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ISP’s, and the art of the double-sided CRTC arguments

Classic ad for Corbin suits found via Styleforum

I got an e-mail today referring to this article about Rogers and Shaw’s CRTC presentations. In specific the e-mail asked whether the quote, “ISPs are pipes, not broadcasters,” by Ken Engelhart, Rogers’ head of regulatory affairs – meant that ISP’s were conceding that net neutrality was, in fact, the preferred practise for ISP’s in this country.

I think there’s two important things to remember here:

1. Everything being said at the current CRTC hearings has been in respect to the issue of promoting Canadian new media content. In particular the CRTC is investigating whether (amongst other things) an ISP levy should be used to encourage Canadian new media growth the same way Canadian broadcasters pay a levy to go into a fund to support the production of Canadian television, or radio stations pay into a fund to support the production of Canadian music. In this theatre the ISP’s absolutely don’t want to be seen as “broadcasters” because they then have a president obligation to promote the development of Canadian content – it’s in their advantage to play the “we’re just a utility” card.

2. “But Brad” you ask, “how can they then turn around in several days, at the upcoming Net Neutrality hearings, and argue the exact opposite?” The important thing to remember in that, epxected, outcome is that Bell’s argument for traffic manipulation in that case is to “protect the network”. It’s not necessarily that the ISP’s want prioritize some content over others – they’re arguing that the strain on their networks is significantly more than capacity and they must have the right to defend it. It’s mere coincidence that the only tool they have to do that, is to prioritize some content over others.

Even if their logic was 100% verifiable fact (and I’ve pointed out elsewhere in my posts about these arguments that there’s much bigger network issues than BitTorrent traffic, or the so-called “high volume users”) my core argument has been that it doesn’t matter what the reasoning is. The moment you allow any traffic prejudice for any reason, the fight is lost, because you’ll never have network transparency again. And that’s simply too much power to hand over to anyone, no matter how noble their rationale is (or isn’t). “Net Neutrality” is a bubble – once it’s punctured it can’t be reconstructed. You can’t just violate it “to protect network integrity” and assume that it will stand for content priority, or end-user access, or equal access against ISP-affiliated services – it really is an all or nothing deal.

Enter, Julius Genachowski

julius genachowski

As has been presumed since January, Julius Genachowski, has been nominated to head the Federal Communications Commission in the US.

While Genachowski is considered by many a strong advocate of Network Neutrality (being the first FCC head to come from a former life in Sillicon Valey, as opposed to the usual broadcast executive route to the job) – some are asking questions why neutrality pledges haven’t been a bigger part of his appointment.

My pragmatic opinion is just the reality that there are a number of interests that the Obama administration must court, and if your biggest complaint to date about Genachowski is that he’s someone who clearly understands the issues, the importance of the issues, and has vocally supported the cause in the past… but is less vocal now that he’s been appointed to a high-level government position… that’s still a pretty good day in Washington.

[Edit - in a weird "snake eating it's own tail" loop, Laura at Derivative Work (who referenced this post) has done a great overview of Mr. Genachowski's background and previous work with her usual impeccable detail and thorough research. Highly recommended as a primer on the new FCC head. ]

One last Coraline note…

coraline

One last, for now, note on the on-going saga of Coraline’s Box-Office. While (as I predicted) Coraline did overtake “Friday the 13th” this week, it not only wasn’t by the large measure I had expected – but it dropped a whopping 54% to 5.3M, which was significantly more than I expected.

Thankfully BoxOfficeMojo set me straight by pointing out that the film lost over 700 3D screens to the opening of the new Jonas Brothers movie. (Interestingly I notice that the Jonas brothers per-screen average was actually lower than the “Coraline” per screen average last week. Wouldn’t it be a kick if ‘line managed to outlast them?

I promise to not harp on this any further… at least as relates to the importance of box-office openings.

Okay, just one more – Dear “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li“, I know I said that opening-weekend box-office is generally indicative of nothing. However, that whole “getting bested on your opening weekend by a month-old stop-motion animation which was made with a smaller budget” thing? Not a good indicator.

Welcome TO THE WORLD OF TOMORROW (echo)

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-GB&#038;playlist=videoByUuids:uuids:a517b260-bb6b-48b9-87ac-8e2743a28ec5&#038;showPlaylist=true&#038;from=shared" target="_new" title="Future Vision Montage">Video: Future Vision Montage</a>

Gizmodo pointed me to this Microsoft video envisioning a possible “state of technology” in 2019. It being Microsoft’s vision, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that 2019 will be full of Microsoft Surface and ePaper.

What did surprise me was a lot of the “yeah, right” comments after the article along this ilk:

…2019 is VERY optimistic. This video looks more like it might be from 2059. -gerrylum

I’m sure it’s just a confluence of re-reading “Microserfs” this week, and realizing how dated a ten year old “advanced technology outlook” it really is, and hearing a group of University Students from my own alma matter talk today, but for whatever reason I’m accutely aware at how fast technology can change in a relatively short period of time.

To try and figure out where we might be ten years from now – it’s helpful to look at where we *were* ten years ago.

Pismo

This was a state-of-the-art Apple PowerBook ten years ago.

nokia5110

This was a state-of-the-art cell phone ten years ago.

This was what Google looked like ten years ago (even better is what Google looked like eleven years ago.

Ten years ago Sony made waves by introducing an (almost) High Definition camcorder that only cost $82,000!

Ten years ago this was the next generation of video gaming.

Ten years ago this television series was just beginning.

My point being if something like the Microsoft video is the *best* we can do, given another ten years… we’re not trying hard enough.

Hey, I’m quoted in “Quill & Quire”!

EXTRA – Hard-hitting industry news*: Area man goes to producer/publisher cross-industry event!.

*Note: Industry news may not be all that hard-hitting.

Why the scans_daily fracas isn’t an argument

Angry Mob by Colin Purrington

No, I’m not going to post at any length about scans_daily getting shut down on livejournal. I’m not even linking to anyone else’s recaps, summaries, opinions, editorials, or interpretive dances – because I find almost everything on this event ridiculous across the board (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky and move on… nothing to see here). One “meta-camp” is arguing that s_d blatantly violated copyright (or, if they’re charitable, that most s_d users misunderstand both the spirit and letter of “fair use”). The other camp responds with their stringent beleif that the major comic publishers have neither any kind of electronic distribution roadmap, nor marketing strategy to target young digitally-savvy readers.

This is not really a philosophical argument for the decades since the, obvious, conclusion is that both sides are absolutely correct and neither is actually “arguing” with the other.

It’s like trying to determine the relative merits of “gravity is a strong physical force” vs. “geese are capable of long-distance flight”. Both sides are (at the core of their fiery hyperbolic vitriol) verifiable fact, and just because both happen to be angry with each other that doesn’t magically bring a correlation between their statements into existence. Everything else is just wasted hot air, and the usual internet flotsam and jetsam – and lord knows we don’t have enough of that already.

Even the emperor of segue’s would be stumped with this one…

We must work together to give the following YouTube video the mandatory 6,000 views to get a group of fat hockey fans to strip on the “Ellen” show. We can think of no nobler cause for Puck Daddy to endorse.

(via, where else, Puck Daddy)

CRTC ‘Net Neutrality Hearings – All the Marbles

There are two major CRTC hearings in the works right now that the copyright/internet savvy should be looking to – and Denis McGrath does a nice job of explaining how they interrelate. The one going on right now, among other things, is looking at the viability of some type of governmental support for creating new media content (the same way it mandates support for radio, publishing, and other creative sectors). Users, generally speaking, are hostile to this thought – because they corrolate it with taxes on blank-media or higher internet fees (either of which could indeed be one possible outcome – but is kind of narrow-sited… CanCon regulations for radio and television don’t necessarily make *them* more expensive, those come out of the post-consumer/advertiser net profits of broadcasters, and can’t necessarily be passed on to end users).

The tricky issue (as Denis adroitly points out) is that these two groups (the ISP’s, vs the creative sector) are also going to butt heads in a few weeks time over net neutrality in Canada (the promised followup to the Bell BitTorrent throttling case, (you might recall at that time, I said not to riot in the streets… that the battle for “all the marbles” had not yet been fought).

As far as I’m concerned this is the battle for an epic amount of marbles.

As we know from similar cases in the USA, ISP’s and telco’s really want to be able to determine what goes through their networks and how. The moment, this precedent gets set – the door is open to a radically different internet, where the services of your ISP (including their own telecom, television, movie, video-on-demand, even websites) can be treated fundamentally different than everything else on the internet. How the ISP’s want to use their network is primary over how the users want to use the network. You are no longer paying for a service, you’re paying for whatever content the ISP’s chose to provide, on whatever terms they deem “necessary”.

It’s been pointed out elsewhere in the CRTC filings that Bell launched a new video-on-demand service around the same time they started throttling BitTorrent traffic. Is that because the volume of the traffic legitimately was overwhelming (interesting, since streaming video has, by some accounts, been the largest single source of total traffic over much of the internet since 2007)? Or was it because it was a competitor to Bell? Should YouTube be throttled? Should Bell implement similar policies against Skype, is it because of volume? Or is it because of competition to Bell’s traditional landline offerings? I’m not saying any of these are true (or even likely), but the point is that once that door is open you (the end user) will never know.

In all the clutter of the current CRTC new media hearings, the preliminary filing by the CFTPA (Canada’s producer’s association) has been mostly overlooked although Michael Geist got part of it:

while P2P applications are undeniably used for the distribution of unauthorized content (as are email, newsgroups and the web), they also are increasingly serving as the foundation for new business models that will enable independent producers to make full use of broadband as a delivery vehicle for Canadian audio-visual programming. Consequently, the CFTPA is concerned that discriminatory traffic throttling may inhibit the development of new applications that would facilitate the ability of independent producers and other content providers to better monetize their content.

Roll that around on your tongue for a minute. That’s Canada’s content producers association saying that while P2P piracy is bad, it’s not nearly as bad as what the control creators would give up if ISP’s are allowed to treat traffic in anything less than an absolutely neutral manner.

The Geist article above goes on to echo this sentiment from a litany of artist organizations (and, interestingly enough, the CBC… one of the few national broadcasters without a related national ISP unlike Bell and Rogers affiliated broadcasters).

But don’t overlook the whole second half of the CFTPA filing either. This is the half which goes on to ask some difficult questions of ISP’s – such as why (if network volume is such an issue) they continue to offer faster, and faster, connections – while actually delivering less and less in the way of actual service. Why the ISP’s advertise speed rates they can’t possibly achieve given their actual infrastructure. Why Canada is rapidly falling in the rankings of Broadband and wireless penitration, adoption, and cost against almost every other OECD country (out of the 30 OECD countries, Canada’s price per megabit of Internet service ranks a near dead-last 27th).

And again, these are the producers – the ones you would suspect would be the first in line to throw a big “down with BitTorrent” party. Heck, the filing goes out of it’s way to point out a number of Canadian shows who benefited from legal BitTorrent distribution – (and I’m not just pleased to see that because they referenced my own Dead End Days and Cerealized).

This filing (and dozens like it) can look past immediate self-interests to see that:

The CFTPA submits that requiring ISPs to adopt an agnostic approach to traffic
management is critical to ensuring that the Internet remains an open-access platform. Such
an approach encourages innovation in the design and development of new applications and
services and facilitates the delivery of Canadian content – including Canadian audio-visual
content – to Canadians.

In a lot of ways the CRTC hearings to date have some amount of “side-show” to them (not that they aren’t important), but this one is the main event. It will shape the way Canadians produce, distribute, and watch content for years to come – and if that’s not enough to make it worth your while to wade through the odd text-heavy report… then I don’t know what is… but don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning to find your marbles strangely absent.

  • Disclosure: I work with a member company of the CFTPA, and have also been involved with the working group behind this filing.