Telecom Policy - News

  • – 2013-06-26 –

    The CRTC issued Broadcasting Decision CRTC 2013-310 today, in which it approved the merger of Canada's largest and most heavily integrated communications company (Bell) and Canada's last significant independent (and non-integrated) broadcaster (Astral). In its submissions to this proceeding, CIPPIC called on the Commission to refuse the merger a second time, pointing to a number of flaws in the current regulatory framework that a merged Bell/Astral could exploit in order to harm competition and innovation in Canadian services. Specifically, CIPPIC was concerned post-merger Bell will drive up costs, limit online innovation by centralizing online distribution and restrict customer choice by constraining program packaging. Averting these harms and preserving the public interest in the face of a highly concentrated Bell/Astral will require a more invasive regulatory approach than provided by the Commission's current vertical integration toolset, which relies heavily on flawed dispute resolution mechanisms.

    While disappointingly approving the merger, the Commission acknowledges the need for some form of "additional oversight" in light of "BCE's increased ability to act in an anti-competitive manner." Further, it expressly states concerns over online innovation:

    that BCE’s market position relating to multiplatform rights could permit it to act as a “gatekeeper,” effectively preventing other distributors from offering services to their customers until BCE has decided to offer such services on its own platforms. The Commission is concerned that this could stifle innovation and limit the growth of digital media in Canada.

    However, the Commission appears to adopt a 'wait and see' approach to many of the challenges in question, noting, for example, that it will explore new dispute resolution mechanisms on a 'case by case' basis and in other instances expressing 'expectations' that Bell will not act in an anti-competitive manner, without specifying how it will monitor or enforce these expectations.

  • – 2013-06-02 –

    The CRTC released Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2013-271 today, its decision in a proceeding which set out to establish a new Code to protect consumers of wireless services. The Code represents a solid first step towards addressing myriad woes that have been plaguing Canadian wireless services. It adopts measures that should alleviate bill shock resulting from excessive charges for data usage by requiring service providers to gain express customer consent before charging them in excess of $50 in data usage charges ($100 for international data roaming). It also takes steps towards limiting the ability of service providers to impose changes onto customers during the course of their contract. The Code also obligates service providers to unlock customer phones -- an important step, which will make it easier for customers to switch providers or use foreign SIM cards when travelling abroad. These are all important steps, which will somewhat address concerns that have plagued customers of Canadian wireless services for years.

    In addition, the Code limits amortization time-lines to two years, a measure that will effectively end the unique 3 year lock-in period that Canadians uniquely enjoy. In its submissions to TNC CRTC 2012-557, CIPPIC argued that the 3 year lock-in period is harmful to customers, in that it denies them access to a rapidly evolving marketplace and locks them into devices that are often not even supported for three years. Moreover, CIPPIC argued that Canadian incumbents are using 3 year contracts as a lock-in mechanism designed to prevent their existing historical customer base from reaching the small number of new market entrants, who started operations in late 2009/2010 after the AWS spectrum auction -- barely three years ago. Finally, CIPPIC conducted an international pricing comparison which demonstrated that Canada's unique 3 year amortization periods do not lead to lower prices for customers, but rather to higher overall costs when one considers the value of a 'free' handset in conjunction with the very high monthly service offerings Canadian customers must endure for three years at a time. Canada's OECD counterparts offer the same phones and services for less, and do so without three year lock-ins. The Code will apply in full to any mobile agreement entered into or amended after December 2, 2013. The 2 year term limit, however, applies to all service contracts as of today (June 3, 2012). For more information see: https://cippic.ca/Wireless_Code.

  • – 2013-02-12 –

    As part of ongoing proceedings set to establish a 'Wireless Bill of Rights' for customers of Canadian wireless services, the CRTC held a hearing seeking input on what protections should be included in such a document. CIPPIC, appearing alongside its client in the proceeding, OpenMedia.ca, called on the CRTC to take strong steps towards alleviating growing customer frustration with a highly concentrated and difficult to navigate mobile service landscape. This requires, CIPPIC argued, simplified and standardized point of sale information on the nature and cost of services. It also requires that mobile service providers deploy real-time usage management tools that help individuals avoid bill shock. This includes handset-based notifications that kick in as individuals approach their usage limits, as well as a customizable 'hard' notification that will temporarily cut off usage as individuals approach excessive usage fees ($50, for example).

    In addition, effective protections will lower switching costs that currently keep customers locked in to their plans long after their smartphone battery expires, long after their frustration with changing fees or inadequate customer service raises their level of frustration to new heights, long after the wireless market has evolved to offer cheaper and more responsive service offerings. Lock-in, which, uniquely in Canada, is typically for three year terms of service, is achieved by a combination of technical measures preventing an individual from using their handset with another service and hefty fees (which can amount to hundreds of dollars depending on how far the individual is into their contract) levied at individuals seeking to leave their contracts early.

  • – 2013-01-18 –

    CIPPIC has signed on to a letter sent by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre to Industry Canada in protest of an announced spectrum transfer that demonstrates the broken nature of Canada's spectrum policy approach. Last week, Shaw announced its intention to provide Rogers the option to purchase its entire stock of AWS spectrum holdings as part of a comprehensive deal that involves a number of broadcast holdings. While the overall deal is salted to go through soon, Rogers will be prevented from exercising its spectrum purchasing option until 2014. The reason for this is that Shaw's $189 million worth of spectrum, acquired during the 2008 AWS spectrum auction, is subject to set-aside limitations aimed at preserving bands of spectrum for new market entrants. The imposition of this set-aside was animated by the need to instil some competition into Canada's highly concentrated mobile wireless market -- a market which, at the time, was exclusively controlled by three providers: TELUS, Bell and Rogers. It was this set-aside that led to the creation of new entrants such as Mobilicity and WIND by reserving a significant chunk of spectrum for new entrants. Absent such restrictions, the concern is that incumbents will pay well above market value for spectrum solely for the purpose of locking competitors out by denying them access to the lifeblood of any wireless network -- spectrum. The set-aside not only shielded spectrum blocks from incumbent bidding during the 2008 auction itself, but also prevented those bands from reverting to any incumbent for five years.

    Now Shaw, who purchased its spectrum holdings in 2008 as a non-incumbent and held onto them for 4 plus years without using any of it, seeks to sell it back to an incumbent, likely at a profit. With the 2014 AWS set-aside expiration looming and limited prospects for significant expansion of new entrant holdings in the upcoming lucrative 700 Mhz auction, there is a tangible risk that more of the AWS spectrum will follow Shaw's lead and make its way back to the incumbent fold. If Industry Canada wishes to preserve the underlying objective of the initial set-aside, it needs to block this transfer.

  • – 2012-12-18 –

    CIPPIC has submitted comments in Telecom Notice of Consultation CRTC 2012-557, a proceeding which seeks to establish a set of rights of customers of wireless services across Canada. The proceeding was launched after the Commission decided, in Telecom Decision CRTC 2012-556, that wireless customers were in need for greater protections at the national level. CIPPIC's submission, filed on behalf of OpenMedia.ca, focused on the need to address many shortcomings in the Canadian wireless landscape and the need to facilitate competition. Specifically, CIPPIC called on the CRTC to restrict termination penalties and hardware lock-ins.

    Using a combination of technical lock-in mechanisms and excessive penalties for breaking contracts, providers prevent customers from switching outside 2-3 year contractual cycles. At the same time, these lock-in mechanisms prevent effective competition on handset prices. Providers have no incentive to ever compete on handset prices, as higher-seeming handset prices make handset subsidy-based three year lock-ins appear a fantastic deal for customers. In reality, however, customers end up paying more for the handset and more for their monthly services, while providers are insulated from actually having to compete to keep their customer base. An effective Wireless Consumer Protection Code will address this deficiency.

  • – 2012-10-06 –
    ICANN45, will be held in Toronto next week. As the institution charged with governance of Internet resrouce identifiers, ICANN holds tri-annual meetings in order to discuss and resolve pressing policy issues related to the operation of the Internet including privacy concerns, security concerns, more general infrastructure concerns. It also includes a 'newcomers track' to help introduce ICANN issues to those not fully versed. The Toronto event will be hosted by CIRA, the entity tasked with managing the .CA top level domain. Events will kick off with a Policy Conference hosted by ICANN's Non-Commercial User Constituency (NCUC) on Friday, October 12, 2012. The Conference, entitled "ICANN & Internet Governance: Security and Freedom in a Connected World", will explore the need for a civil liberties-sensitive cybersecurity strategy, the need to ensure law enforcement concerns do not trump privacy and other fundamental liberties, conflicts between the intellectual property rights enforcement and free expression and concerns over the nature of geo-political Internet governance. 
     
    The events offers a unique opportunity for Canadians to participate and engage on important Internet policy issues. The eICANN 45 meetings and sessions will be held in Toronto from October 14-19 and are open to the general public. Remote participation for ICANN45 and the NCUC Policy Forum is also available. Register now to ICANN45 and the NCUC Policy Forum!
  • – 2012-07-13 –

    CIPPIC has been granted leave to intervene before the Supreme Court of Canada in Telus Communications Company v. Her Majesty the Queen, SCC No. 34252. The case involves the application of the general warrant power in order to force TELUS to hand over text messages not yet in its possession. TELUS' appeal challenges the use of general warrants in a manner that effectively amounts to an 'interception' and bypasses the special protections provided for 'interceptions' in Part VI of the Criminal Code, while the government argued that, since TELUS stores text messages on its servers for a number of weeks, access to these messages should not be considered a 'real-time interception'.

    In its motion for leave to intervene, CIPPIC argued that law enforcement should not be permitted to bypass important privacy safeguards designed to protect Canadian communications against unauthorized interception. The purpose of Part VI Criminal Code protections is to ensure that police co not leverage the mechanisms by which private communications are delivered to spy on Canadians unless there is strong reason to do so and other methods have been tried and have failed. Text messages are cached as part of the communications delivery process and caching, in general, is widely used in Internet transactions. If courts permitted superfluous caching to defeat the special protections provided against interception, it could have wide-ranging implications for the privacy of online interactions.

  • – 2012-06-03 –
    Time is running short for those wishing to nominate individuals to sit on CIRA's Board of Directors. CIRA, which operates the .CA registry, operates under a mandate that includes a number of important Internet governance issues. CIRA Board members are resopnsible for setting CIRA's strategic direction, helping achieve CIRA's mandate and objectives, and working towards supporting Canada's Internet community. The deadline for Board nominations is June 8, 2012. More detalis on the nomination process can be found here. More details on the election process in general can be found here. Three board positions are open for nomination, and successfully elected board members will sit for three successive election periods.
  • – 2012-05-18 –

    CIPPIC has joined an international coalition of civil society organizations including CDT, EFF, IGP and EDRi in a letter of protest (Spanish) sent to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The letter protests the secrecy and exclusivity surrounding its preparations for the World Conference on International Communications (WCIT). Slated for negotiation during WCIT-12 is a potential re-envisioning of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR), an international treaty that currently governs traditional telephone communications amongst the numerous countries who have signed on to it. While the current ITRs are limited in scope primarily to telephone systems, the renegotiated text (which will be up for discussion and adoption at WCIT-12) is rumoured to weigh in heavily on several aspects of Internet governance.

    We say 'rumoured' because all the preparatory documents for WCIT-12 are sealed and civil society has been excluded from the discussions. The current ITU framework does not allow for open participation. Further, the ITU's business model (premised on the dubious concept of selling access to documents and decision-makers to corporate associates at prohibitive rates) is a significant barrier to civil society participation. While perhaps workable for regulation of telephone lines, this approach is antithetical to the distributed, multi-stakeholder governance model that has made the Internet the engine for innovation and freedom that it is today. The letter calls on the ITU to open the WCIT-12 preparatory documents up to public debate and to ensure all stakeholders, including civil society, the technical community, governments, and corporate interests are able to participate on equal footing. 

  • – 2012-02-10 –

    CIRA is hosting its second annual Canadian Internet Forum -- a venue to discuss pressing and upcoming issues in the digital world. CIF 2012 will bring together experts and individual Canadians from across the spectrum of stakeholders in order to discuss the pressing Internet governance issues of our day. Last year, issues ranged broadly, covering concerns over the need to enhance ditigal literacy in Canada,  challenges for innovative ventures in Canada, to the need to implement IPv6 and DNSSEC and to ensure Canada has world-class Internet infrastructure.

    The forum represents a unique opportunity for Canadians to voice their concerns on Internet governance and related issues. This is particularly salient following the apparent demise of the government's digital economy strategy. Only two days remain to provide into the agenda, so take a few minutes and fill out CIRA's online form and tell them what you would like to hear discussed at CIF 2012 (dealine for comments is February 12, 2012)!