interweb freedom

(formerly Stop Usage Based Billing)

Posts Tagged ‘telephone’

The First Honest Cable Company

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on March 29, 2013

This is a very funny video… or it would be if it wasn’t true. So true. And if it wasn’t equally (or more true) for cell phone companies and the big Internet Service Providers.

This issue, like many others, is only an issue because the CRTC (our telecom regulator here in Canada) does the bidding of the industry it is exists to regulate. They mostly don’t even pretend consumer protection is an issue they consider. Under Canada’s inadequate inequitable and antiquated electoral system, this isn’t likely to change soon.

If you want things to change, you have to step up and start doing something about it. Canada needs to adopt Proportional Representation if we’re ever to have a meaningful democracy, where people (not corporations) have a say in our government. How can you do this?

Sign the Declaration of Voter’s Rights at Fair Vote Canada, and look for your local chapter so you can get involved.

Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Answering UBB Questions #1

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on November 16, 2010

No Usage Based BillingThe first question posted on the new UBB Question page is from Paul’s two part question that I think requires a three part answer.

Question # 1)

Does Bell currently charge its own customers with a Usage-Based Billing method, and is simply seeking permission to extend this to its resellers? Or is it seeking permission to use this model, even with its own customers?

Answer # 1)

Bell does currently charge their own customers UBB along with caps.

That is to say, the customers who are not still on the Unlimited packages that Bell originally entered the Internet market with.

In May I looked at what packages Bell offers to new customers customers in the article Why Do Bell and Rogers Have Customers?

The CRTC’s attitude seems to be that Bell is within their rights to do pretty much whatever they want to their own customers without seeking CRTC permission.

This was made very clear with the issue of “throttling”; the CRTC had no problem with Bell throttling their own customers; it only came up as an official CRTC matter when the Independent ISPs complained that Bell was throttling their customers.

Personally, even though I am (thankfully) no longer a Bell customer myself, I think this is wrong. If Canada is to have a regulatory body like the CRTC they should be charged with looking out for the best interests of ALL Canadians, including Bell customers. When any retailer behaves badly citizens ought to have recourse.

Old logo with text: The Bell Telephone Company of Canada - in a circle around a Bell which has the text: Local and Long Distance Telephone

Question # 2)

Where does BellAliant fall into this?

The two primary ISPs in Atlantic Canada are BellAliant (a merger? of Bell with the previous telco, Aliant, which itself was a merger of the individual provincial telcos), and EastLink (cable provider). Would BellAliant be considered a reseller, is it considered “Bell”, or does it fall outside the scope of this ruling? Knowing this would be quite helpful for rallying local politicians.

Answer # 2)

I would consider this “a Bell by any other name” [with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare]
As a consumer, I do not presume to know the ins and outs of the labyrinthine relationships of Bell companies.

Bell may wish to give the impression it is not simply one very rapacious corporation with an unacceptable amount of power and influence, but rather a group of smaller corporations. But it certainly appears to me that that Bell Aliant is part of the “Bell Family” of companies. And in Canada’s west end I have just as much trouble seeing actual differentiation between Bell and Telus, a corporate entity which certainly looks and acts like yet another incarnation of Bell.

There may be separations on paper but from where I sit Bell is one behemoth wearing two hats: that of the carrier that controls the telephone wires and a second hat as Internet Service Provider. The idea is that these are supposed to be two separate business entities, but the reality is such that even the CRTC no longer pretends to believe this.

[In actuality it is even worse than this. Much much worse. Not only does Bell also wear a "Cell Phone Provider" hat they are also well on their way to wearing a really big "Media Mogul" hat IT World Canada: Bell Canada back in the content business with CTV bid which is undoubtedly a huge part of why Canadians are not being informed about this and other equally crucial issues to our future.

a matter of language

As a writer, I understand the power of the language to slant our perceptions. This is part of why there are so many issues around the jargon of this new technology. And if having to cope with brand new terminology wasn't bad enough, Bell makes it worse by using some terminology differently than ISPs in other parts of the world do ("throttling, for instance). This certainly helps to muddy the water.

The Internet and digital technology is still very new, and the words we use to discuss these issues can be used to clarify or confuse. Which is why one of the first things I put together for this site was a glossary. Consumers have no hope of even understanding what is being discussed if we can't speak the language. Which is why it is so terribly important that Canada's regulatory body does their job and looks out for consumers. And why I suggest Canadian consumers should sign the online petition at http://dissolvethecrtc.ca/

In order to discuss any of this effectively we all need to be on the same page.

Paul asked good questions, but I think it is equally important to address the question he did not ask: what are Independent ISPs?

rural telephone poles along side a gravel road

BONUS answer

It is a serious mistake to call the Independent ISPs "resellers".

Bell's ISP competitors should more properly be called Independent Internet Service Providers. Because the Independent ISPs provide consumers with access to the internet, the same as the Bell or Cable ISPs do. Internet Service Providers provide consumers with access to the Internet. They sell us access. The Independent ISPs are wholesale Bell Canada GAS customers.

The reason calling the Indie ISPs "Bell resellers" is a problem is that it implies Bell has a proprietary interest in the Internet. And while I expect Bell would like nothing better than total control of he Internet, Bell does not own the Internet. Bell owns part of the Internet infrastructure (cable and equipment) on Canadian soil.

Bell owns this infrastructure only because successive Canadian governments gave Bell priviledged status and protection from the beginning. I expect there were government subsidies as well as made laws allowing Bell to run wire across private and public property alike to ensure Canada could participate in the 20th Century with a nation wide telephone network.

Bell owns the telephone wires over which we make our phone calls. This does not mean Bell owns our phone calls.
By the same token, Bell does not own the Internet.

As a backbone carrier, Bell simply controls the wires.

When the Internet was initially opened up to consumers in Canada, the original Internet Service Providers provided consumers with Internet service across the same telephone cable. Nobody called them "resellers" then.

Since Bell doesn't own the Internet, a case could be made for calling Bell a "reseller."

This was before Bell decided to enter the market with their own newly minted ISP which put all the original ISPs out of business by offering Unlimited Internet packages... For more detail on the history of how we got here in my Canadian Market said NO to UBB article.

Except now, with CRTC approval of Usage Based Billing, Bell the carrier has been granted the power to dictate costs and pricing schedules to the Independent ISPs that directly compete with Bell the ISP.

Stop Usage Based Billing



 

If you haven't already, sign the petition. There are only 11316 signatures.

If you have already signed, who else should you be asking to sign?

That's easy: anyone who uses the Internet.
Because Usage Based Billing will harm not only Canadians, but our Economy.

http://dissolvethecrtc.ca/

You can also call or write your MP, MP postal code look-up

Heritage Minister James Moore - email: Moore.J@parl.gc.ca

Industry Minister Tony Clement - email: Clement1@parl.gc.ca

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - email: Harper.S@parl.gc.ca

After all, they work for us, don't they?

STOP Usage Based Billing

STOP Usage Based Billing



 

Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Canadian Market said NO to UBB

Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on August 6, 2010

Telephone poles stretched along side a gravel rural road

No Usage Based Billing
The Internet is an interconnected network of wires connecting computers all around the world. The physical conduit of the Internet is the telephone wire or cable and associated equipment that connects together to form the “infrastructure” or “backbone”.

Because Canadian communications systems must cover great distances to serve a relatively small population these systems have traditionally required special treatment in order to provide Canadians with the services we need to both exist and compete in the first world economy. Although Canada has never had a strict telephone monopoly, from the very beginning different telephone companies provided services in different geographic locations across Canada. Which means we have for the most part had a “virtual monopoly” because each geographic area had only one telephone provider.

Regardless of what Canada’s telecommunication regulator the CRTC seems to think, if you have to sell your house and move to a new geographic location in order to get a different Internet Service provider it does not qualify as “consumer choice”. So although we have different companies providing access to the Internet, a great many Canadians have only one possible Internet Service Provider.

A Mennonite horse and buggy crosses the road

[When discussing the ISP "carriers" I pretty much always say "Bell" for the phone carrier, although in many cases Telus should be included as well. In the same way when I speak of the cable carrier I say "Rogers" to stand in for all the Cable companies, which over all of Canada I understand to also include Shaw, Cogeco, and Vidéotron because from where I sit here they all appear to be marching in lockstep. I do not presume to know if, when or how any of these companies may be interrelated. I myself have only had dealings with Bell and Rogers.]

infrastructure and private property

Somehow Bell Canada never seems to mention that the only way the telephone system we have today could have come into existence was through the goodwill of private property owners and government cooperation. They like to take all the credit for establishing the phone/cable infrastructure, but they could never have done it without our help.

Because the thing to remember is that telephone poles carrying telephone wire cross private land.

Had stringing the wire been left entirely up to the telephone companies, we might still be using smoke signals. Because without government assistance, the phone company would have had to negotiate with every single land owner. Individual property owners would have been able to prevent the telephone wire from crossing their land. Instead of ending up with a system covering all of the settled portions of Canada, we might have ended with many small unconnected pockets of telephone service.

Because as sure as the sun rises in the east, even today there are people who don’t want telephone service.

Certainly some would decline for religious reasons, while others might try to pry excessive sums of money from the phone company in exchange for granting a right-of-way across their property. To prevent such snags which might have rendered the existence of the telephone system impossible, forward thinking government mandated “easements” along the road side portions of private property. This government intervention allows utilities like electricity and telephone companies to put up poles along these easements and then string wires along them, or dig up land to allow cables or pipes to run under this land for the public good. In this way, the government acted to ensure Canada’s technologically wouldn’t lag.

The “who owns the wire” problem is not unique to Canada. Even in countries with dense enough population to support telephone competition it only makes sense to string one wire. Property owners can be persuaded to accept one set of telephone poles running along their land for the common good, but would balk at 5 sets of telephone poles. So even where there are five telephone providers they share the wire.

"Punchcard" photo by Mutatis mutandi

computers

When I was a kid, my Dad took us to a local university to see a gigantic machine that could solve mathematical equations if you fed it punch cards. Punch cards were exactly what they sound like: bits of cardboard with holes punched in them.

The computer programmer communicated with the computer via punchcards. The pattern of the holes made up the program. Back in those days of vacuum tubes, most people could not imagine the possibility that personal computers would ever exist. Computers were simply too big.

But then came miniaturization. Really, weren’t the first home computers was actually the digital calculators that swept over the world in the 1970′s? With the ability to achieve miniaturization, home computers were not far behind. The first home computers were DIY projects; if you wanted a computer you had to put it together. So naturally the first people to have home computers were the techies who could build them.

But it wasn’t long though before enterprising businesses began selling personal computers or PCs that anyone could use. Spreadsheet programs like Lotus Symphony revolutionized the accounting Industry. Desk Top Publishing was born. Games could be played. Calendars kept. The possibilities seemed endless. And they were.

Today ordinary people get personal computers in much the same way we get cars. We no longer need to know how to build or repair one.

the Internet

In the early days of personal computing, people could purchase modems that would connect computers via telephone lines. When your modem was connected to the phone line, it took control of your telephone service. When your computer was talking on the phone, you couldn’t. It got to the point where some computer users would get a second telephone line so their computing time wouldn’t tie up their telephone.

Before the Internet became available to ordinary people, there were independent computer networks. My first venture online was in 1989 with a commercial service called Compuserve. Although the research possibilities were excellent, the fun part was being able to live chat with folks from around the world.

The downside was that it was terribly expensive. You paid by the minute, which can add up quite quickly. Learning how to do anything took a lot of time and every minute online cost money. Although it was fun, being fresh out of college, I simply couldn’t afford it. So I went off line again. The public library was a much more economical place to do research.

I just went to search out Compuserve now. I’m happy they’re still out there. Oh and look… the deal I see is 2 months free to start and after that $17.95 per month unlimited. Twenty years ago my bill for a single month exceeded $100, and that was using one of their more economical billing plans! Times certainly have changed.

Later I became involved with an early computer network, a BBS or “bulletin board system”. These independent computer BBSs were very similar to the Internet forums of today; you posted your comment and it stayed there. People would check in over time and join in the conversation. No live chats here.

But it was an excellent antidote to Compuserve, because it was free. Voluntary donations helped support the system by paying for improved equipment for the people running it. A BBS was not a commercial venture, they were communities… today we’d call them social media… started by a few people with computer know-how and equipment to run it on. People found out about a BBS by word of mouth. Then as now content was important for finding and then keeping an audience.

three AOL disks

four AOL offers on four b;ue enrollment CDs

The people who owned the equipment controlled the BBS, and acted as the system administrators or SYSOPS. But it was the users who brought the BBS to life by beginning new discussion areas and posting conversations and content to the BBS. Because it didn’t happen in real time, the posts were often more thoughtful than live chat. But the owners held ultimate control; they could cut off anyone for any reason. Initially this power was only used to clamp down on abusive behavior; there were online Trolls then as now. Later on personalities and personal politics came into it.

My disillusionment coincided with one heavy contributor being cut off simply for having different attitudes and philosophies– mostly he annoyed the owners. But because he provided so much content and administered so many discussion groups, they didn’t want to cut him off for good, so instead they gave him small suspensions to keep him in line. That type of petty abuse of power is why I left that BBS, and has a lot to do with why I support net neutrality today.

That was around the time when the Internet became generally available to the public. Overnight there were Independent Internet Service Providers springing up all over Canada, and around the world. And although many people signed up, it was far from universal.

an array of internet hook up CDs

There were many seductive elements. Email and Instant Messaging held great appeal. Instant connectivity. Research, information… everything at your finger tips. But in many ways it was a luxury. A plaything. It was only later it became a necessity.

In my recollection, a lot people were initially resistant to going online because it was so expensive. There were many many ISPs, and so competition was fierce. Even so, it was still very expensive. ISPs charged by the minute. The most persistent and pervasive ISPs battling for customers was America Online.

AOL: Usage Based Billing

They must have mailed out hundreds of thousands of AOL sign up CDs. Maybe millions. I know I didn’t start keeping the CDs that kept turning up in my mail initially. Yet I still probably have around thirty of their CDs.   Yet I never did sign up with AOL.   I knew from my Compuserve experience how quickly the usage costs could add up, and how expensive it would be.   Not to mention virtually impossible to budget for.

AOL usage based offers

The AOL marketing campaign is writ large across those old CDs.
540 Hours Free
1000 Hours Free
1344 Hours Free
2000 Hours Free
3 Months Free
$9.95 for 6 months

AOL tried giving better and better introductory offers but it just did not work. After the early adopters, the techno types who would do whatever it took to be online — and more importantly pay whatever had to be paid– the mostly ordinary people just weren’t interested. It was a big cash outlay, after all. Just getting a reasonable computer system cost around three thousand dollars.

My first PC had a double floppy drive — not even a hard drive — a black & white screen — a dot matrix printer.  Three grand.

After laying out the green, most of us weren’t ready to sign away the rest of our disposable income for the Internet. Because after AOL’s “introduction period” was over, it would be back to the very pricey Usage Based Billing options. It just cost too much.

And there wasn’t even the content available online that there is today.

Certainly finding what you wanted took work, and learning is very expensive when you’re being billed per minute. The point is, you didn’t NEED to go online. You could buy a whole encyclopedia on one CD, or a spreadsheet program, a word processor or graphics software or games, and your computer could do everything you needed it to. People didn’t need the Internet. It was just too expensive. A toy.

What happened to AOL? The king of marketing? At one point they were the one to beat. They marketed the heck out of the Internet. Who else could afford to scatter CDs across the land with such bold abandon. Or convince respectable venerated Canadian banking institutions… notably some of the most caution in the world… to partner them? What cataclysm could have done for AOL?

Wait a minute:

Canada had ISP competition?  

Canada?

What happened to all those ISPs?

Bell Sympatico and Rogers Internet

enter the carriers

Bell Canada and Rogers Cable entered the fray.

Bell Canada was the major telephone carrier; they controlled and maintained the telephone cable backbone. Telephone traffic traveled over this wire, and now Internet traffic did too. Up until this time, Bell Canada just had phone lines, they were the major telephone carrier who controlled the wire backbone connecting home computer users to the Internet.

But now, Bell decided they wanted to get into the internet game. So Bell hung out a shingle as an Internet Service Provider, or ISP.

When Rogers entered the market they brought their own backbone in the form of urban cable connections. The first time I recall hearing about Rogers as an ISP they were offering high speed Internet connections. I wasn’t paying much attention back then. One minute there were scads pf Canadian ISPs and the next there were only two.

Bell and Rogers introduced “Unlimited Internet” into the Canadian market

Bell and Rogers used their corporate might to introduce low cost UNLIMITED Internet service packages that the smaller ISPs could not possibly match. Offering unlimited Internet access made trying it much more palatable because learning how to use it was no longer prohibitively expensive. Not only did customers switch to Bell and Rogers in droves, but more:

elimination of usage based billing allowed the Canadian Internet Market to really take off.

Canadian consumers told the market in no uncertain terms that we did not want the Internet on a Usage Based Billing model.

Low cost entry into the Internet made Canadians embrace the Internet. This is why Canada was an early adopter, and a leader in Internet use. Even though it didn’t take long for prices to climb. Since the other competitors were gone, Bell and Rogers had the market carved up between them so prices began to rise rapidly.

The Internet has impacted on just about every type of business there is. We buy and sell on eBay or Amazon. We pay our bills online. We can read Canadian laws online. Get up to the minute weather reports. We watch TVor read the newspaper online. Canada Post is offering to deliver email.

the Canadian Internet market clearly said “No” to Usage Based Billing

Because customers overwhelmingly chose “Unlimited” over the usage based pricing model, Bell and Rogers got the added bonus of eliminating the competition. Bell and Rogers were vying for supremacy so they built good infrastructure to offer the fastest best service. Back then, Canada had some of the best Internet access speeds at some of the lowest prices in the world.

This is a very large part of the reason that Canadians embraced the Internet so whole heartedly.

But the upshot is that Canada was left with only two ISPs. It was such a monumental error that even the Canadian Government noticed, and stepped in and told Bell and Rogers that they would have to share the infrastructure so that competitors could enter the Internet market in an attempt to re-introduce competition.

I’m not quite sure why, but it seems that all the Independent ISPs seem to get their Internet connection through Bell. When Bell set up the “Gateway Access System” (GAS) through which they sell wholesale bandwidth to the Independent Internet Service Providers The CRTC allowed Bell to set their own prices. Naturally they set very high prices. The Independent ISPs could then redistribute the bandwidth however they saw fit.

Canadian paper money, photo by laurelrusswurm

At first Bell was happy since they were making money from their GAS business. They were probably surprised that the Independent ISPs provided low priced packages and good Internet service without gouging that have built loyalty for the Independents. It’s funny how just about anyone you ask has at least one Bell or Rogers horror story in their repertoire, but I’ve never heard any about the Independent ISPs.

Canada’s place as an Internet leader has been slipping badly. Although Bell has done basic maintenance on their phone/Internet infrastructure they seem to have neglected the continuous upgrading they should have done. In real terms that makes Canada’s Internet service of today hopelessly out of date. What was cutting edge 15 years ago is paleolithic today.

Although the service has stayed the same with little or no infrastructure improvements Canadian Internet costs have been climbing.

(Make no mistake: the inflated Internet costs that Bell and Rogers have been charging have been more than enough to cover upgrades.)

Many Canadians went online because it was affordable back then, but that is no longer true.

Now, at a time when it has become more important to go in the Internet– to do our banking, pay our bills, find jobs, do school work– today Canadian Internet rates are some of the highest in the world. The Internet is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity for Canadians. But not all Canadians can afford to even go online. The “digital divide” is yawning already, but now it’s about to get even worse.

Because the CRTC has approved Bell’s application to begin Usage Based Billing.

Real costs have nothing to do with it. Market forces have nothing to do with it.

The CRTC will allow our Internet rates to double to economically force Canadians to reduce Internet use.

CRTC #fail



If you haven’t already, sign the petition. There are only 10925 signatures.

If you have already signed, who else should you be asking to sign?

That’s easy: anyone who uses the Internet.
Because Usage Based Billing will harm not only Canadians, but our Economy.

http://dissolvethecrtc.ca/

You can also call or write your MP, MP postal code look-up

Heritage Minister James Moore – email: Moore.J@parl.gc.ca

Industry Minister Tony Clement – email: Clemet1@parl.gc.ca

Prime Minister Stephen Harper – email: Harper.S@parl.gc.ca

After all, they work for us, don’t they?

STOP Usage Based Billing

STOP Usage Based Billing



Posted in Changing the World | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

 
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