UN broadband report predicts future “roaming seamlessly between networks”

The first ever report from the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, released last week, has found that Internet access has increased over the past year within households, but individual use is lagging in many countries.

Jamie Beach at Telecoms.com notes that the Commission “predicts that mobile broadband could prove the platform for achieving the boost needed to get progress back on track”. But this is only going to work if Big Telecom’s price-gouging tactics are limited.

The report highlights the many ways in which broadband access has allowed for improvements in a range of areas around the world—from distance education, to health, and the promotion of gender equality—and it emphasizes the importance of national broadband plans to facilitate its deployment.

With the rapid growth in networked mobile devices over the last few years, mobile phones may become key means of expanding individual Internet access, especially in the developing world. The report notes that “[w]orldwide, mobile phone subscriptions exceeded 6 billion in early 2012, with three-quarters of those subscriptions in the developing world” and predicts that “soon the vast majority of people on the planet will hold in their hand a device with higher processing power than the most powerful computers from the 1980s”.

The Commission sees networked mobile devices as the future, predicting that someday “we shall enjoy high-speed connectivity on the move, roaming seamlessly between networks, wherever we go – anywhere, anytime, via any device”. If this is going to be the case, a competitive telecommunications market is essential, but Big Telecom has been working hard to ensure it has the market locked down by shutting out independent, affordable options here in Canada and around the world.

This week we posted over at OpenMedia International about the latest developments in the International Telecommunications Union proposals, some of which could challenge the spread of Internet access in the developing world due to unsustainable price-gouging tactics.

We’ve seen the same issues at home; in January we launched our Stop The Squeeze campaign to push back against Big Telecom’s plan to destroy independent cell phone options, raise prices, and worsen already disrespectful customer service. Because of your support, Big Telecom has so far been somewhat unsuccessful in these efforts.

The public outcry has also encouraged the creation of new service providers like Roam Mobility, which provides a new option to undercut Big Telecom when you travel in the U.S. Independent providers are essential if we want a diverse and competitive telecommunications market that will support the rapid growth of Internet access. The practical implementation of a future in which we “roam seamlessly between networks” will not be possible without independent, affordable options for access, like Roam.

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Originally posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/un-broadband-report-predicts-roaming-seamlessly-between-networks

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Secretive CETA could be signed by year-end

A few months ago we posted about the threat the Canada-EU Trade Agreement, or CETA poses to Internet freedom, and explained why it could be bad for Canadians—it’s a secretive and binding international agreement like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Internet freedom community loudly voiced its concern when a portion of the agreement was leaked, indicating that some of the worst Internet restriction provisions of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) were being reproduced word for word in the new CETA agreement.

Ahead of the next round of CETA negotiations, La Quadrature du Net, one of the Internet freedom groups that fought against ACTA, has called on Members of the European Parliament to “demand full transparency and be ready to reject CETA as they did with ACTA, if any of the anti-Internet, anti-citizens’ freedoms provisions remain in the final agreement”.

CETA could be signed and sealed sooner than we realize, as Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast has stated that he expects the negotiations could be concluded by year-end, and that “Canada remains committed to opening up markets wherever it can”. But Canadians don’t want to be trapped into an ACTA-style agreement that will limit our freedoms. These negotiations must be open and transparent, not hastily put together in secret.

There are strong indications that citizen engagement is making an impact. The pushback against ACTA by the Internet freedom community led to its rejection by the European Parliament in July, and University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist suggested last week that continued pressure is making negotiators rethink including ACTA copyright provisions in CETA. The lead copyright negotiators said that following the public outcry, “there is now no appetite in Europe for the inclusion of controversial ACTA provisions within the agreement”.

The same can be said for the public feeling in Canada. We fought hard to get some of the worst provisions out of our new copyright law, Bill C-11, and international trade agreements like CETA could override all that. However Geist asked negotiators directly whether CETA would require changes to our current copyright law, and was told that they did not believe changes would be required. This indicates that the ACTA provisions have indeed been removed from CETA, after public pressure.

Our voices are being heard, but it’s now more important than ever to keep up the pressure and let our government know that we oppose secretive attempts to lock down the Internet. La Quadrature du Net has called on Members of the European Parliament to condemn the European Commission’s attempts to bypass the democratic process, and to demand that the current text of CETA be made public before the next and perhaps-final round of negotiations begins in two weeks. We should similarly remind our government that we need a digital policy that puts citizens first.

Read the leaked portion of CETA here.

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Originally posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/secretive-ceta-could-be-signed-year-end

Bell is no ‘Domestic Champion’

Melanie Aitken, now-former head of the Competition Bureau, slammed Bell for using the ‘domestic champion’ argument to justify the growing concentration of Canadian broadcasting and the vertical integration of content producers delivery providers.

Bell claims that Canada “needs companies with the scale to compete against foreign content companies like Netflix, Apple, Google and Amazon,” but Aitken says this attempt at invoking nationalism to justify the centralization media ownership is just “wrapping a deal in the flag”.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Astral takeover will give Bell control of more than 100 radio stations and almost 90 television channels, which creates huge a profit incentive for Bell as a service provider to push content that it owns or restrict access to other content it doesn’t control.

We’ve been pushing hard to bring together opposition to this takeover, which will limit media options, drive up prices, and limit free speech, as well as leading to job cuts. Bell is trying to brand itself as a domestic champion, but its actions are bad for consumers, and bad for our economy.

Originally posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/bell-no-%E2%80%98domestic-champion%E2%80%99

Government takes small step in support of rural broadband access

The StarPhoenix yesterday called out phone company SaskTel for its sudden announcement of a cancellation of Internet services to rural areas in Saskatchewan. This will leave 8,000 customers without Internet access, at a time when “farmers are relying on the Internet more than ever before for such things as timely marketing”, not to mention the effect on businesses relying on Skype, distance education, and family entertainment.

The StarPhoenix points out that the provincial government justifies its principle of public ownership of utilities because “the private sector cannot be counted upon to deliver reliable services at a reasonable cost to a widely scattered population”. However this development shows that neither the government nor SaskTel were apparently able to plan ahead to ensure uninterrupted Internet service.

SaskTel blames Industry Canada, saying that “the federal agency is “taking back” the broadband spectrum allocation SaskTel was using for its rural fixed wireless network”.

Today, however the Harper government responded that “access to the Internet is not a luxury; it’s a necessity”, and that “[l]eaving 8,000 rural Canadians without reliable access to the Internet is unacceptable”. SaskTel will be given additional time upgrade their systems so as to ensure uninterrupted access for users.

While it’s great to see that the government is responding to connectivity issues and places a high value on Internet access, these ad hoc solutions don’t make up for Canada’s lack of a broadband plan. We’ve posted before about the need for a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada, and we’ve brought citizens together to craft and distribute an action plan for a connected Canada. The government has no excuse to allow our digital deficit to continue.

Meanwhile the government response also highlights its plan to auction off new wireless spectrum as part of a plan to expand and upgrade cell phone access, but as we’ve noted, these plans are likely to reinforce Big Telecom’s stranglehold, and our proposals for improvements have so far not been incorporated. OpenMedia executive director Steve Anderson summarized our take on the spectrum auction framework: “This decision could have been worse, but if prices do not begin to come down Canadians will know who to blame.”

We’re falling behind other industrialized nations on all things digital: our Internet is slower and more restricted, and both mobile and wired access to the web are more expensive.

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Originally posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/government-takes-small-step-support-rural-broadband-access

Online Services are great for Canadians, but threaten Big Telecom

Big telecom companies are feeling the squeeze as online services are offering Canadians alternative, cheaper ways to communicate and get access to diverse media content. These include video services like YouTube, AppleTV, and Netflix, and Internet-based social messaging services. These services provide an easily customizable and far more affordable alternative to content services offered by Canada’s media conglomerates.

According to the Boston Consulting Group, “traditional telco operating models that were shaped in an era of government-owned monoliths are showing signs of severe strain”. The Group highlights a range of challenges that have been prompted by online services, which may be bad for Big Telecom’s aging business models, but are great for Canadians.

One of Big Telecom’s biggest challenges? People are saving money by using online messaging services rather than more traditional phone services. A study from market researcher Ovum shows that in the U.S., cell phone users saved $13.9 billion overall in text-messaging fees because of their’ ability to access Internet-based social messaging services.

Text messages cost little for Big Telecom, but text messaging packages are sold to users at relatively high prices: we’re being price-gouged. Online services, however, give a clear example of how applications on the open Internet create possibilities to make communications in general more affordable.

The Boston Consulting Group also highlights the arrival of a low-price operator on the cell phone market in France, which drove prices down. However in Canada, as noted in a Mobilicity press release, “unlimited data, talk and text plans are still relatively new… and the majority of Canadians are stuck in expensive, restrictive contracts”.

This pressure from increased online competition means that Big Telecom will have to improve its services, building next-generation networks in order to compete. And this means better quality of service for us.

Unfortunately telecom/media conglomerates, rather than competing in ways that benefit the public, are resisting the challenges posed by Internet-based services by bundling their services together, and trying to make more money from our Internet use. This means higher prices and less choice for Canadians.

As we’ve reported, the CRTC has come under pressure from Big Telecom lobbyists to weigh in on the use of online services (or “over the top services” as they like to call them), and essentially regulate our use of the Internet, because of their potential impact on increasingly outdated business models. Luckily for the future of our digital economy, the CRTC has been resistant thus far.

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Originally posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/online-services-are-great-canadians-threaten-big-telecom

Minister Toews still pushing online spying bill C-30, ignoring due process and police resourcing

Parliament resumes this month, and as Tim Harper of the Toronto Star asserts, the highly unpopular online spying bill, C-30, is still high on the government’s agenda. As there’s little on the books for the fall session of Parliament, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is taking the opportunity to once again push his controversial legislation.

But Toews may not be the Public Safety Minister for much longer—according to Harper, the online spying bill is in desperate need of a new champion following Toews’ public relations disaster earlier this year, when he asserted that all those who opposed the bill supported child pornographers. This showed blatant disrespect—not only in regards to this brutally serious crime—but also to the privacy commissioners, legal and policy expert, and thousands of Canadians who had asserted that the online spying bill is invasive, costly, and poorly thought-out. Now that Bill C-30 is so negatively linked to Toews, the Conservatives may be looking for a new salesman.

In spite of this, the Herald News reported this week that Toews has been pushing hard for Lawful Access, asserting that police are “overwhelmed” with paperwork and it is impeding their ability to get out on the street and do their jobs. This annoying “paperwork” consists of the police work that has to be documented and turned over to defense lawyers to ensure that those accused of crimes get a fair trial.

So how does Toews propose to streamline this cumbersome accountability process that is legislated by our Charter of Rights? Through legislation like the online spying bill, which will allow the authorities to track suspects without a warrant, bypassing some of that pesky paperwork.

Meanwhile, the CBC has noted that the RCMP is scrambling to deal with the basic processing of forensic evidence, and is underfunded and under-resourced in this respect. But rather than directing funding towards these basic and essential policing services, Toews is trying to pass this off as a provincial problem. Instead he’s pushing the government to fund an expensive and invasive surveillance system, which can only create further reams of information to be processed, and which will do away with the checks and balances that make sure these powers won’t be abused.

Toews has consistently dismissed the concerns of Canadians in pushing this costly and invasive surveillance plan. Whether it’s him or another salesman championing online spying in the fall, we need to let the government know that we won’t stand for unchecked mass surveillance.

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Originally  posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/minister-toews-still-pushing-online-spying-bill-c-30-ignoring-due-process-and-police-resourcing

Why CETA is bad for Canadian Internet Users

As many of you know big media lobbyists have lost several battles to impose severe Internet restrictions at the national level in bill C-11 here in Canada, and in SOPA/PIPA in the US. You also may know they are increasingly looking to impose these restrictions through secretive International trade agreements that route around our democratic processes and blanket these restrictions on many countries at once. One such agreement was the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which recently saw a major setback in the EU.

Another trade agreement acting as a vehicle for Internet censorship, and one that looks to be the front line in the fight for Internet freedom is one we’ve raised the alarm about: the TPP Internet Trap trade agreement. But alas, there’s another undemocratic trade agreement for the Internet community to worry about called the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA).

There has been uproar in Europe over the last few weeks over a leaked portion of CETA which suggests that some of the worst Internet restriction provisions of ACTA are being reproduced word for word in the new CETA agreement. The European Commission initially declined to respond fully to the leaked document, instead tweeting its reassurances. But the public outcry and media attention it has received has prompted a more comprehensive response. Ottawa Law Professor Michael Geist has written about the European reaction, and what the implications are for Canadians.

What is CETA?

The Canada – EU Trade Agreement is a wide-ranging trade agreement that covers most sectors of the economy, including the Internet. According to the leaked document, dated February 2012, the intellectual property chapter draws heavily from the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement– the highly unpopular agreement which was widely protested against and voted down by the European Parliament earlier this month due to the restrictions on Internet use it would have imposed.

In an interview Geist noted that keeping the same language “may have seemed like a good idea in February, by July it became enormously problematic since the Parliament had rejected ACTA and the inclusion of the same language within CETA appeared to be a direct challenge to the Parliament”. Possibly as a result of this, the European Commission issued a response in which it claimed that some of the controversial provisions had been changed, but as you’ll see from our summary of Geist below, this claim is not good enough.

What’s wrong with CETA?

1. The European Commission says that it has removed from CETA the controversial ACTA provisions which risk user privacy by forcing Internet service providers to disclose the identity of alleged copyright infringers. However problems with an ACTA approach go beyond these provisions and include expansive digital lock provisions which would give big media conglomerates more power to control our use of media and the Internet.

2. The ACTA approach employs criminal penalties including imprisonment and high monetary fines for accused “infringers”. In other words this agreement is very similar to the TPP’s Internet trap that we’ve been campaigning against at http://stopthetrap.net, but it would apply this scheme to the EU which is not presently a part of the TPP.

3. As an alternative to an ACTA approach, the European Commission appears to now favour the approach taken in a previous EU-Korea trade agreement that is itself problematic. The EU-Korea style ISP provision would permit the use of website blocking and three-strikes systems for terminating the Internet access of accused content infringers, and possibly the removal of content without a court order. These are all provisions that go beyond current Canadian law.

4. The EU-Korea style agreement the European Commission is currently pushing would have a much broader scope than ACTA, would give extended rights to broadcasters and would implement stronger border measures including searches of alleged infringers. This will make it easier for media conglomerates to shut down online content and limit our choice online.

5. CETA, ACTA, and the EU-Korea agreement have all been negotiated with high levels of secrecy, creating public distrust.

So it seems that an EU-Canadian agreement will either involve a more extreme version of ACTA, or an equally problematic version of the EU-Korea agreement (which Canadian policymakers never wanted).

These extreme and secretive trade agreements are starting to seem a lot like whac-a-mole: you knock one down and the same provisions appear in a different agreement. But as Geist notes, “[w]ith the public now very focused on ACTA and one-sided [intellectual property] agreements, I think it will be very difficult to sneak ACTA through the CETA backdoor”. That’s why it’s so important for Canadians to stay vigilant to new challenges posed to our online freedoms, and to make our voices heard.

OpenMedia will keep a close eye on this file and report back as it develops.

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Originally posted at http://openmedia.ca/blog/why-ceta-bad-canadian-internet-users