A pig in a poke no more: students take on the ISPs (4)

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Back in the fall semester of 2015, I wrote a series of posts on an experiment I’d been conducting with my students. It was a novel kind of written assignment — what we were calling a “field report,” as opposed to the usual essay or research paper they were used to doing in most of their courses. 

The point of the exercise was to provide a clear, accurate profile of the technical and financial arrangements made with their ISP. As we discovered, it’s frustratingly difficult trying to get information like the cost of a data cap overage or what uplink speed someone was paying for. Continue reading

We only hurt the ones we love: phoning in more bad news

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Everyone I talk to concedes smartphones are bad for us. Very few agree on exactly what the harms are — let alone what to do about them.

Experts have two main takes on where to look for digital harms. One is directed at the reader. Your digital life is a misery, here’s what to do. Author Paul Greenberg will soon publish iQuit: 50 Things to Do iNstead — and gives us a foretaste in a piece titled “In Search of Lost Screen Time.” With a forthright sub-title: “Imagine what we could do with our money, and hours, if we set our phones aside for a year.”

The other approach is to blame everything on Silicon Valley, and these days who wouldn’t. One recent example is A People’s History of Silicon Valley by Keith Spencer, with another forthright sub-title: “How the tech industry exploits workers, erodes privacy and undermines democracy.”

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Moronic multitaskers vs digital natives: the smartphone crisis


First impressions are important

“The single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” –Marc Prensky, 2001 (creator of the “digital natives” concept)

“Multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking.” –Clifford Nass, 2009


Almost four years ago, I launched a radical new approach to teaching my courses. I began confiscating student phones for the duration of every class.

blank-face-2Let’s pretend her name was Kathy. I kept issuing the usual pleas to her – and everyone – to stay off their phones, as it’s hard to participate in a seminar discussion when you’re typing Facebook likes. Kathy was worse than most, so I moved her to a seat directly in front of the lab podium. But even when I was hovering, she kept typing furiously, like I was invisible. She was the last straw. Neither my ego nor my pedagogy could take it any more.


Where phones go to facilitate the learning process (COMN 4520)

Around the time I started my full frontal phone attack, I posted the first of three items on dumb things you can do with smartphones, in September 2011. I took it for granted that thousands of other instructors faced the same problem every time they walked into a classroom. But I figured I had a particularly good reason for my phone strategy. I was teaching liberal arts undergrads how the Internet works. Continue reading

The CRTC’s annual report is out: the good, the bad, the weird (3)


Bricks and mortar with window, Spitalfields, London E1, August 2013


How can the CRTC do a better job?

As I argued in the previous two posts, the CMR doesn’t have a life of its own; it reflects the CRTC’s larger priorities. The big one here is research and evidence-based policymaking. A close second is the Commission’s still awkward fashion of trying to reach out to the little people – i.e. anybody besides the inner circle. Here are my suggestions for how it can do what it apparently wants to do, only better:

1 – Stop wasting money on online consultations. Redeploy it for real consumer research. Online consultations aren’t just a waste of money; they can also be highly misleading. One reason for their being unrepresentative is that online “surveys” of the public can’t reach Canadians who aren’t online to begin with. Unfortunately, the Commission isn’t going to find any new money for research, not as long as it sticks to the current Expenditure Profile. As shown in the graph below, the Commission’s spending is pretty much flat from 2009 to 2016, especially if these figures were converted to constant dollars…

crtc-budget-2009-16Source: CRTC Departmental Spending Trend

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The CRTC’s annual report is out: the good, the bad, the weird (2)


London, East End council flat, August 2013


Last time, I described some of the ways in which the CMR has fallen short. I added that the current incarnation of this document marks a sharp departure by reflecting a greater concern for end-user behaviors and consumer welfare. I’ve been looking at the CMR less as a source of information about particular trends, and more as a window through which to gauge how the Commission is allocating priorities (the CMR page is here).

I grouped the details into four areas, and covered 1 and 2 in the previous post:

  • 1- The emphasis on industry vs consumer welfare. That emphasis has changed quite dramatically in the 2013 edition, which stems from the pro-consumer tilt the Commission has taken under the current Chair.
  • 2 – The reluctance to report bad news. This entrenched timidity is still holding back critical discussion. That’s one great advantage the FCC’s structure has: open and sometimes quite vocifeous partisanship, since appointees must include a balance of Democrats and Republicans.

So how about the other two?

Obsessed with Netflix (3): tips for reinventing Canadian TV


What do [Canadians] think of this country’s ‘television’ system? Do they feel that the
public interest is being served? I speak of ‘television’ for lack of a better word, because technology has outpaced language.” –JP Blais on pending CRTC review of TV policy


Blais pic(1)In his speech at the Banff Festival on June 12, Chairman Blais indicated the CRTC plans to undertake a top-to-bottom review of how to manage “television” in the digital age. The Chairman brings a tremendous amount of credibility to this exercise, which he’s earned in his first year at the CRTC helm (a Globe editorial called his speech “very promising” and “visionary”). But even this well-placed friend of the consumer is going to have a difficult time rescuing Canadian broadcasting from its current state of arrested development.

Here are a few of the challenges. Continue reading

Must-carry TV: putting viewers last in the US and Canada (2)

HomeTheatre1_midrezArtist’s rendering of pentup demand for 22 more mandatory TV channels


Update (Apr 11). In citing Michael Geist’s post below, I neglected to point out the suggestion he makes to replace must-carry in the service of viewer interests. A must-offer policy would require “broadcast distributors to offer all licensed channels to their subscribers in a pick-and-pay format.” That idea seems sensible, although it’s difficult to see how it could be implemented across the board without a) confronting capacity and delivery issues, especially for smaller BDUs; and b) having the Commission set demand thresholds for very marginal broadcast services. What happens if 50 people request a service on a system with 5,000 subscribers? Whatever the merits, the big distributors are not exactly enthusiastic about pick-and-pay, if only because of the money they would have to leave on the table. But these are all yesterday’s battles and they demonstrate clearly what’s wrong with Canada’s broadcasting system: it’s 20 years out of date, based on outmoded assumptions about infrastructure scarcity, the need to “protect” our sovereignty and the passive role of the TV audience. If only we had a technology that offered a more economic, personal and interactive way to communicate. Wait. We do. It’s called the Internet.

In my previous post, I concentrated on channel-bundling in the US and how the market has been reacting to the pros and cons. Today I want to talk about the CRTC’s must-carry proceeding, an event that has triggered a lot of debate (see Broadcasting Notice of Consultation CRTC 2013-19).

Right after it was announced in January, Michael Geist tore into the CRTC, referring to the announcement as bad news for Canadians frustrated by ever-increasing cable and satellite bills (CRTC Should Put Consumers First and Drop ‘Must Carry’ Requirements):

Rather than convincing millions of Canadian consumers that their services are worth buying, the broadcasters need only convince a handful of CRTC commissioners that their service meets criteria such as making “an exceptional contribution to Canadian expression.” That is supposedly a high bar, yet it is surely far easier than convincing millions of people to pay for your service each month. Continue reading

Open kimonos, closed minds: new risks for Canada’s Internet


Artist’s rendering of Big Media opening their kimonos at secret CRTC meetings


It’s very useful for the commission in our supervisory role to understand what they’re thinking and for them to open their kimonos. Some of them did offer new information, and we were grateful.

Denis Carmel, CRTC spokesman, Nov 25, in The Wire Report


Fact-finding without the facts: must be OTT

As I’ve noted before (e.g. here and here), the CRTC’s handling of the over-the-top review is a travesty of due process. It’s based on a fact-finding proceeding that wasn’t a proceeding, and more secret meetings to continue where they left off in March. Denis Carmel’s expression (above) of “gratitude” to the participants for dropping by to grind their own axes, without the bother of rebuttal or outside scrutiny, is a less than comforting way to honor the principle of ex parte meetings. FCC rules require that private meetings with 3rd parties be disclosed, and that the content of discussions be summarized in public minutes. As Free Press noted last July: “The ex parte process may seem obscure to most people, but these meetings have a significant impact on FCC decisionmaking.” (That article was a commentary on the FCC’s proposal to strengthen its ex parte rules.) Continue reading