Category Archives: bell

Is cause marketing like Bell’s righteous or slimy?

It was hard to turn on the news or check Twitter on Wednesday without hearing about Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” mental health campaign. The country’s biggest phone company was donating five cents from every text message sent and long distance call made on the day to mental health causes.

It’s a noble effort, to be sure, which is why I tried not to be cynical about it, but evidently a number of people on Twitter had that inclination - that there was something disingenuous about the campaign. After all, if Bell really is interested in helping people, why not start with its customers?

When the company first kicked off the campaign in 2010, it looked like it was simply following something similar that Telus had done with breast cancer research earlier in the year. Since then, there has always been the possibility that Bell was merely trying to buy support from neutral third-party groups, to be enlisted down the road whenever lobbying help is needed. This sort of astroturfing - or the artificial creation of grassroots support - is a proud tradition in telecommunications, particularly in the United States, where the likes of AT&T have drawn on everyone from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to Hispanic and Japanese groups to help bend politicians’ ears to their needs.

This may still happen, but it will probably be pretty transparent if and when it does. If submissions arguing in Bell’s favour from the Canadian Mental Health Association start showing up in the government’s next spectrum auction consultation, we’ll probably know what’s up.

What’s more likely at play in the “Let’s Talk” campaign is simple cause marketing, or what is generally defined as a cooperative effort of a for-profit business and a non-profit organization for mutual benefit. What the non-profit organization gets out of it is obvious - not only does it get money from the for-profit entity, it also benefits from the advertising and increased awareness brought about by the campaign. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on February 9, 2012 in bell


Bell, throttling and quid pro quo

There’s an old saying that always makes me laugh: Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. It’s a particularly poignant maxim when it comes to conspiracy theories and large internet providers. Basically, if you suspect they’re doing something, it’s because they probably are.

That sure looks to be the case with the news that Bell is putting an end to its internet throttling, or the slowing of file-sharing applications that have supposedly been causing congestion on its network. The move is surprising not just because the company is going to stop slowing the connections of its wholesale customers, which it had previously signaled, but its retail subscribers as well.

Back in October, when the wholesale part of that got out, I speculated that it was part of a quid-pro-quo deal with the CRTC, which was in the process of deciding what to do about Bell’s usage-based billing proposal. As my conspiracy theory went, I posited that Bell was testing the waters on cutting out throttling in exchange for the regulator granting it UBB. It was a sort of “you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours” scenario.

About a month later, the CRTC came out with a UBB ruling that was so complex, nobody really knew what to make of it. Media outlets diverged wildly in how they reported the decision - it was either a win for Bell, a win for small ISPs or somewhere in between, depending on which story you read. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 20, 2011 in bell, internet, net neutrality


Corporate lebensraum is devouring Canada

A few months ago, I was turned on to the phrase “corporate lebensraum” by James Healy, an L.A.-based artist and founder of the Museum of Death (which I wrote a story about). Healy had used the term to title an exhibit in the early ’90s where he juxtapositioned cereal boxes with serial killers.

The exhibit, which eventually spawned the museum, was meant to show how companies expand into the public’s consciousness, often in dangerous and destructive ways. “Lebensraum” is, of course, a German word meaning “living space” that is forever linked to Hitler’s effort to take over Europe. “Corporate lebensraum” was a perfect take on the idea that, as the L.A. Times put it, was meant to evoke similar horrific feelings of revulsion. Through the exhibit, Healy and his partner visualized and expanded their “argument that food manufacturers are turning children into monsters, seducing them into a deadly consumerist trap right at the breakfast table.”

Serial (and cereal) killers aside, it occurred to me the other day that corporate lebensraum can have other interpretations as well - and one of them is in fact unfolding before our eyes through the actions of Canadian telecommunications companies.

As I mentioned in my post on the joint purchase by supposed arch-rivals Bell and Rogers of the Maple Leafs NHL team (and other properties, including the Toronto Raptors), it’s unfortunate that these firms continue to look inward to Canada rather than thinking about international expansion. But at the same time, in the context of corporate lebensraum, what else are they to do?

We’ve been warned of this inevitability, which is happening because of the laws that prevent foreign ownership of such companies. In presenting the findings of the Competition Policy Review Panel back in 2008, Lynton Wilson said that keeping the walls up around Canada not only prevents foreigners from coming in, it also heavily discourages Canadian companies from stepping out. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 12, 2011 in bell, rogers


Maple Leafs sale: All that’s wrong with Canada

When news broke Thursday night that Rogers and Bell, Canada’s two biggest telecommunications companies, were looking to jointly buy Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment - owner of the Toronto Maples Leafs NHL team and other properties - the reaction from the public via Twitter was swift and decisive: this is bad.

There were the expected barbs, about how if people think their Leafs’ tickets are expensive now, wait till the cellphone companies get ahold of them, but the issue is actually much deeper. Such a deal would exemplify everything that is wrong with the Canadian telecommunications and media industries.

As many pointed out, just how did this deal between supposed rivals happen? Did the conversation go something like this:

Rogers exec: Man, you guys sure stole a lot of our TV subscribers last quarter.

Bell exec: Yeah, well that makes up for the years you trounced us on wireless.

Rogers exec: True. Want to buy the Leafs with us?

Bell exec: Hell yeah!

Moreover, such a deal puts the spotlight on vertical integration. With the Leafs representing the most valuable sports content in the nation’s most populous province, you can’t help but wonder what the two companies - who both also own broadcast channels - are thinking. It seems obvious a joint deal is a strategic move by both that is designed to prevent either from sole ownership of the Leafs. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on December 9, 2011 in bell, rogers, telecommunications


UBB ruling will put government in crosshairs

The CRTC is set to announce the results of its usage-based internet billing proceeding Tuesday afternoon. Far from being one of the regulator’s many dull procedural announcements, this one is surely the most anticipated, at least in recent memory. I’ll have an analysis on Wednesday (my posts generally go live at midnight, Eastern time) and probably some knee-jerk reactions on Twitter beforehand, if you want to check those out. In the meantime’s here a primer of what the ruling will involve and why it’s so important.

In the broader sense, usage-based billing is about charging internet customers for how much they download and upload. In Canada, a typical home user gets between 50 and 60 gigabytes included with their monthly fee; going over means more charges, just like a cellphone bill. Pretty much every Canadian is living with UBB right now.

As it relates to the CRTC drama for most of the past year, UBB is a more specific issue that has to do with smaller ISPs that use a portion of the networks owned by big telecom companies such as Bell to deliver their services to customers. Bell has been charging its own customers UBB for years and wanted to impose the scheme on these smaller ISPs. The CRTC gave Bell’s plan its blessing, agreeing with the thinking that all customers need to be treated equally. The logic is that if Bell was only giving subscribers 50 GB of monthly usage, yet an ISP such as TekSavvy was allowing 300 GB or more, then the smaller provider had an advantage.

Despite that apparent advantage, about 95% of Canadians get their internet service from big providers such as Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw and Videotron. Still, all hell broke loose earlier this year just before UBB was to take effect. The Open Media advocacy group got involved and motivated more than 500,000 people to sign a petition opposing it. While the ruling would affect only a few people, it was to be the final elimination of unlimited internet usage in Canada, the group argued. With UBB imposed on small ISPs, the big providers could effectively decide how much Canadians could use the internet. While many people who signed the petition were not customers of smaller providers, they did so to effectively draw a line in the sand and tell large companies that they shall go no further.

The government got involved, with both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and then-Industry Minister Tony Clement signalling they would take action on the CRTC decision if the regulator itself didn’t overturn it. And so, the CRTC went back to the drawing board, bringing us to Tuesday’s decision.

Since then, a few things have happened. Bell submitted a new proposal, called Aggregated Volume Pricing, that is a sort of diet-UBB. Rather than charging smaller ISPs for each of their users, the new scheme would total up their usage instead. Indie ISPs have said that while AVP is not as crippling as UBB would have been to their business, it’s still not exactly desirable.

Out west, UBB became a non-issue last spring when Shaw announced new plans with generous usage limits, which forced its main competitor Telus to match. The large Western ISPs added an interesting dimension to the debate - such large usage buckets completely negate the argument for UBB, which Bell and others have said is necessary to combat network congestion. If Shaw and Telus can give their customers so much usage without congesting their networks, why can’t their eastern counterparts?

On a related note, Bell also recently announced it was easing up on slowing down file-sharing by its customers. This “throttling” is another activity that is technically allowed by the CRTC, but which is hugely controversial and hated by many users. Many believe throttling is a violation of the regulator’s own net neutrality rules, yet the CRTC is doing nothing to stop it. As if to contrast Bell’s announcement, news also recently broke about how big Canadian ISPs - particularly Rogers - are some of the heaviest throttlers in the world.

Also perhaps relevant is the fact that the current CRTC chair, Konrad von Finckenstein, is on his way out. Von Finckenstein reportedly wanted to stay on for a second term, but given his penchant for disagreeing with his employer (the government), that was a highly unlikely scenario.

So why is the upcoming announcement on UBB so important? There are a number of reasons. Aside from the half-million signatures on the Open Media petition, there were also more than 100,000 submissions to the CRTC from the public. A lot of people are watching this one, which means the government is too. It’s safe to bet our friends to the south in the U.S., where large ISPs are testing the waters on UBB, are also watching.

I speculated recently that Bell’s announcement on throttling was a bit of quid-pro-quo with the regulator, as in you (CRTC) scratch our back on UBB, we’ll scratch your back on this other stuff. If the regulator approves Bell’s AVP proposal, as I suspect, it will sure look that way. There’s also the side drama of the outgoing chairman - will he stick to his guns in the face of government opposition one final time, perhaps just to make a point?

Chances are good that anything less than a total rejection of AVP and any other flavour of UBB won’t be accepted by opponents, which means attention will turn to the government. New-ish Industry Minister Christian Paradis has been doing his best impression of the Invisible Man since taking office early this year. If the UBB decision ends up being anti-consumer, he’s going to have to lie in the bed made for him by Harper and Clement.

If the unlikely happens and the CRTC actually comes up with a solution that everyone can live with, thereby restoring relative harmony to the Canadian broadband environment, it will clear a major issue from the table and put even more pressure on the government to get some sort of digital/broadband strategy going. Either way, it looks like the buck is about to be passed to the Industry Minister. That means no more hiding in the shadows.


Posted by on November 14, 2011 in bell, bittorrent, crtc, interview, net neutrality


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