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Category Archives: bell

Net neutrality is like a utility, except that it isn’t

FedEx jets: why the internet is nothing like the postal service.

FedEx jets: why the internet is nothing like the postal service.

Net neutrality has certainly taken a beating of late on both sides of the border. In the United States last week, a federal court effectively killed what few rules there were that prevented internet providers from discriminating between different types of traffic. That followed an announcement a few weeks ago by AT&T that it was introducing a “sponsored data” feature for smartphones that would allow websites and online service providers to pay for exempting their content from users’ monthly data caps.

In Canada, meanwhile, a version of that is ongoing with Bell offering its own mobile television at a rate that’s significantly discounted from regular online video. Canada has rules that enshrine net neutrality and they have indeed been invoked in a complaint about Bell’s service to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In each of these cases, the very notion of net neutrality – or the idea that the traffic and content that flows across the internet should be free from unnecessary discrimination by network providers – will be sorely tested this year. On the downside for users, internet providers have now had several years to adjust to the principle and have gotten pretty good at figuring out ways around it, hence the increasing usage of data caps as a way to privilege certain services. On the plus side for advocates, the providers still haven’t been able to counter the principle itself, which has the advantage of being tied to such fundamental long-term concerns as innovation and competition. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in bell, comcast, net neutrality

 

Harper and wireless: Is it Lost or Breaking Bad?

Is Stephen Harper really Walter White?

Is Stephen Harper really Walter White?

This past weekend, Breaking Bad cashed in big time at the Golden Globe awards with wins for both best drama and lead actor, with the inimitable Bryan Cranston finally getting accolades at the annual event for his fantastic portrayal of anti-hero Walter White. Anyone who has watched the show, which wrapped up last year, probably felt the kudos were well deserved – it truly was one of the best series to ever grace the airwaves.

What I liked most about Breaking Bad were how seemingly minor details were introduced in one episode, only to be revisited in later ones to further flesh out and illuminate the ongoing plot. It was these sorts of things – like Walter spelling out his birthday numbers with bacon – that really impressed upon viewers that the writers knew exactly what they were doing all along.

On the flip side, there’s the Canadian wireless market. In discussing the federal government’s long-running quest to bring more competition to the industry, most pundits – regardless of what end of the spectrum or ideology they subscribe to – have generally agreed that there’s been little rhyme or reason coming out of Ottawa. By all accounts, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his crew have been making things up as they go, as the current disarray seems to prove. Rather than Breaking Bad, it’s been more like Lost – a show that didn’t really make sense but promised an epic resolution, yet failed to pay off in the end.

But what if everyone is wrong and the government’s plot really isn’t like Lost? What if, like Breaking Bad, the whole situation really has been meticulously planned and crafted, and is in fact playing out perfectly?

I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2014 in bell, government, mobile, rogers, telus, wind

 

Two-year contracts the latest wireless strawman

straw-manIt’s Dec. 2, which means the CRTC’s new wireless code is officially in effect. As of today, consumers will enjoy several new protections, including caps on roaming fees and a ban on cancellation charges after two years of a contract, which is the regulator’s de facto prohibition on three-year agreements.

Carriers have been busy implementing the new requirements for some time now, but some of them just couldn’t resist throwing out some parting shots in the process. About a month ago, both Bell and Rogers suggested that the required shift from three-year to two-year contracts was slowing smartphone growth, with the insinuation being that regulatory interference was somehow hurting Canadians’ supposedly insatiable hunger for the devices.

A number of industry observers evidently swallowed the line. As the lead of a Globe and Mail story proclaimed:

The introduction of new two-year cellphone contracts slowed subscriber growth for some of Canada’s biggest carriers during the back-to-school season, a sign that consumers are spurning those higher-priced plans even before they become the industry standard in December.

Ordinarily, such a statement would be attributed to the companies since it’s their position, but evidently the support of a market analyst or two is enough to make it fact. Scotiabank Capital analyst Jeff Fan provides the required back-up: “I would call it one of many ‘unintended consequences’ resulting from regulatory moves over the past summer,” he says in the above story. Fan also repeated the claims during our panel at the International Institute of Communications conference a few weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2013 in bell, rogers, telus

 

Why Conservatives aren’t winning in telecom

winningIf there was one takeaway from this week’s International Institute of Communications’ annual conference in Ottawa, it was the strong after-taste of winning. It doesn’t have much to do with Charlie Sheen, but rather explains the Conservative government’s problems with the telecommunications industry. Simply put, one of them is winning and the other is not. It’s pretty clear to anyone watching which is which.

The point was driven home at IIC again and again. In my own facts-versus-myths panel, Scotia Capital and Genuity analysts Jeff Fan and Dvai Ghose respectively noted the failures of the government’s policy objectives from the 2008 wireless spectrum auction. With Public Mobile sold to Telus, Mobilicity on the brink of failure and Wind, well, twisting in the wind, it’s obvious that the government’s biggest attempt to inject more wireless competition into Canada hasn’t worked out very well. Or at least, it worked temporarily, but it’s increasingly looking like it’s going to sputter out.

Fan also pointed to how the CRTC’s move to effectively ban three-year wireless contracts has caused monthly prices to go up. That was actually a no-brainer that was easy to see coming – several observers (myself included) predicted big price increases just as soon as the regulator announced its plan back in June.

Bell Media president Kevin Crull spent a good portion of his IIC address talking about how the government’s current desire to implement pick-and-pay TV channels may not necessarily lower costs for consumers. “As we move forward in responding to consumers, we need to be clear that there is an inherent risk. When buying less, the unit cost is going to be higher and overall savings, if any, may be small,” he said.

The best summary of all of this was a conversation I had at the conference with Celia Sankar, head of the non-profit Diversity Canada Foundation. Sankar told me all about the class-action lawsuit she has launched against Bell over its prepaid wireless plans. She’s arguing that prepaid balances shouldn’t expire in Ontario because they qualify as gift cards. (It’s illegal for gift cards to have expiry dates in the province.)

Given how these things go, I asked her if she was prepared for the eventuality that, should Bell lose the case and be forced to sack the expiration, the company might simply jack up prepaid rates in return. Tellingly, she didn’t really have an answer for that.

When critics attack the government for rightly trying to lower consumers’ telecom bills, there’s an almost contemptuous undercurrent to their comments. When they gleefully point out that the Conservatives’ efforts to lower bills haven’t worked, there’s also a sub-text that suggests they never will. The kicker is, such observers are right because they understand Sheen-ian winning.

Telecom companies have certain revenue streams that they’re used to. In fact, they have a responsibility to shareholders to continually grow them. So, a scatter-shot approach by the government that takes aim at one issue at a time – whether it’s three-year contracts, roaming, pick-and-pay channels – isn’t going to work in the long run, because the companies will inevitably just recoup the lost revenue in other ways. Nail them here and they’ll get you back there.

Without some sort of dramatic, large-scale action – the complete removal of foreign-ownership restrictions, structural separation or even the formation of a crown corporation are just a few options – the companies are going to keep on winning. The government, despite its best intentions, is destined to keep on losing.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in bell, crtc, government, telecommunications

 

Bell wanders into its own negative-option fiasco

double-dipIt’s been more than a week since the revelation that Bell Canada is gathering customer usage data with the intention of selling it for ads. I refrained from proclaiming it as the worst idea ever just to give it time to sink in, but yup, even with the benefit of sober second thought this is clearly one of those dumb moves that is either out of touch with what customers want or amazingly presumptuous about what the company can get away with.

In case you missed it, Bell has been sending out notices informing customers that, starting Nov. 16, it will be relaying new product offers based on their phone, internet and TV usage. As the Globe and Mail reports, this will include the monitoring and exploitation of:

Internet activity from both mobile devices and computers, including Web pages customers have visited and search terms they have entered; customers’ location; use of apps and other device features; television viewing habits; and “calling patterns.” Account information shared will include product use including type of device, payment patterns, language preferences, postal codes, and demographic information.

Customers will be able to opt out of receiving the ads, but not the data collection itself. Bell is painting the service as a win for consumers, since they’ll be able to receive ads that are more relevant to them. Hotels, for example, might be able to send ads to customers who are also frequent travelers. What Bell plans to do with the collected data on customers who have opted out, however, is a mystery. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in advertising, bell, Facebook, Google

 
 
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