High Speed Internet along all of the major roads that I was on approaching this cottage and rural community.

But my cousin still uses dial-up access. One of their questions was whether the “free government broadband” would help them. That’s right, they are holding off in buying this service because they think that the government may have a freebie coming their way.

I actually hope it ain’t so. It seems to me that if there is an entrepreneur offering service in the area, then the last thing my tax dollars should be doing is competing against them! I’m not crazy about the idea of misguided Robin Hood entitlements – let’s be clear: this is not an impoverished region.

There is definitely a role for government assistance in completely unserved territory, but let’s not have government compete against the private sector. And let’s also make sure that there is sufficient public clarity about the government’s plans in order to remove any overhang that may be inhibiting demand in areas outside the traditional telco/cable duopoly.

Not ready for prime time

I see Om Malik has picked up on a theme I raised last week – that access independent VoIP may just not be there in terms of acting as a replacement for the general public. Sure, it’s cheaper and gives virtual numbers, but, as Om summarized, users lose reliability, sound quality and emergency access.

I’ll note that these complaints do not apply to the digital voice products coming from the cable companies or the phone companies, such as Bell’s Digital Voice. But those services are access dependent – you buy the voice application from the same carrier as your access wiring – and lose the nomadic capability. That is how the carrier controls the quality, manages the reliability and gives accurate 911 address information. What these products lack is just some of the ‘cool’ factor and so far, there is no great price advantage.

At least in Canada, we seem to prefer an orderly market, allowing the cable companies to enter the voice business with healthy margins, but sacrificing some of the vigourous price competition that consumers might otherwise enjoy.

A year after the CRTC set in place its rules for VoIP, we’ll be looking at all aspects of the competitive marketplace – both access independent and dependent voice products – at The 2006 Canadian Telecom Summit on June 12-14.

Howard Stern on Demand

Since Mark Evans and Jon Arnold are both talking subscription radio, and following up on my earlier post about the CRTC’s recent Mobile TV Decision, I thought we could take an additional look at where this could go.

Mark Evans isn’t crazy about searching through the 100 plus stations of satellite radio – think of it like digital TV without the big screen channel guide. Isn’t this even more of a reason to integrate a subscription capability into the mobile phone?

I see a hybrid of live programming and audio on demand. Integrating subscription radio with podcasting. Someone mentions an interesting bite from Stern’s show at work and you grab it to play back later. Or Dr. Laura. Jon’s live programming choice will obviously be the Red Sox channel. But with a proper widget design, why couldn’t users pluck any streaming audio feed from anywhere?

It just seems to me that mobile radio makes even more sense than mobile tv. You can listen while you’re driving or working, reading, gardening or fishing.

Maybe the folks at CHUM (who lost out on subscription radio) will be interested in an unregulated back door.

Google in China

GoogleGoogle is under heat for conforming to Chinese law by limiting the scope of searches delivered by the ‘’ version of its search engine.

It seems to me that this isn’t about censorship or freedom. The core issue is whether nations have sovereignty over their domestic communications networks and services. The FCC has rules about what can be carried over the US airwaves (just ask the radio networks that carried Howard Stern or look at the results of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction).

Here in Canada, the CRTC censors simulcast US commercials, a problem that is especially troubling during the Super Bowl broadcasts, denying Canadians access to the Bud Bowl and Go Daddy. Instead we are served up the Canadian Tire guy.

However, in its Mobile TV Decision, the CRTC expresses the view that content delivered over ‘the Internet’ is free of its regulation. Note this does not apply to networks just using IP, but solely to those using the big cloud, capital ‘I’ Internet.

It is interesting that even the Telecom Policy Review panel, with all of its free market language, discusses limits on illegal content. Hank Intven, one of the TPR panel members, will moderate the session looking at Illegal Content at The Canadian Telecom Summit in June.

XM and Sirius should be nervous

The CRTC issued a Decision on mobile TV that should make the folks at XM and Sirius nervous.

The Decision exempts mobile TV from regulation on the basis that it falls under the New Media exemption. It is an interesting finding, considering that it appears to hinge on the delivery of the content over an IP network.

Part of the Wireless Association consultant study relied upon by the CRTC stated that the video and audio quality of the service is different from broadcast TV because of the limitations of the wireless handset. Intriguing, since so many of the new wireless handsets feature high fidelity MP3 audio. I’m not convinced that cellular audio is anything less than first rate.

So, here is the issue: Why wouldn’t the wireless carriers start a subscription radio service right away? We know that people are buying Sirius and XM subscriptions for $15 per month – that sounds like an attractive piece of ARPU enhancement for the wireless industry. While we have no idea how much people are willing to spend on a 2-inch TV picture, we know that people are lining up to buy subscription radio (at least according to XM’s latest press release issued this morning).

If I were an executive with Sirius or XM, I’d be concerned about this new unregulated source of competition. After all, isn’t radio just TV without the picture?

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