INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson
Whose side are you on?
It’s a little known fact that television services go through the same wires as internet services. This means that the practice of throttling or slowing access to internet services under the auspices of congestion is questionable, to say the least. After all, telecom companies always seem to have enough money to invest in their TV services, ensuring they operate without slow-downs. Yet people rarely question whether Canada’s drop in key broadband metrics, such as speed and cost, compared to other OECD nations might have something to do with a conflict of interest.
Exhibits 1, 2 and 3 below provide evidence that telecom companies are giving their TV services preferential treatment over the internet:
Exhibit 1: Rogers caps the internet
In July, just days after online video service Netflix announced its expansion into Canada, Rogers Communications announced it would increase the usage limits on some of its plans. The move appears to have been a defensive measure, meant to protect the company’s own video services from encroachment by Netflix.
Rogers Communications is Canada’s biggest cable television provider and it operates a video streaming service, similar to Netflix, called On Demand Online. Rogers Video On Demand and Pay Per View offerings, which reach users via their televisions, will not be affected by the aforementioned caps even though Rogers customers receive both internet and television service through the same cables.
Some have argued that the caps are not discriminatory if they apply to Rogers online services as well as Netflix. What these commentators fail to realize is that by adding limits to the internet while keeping TV costs/services constant, Rogers discriminates against both the public internet and those who use it to deliver competing services.
Exhibit 2: Bell’s freak-out
On August 30, the CRTC ruled that major telecom companies must allow their independent internet service competitors to obtain access to the same speeds of broadband as those they offer to their own customers. The incumbent telecom companies are reportedly concerned, not just because of fear of increased competition, but also because this will enable independent ISPs to provide fast enough service to facilitate open access to video services like Netflix.
In short, the big ISPs are now less able to use download caps or price increases to effectively discriminate against competing online video services. Independent ISPs like TekSavvy, now in a better position to compete in the market, seem happy to focus on fast and open internet access, rather than on content distribution. Bell is so threatened that it is calling for cabinet to overturn the landmark CRTC decision.
Exhibit 3: telecoms buying content
On September 10, Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) Inc., already Canada’s largest communications company, announced its plan to acquire 100 percent of CTV, the nation’s leading broadcaster. Earlier this year, Shaw also announced its intention to purchase Global TV’s assets previously owned by the now defunct CanWest. Rogers and Quebecor (owner of Videotron) already own significant media content assets. If Shaw and Bell’s purchases go through, this will mean telecom companies will own nearly all of Canada’s private broadcasters and that Telus will be the only major ISP that isn’t heavily invested in media content. Allowing internet service providers to own major content assets creates an economic incentive for them to invest in a controlled content distribution infrastructure, whether that is controlled wireless services or a closed anti-competitive version of the wired internet.
The future of communication
If the next generation of access points, found in set-top boxes and wireless devices, restricts the open internet, there will be a comparable restriction in the open collaboration, participation, expression and empowerment that are currently enabled by the open internet. These are the very things that have helped strip away our differences and that allow us to transcend space, time and social strata to more easily connect with each other. These are the things that we should be willing and ready to grow, defend and fight for.
Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times and Adbusters.