Stacking the digEcon Deck
Posted by Laurel L. Russwurm on July 22, 2010
The two month public Canadian Digital Economy Consultation ended last week. Canadians were asked for input on how we want our Government to proceed with Digital Economy policy.
The Digital Economy Homepage seems pleased so many Canadians participated:
“Between May 10 and July 13, more than 2000 Canadian individuals and organizations registered
to share their ideas and submissions. You can read their contributions — and the comments from other users — in the Submissions Area and the Idea Forum.”
Until you contrast that figure with the more than eight thousand Canadians who made submissions to last year’s Copyright Consultation.
What happened? Why was there so little participation for this public consultation?
Probably the single biggest turnoff to citizen participation– the thing that kept Canadians away from the Government’s Digital Economy Consultation in droves– was Bill C-32. When this so called “Copyright Modernization” legislation was introduced in the house of Commons, it’s similarity to the American DMCA made it instantly clear that this Government chose to ignore the majority of citizen input from the Copyright Consultation. As a result, the prevailing feeling among Canadians seemed to be “why bother?”
Making it Hard to be Heard
The complexity of the Digital Economy Consultation leads me to the conclusion that it wasn’t put together in a day, rather it had been in the works for quite a while. Yet I didn’t see any publicity build up. It was announced and launched with lightning speed. By the Federal Government.
Was the timing a deliberate attempt to to distract Canadians from our outrage about “Bill C-32: the Copyright Modernization Act” ?
The Digital Economy Consultation made it emphatically clear that copyright would not be considered a valid topic. People who used the discussion forums complained that any copyright discussions were quickly shut down.
This position would have been perfectly reasonable if the Government kept of copyright and the digital technology issues separate. But the Government’s own draft copyright legislation Bill C-32 strayed from the realm of copyright into the world of digital locks– and in fact subjugates all copyright to DRM/TRM. First the Government dissolved the division between the two areas and then they refused to allow discussion of the ramifications. Clearly copyright should have been an acceptable topic for discussion in the Digital Consultation. Disallowing it resulted in a credibility loss.
After all, the magnificent response to the Copyright Consultation was not what the Government wanted to hear. Certainly they didn’t want to hear it all again in the Digital Economy Consultation. Did they set out to make this Digital Economy Consultation deliberately difficult, precisely to discourage ordinary Canadian citizens from speaking up? Certainly the Government raised barriers to participation for the Digital Economy Consultation.
First Barrier: almost no lead time.
The Digital Economy Website was announced and then it was underway.
Second Barrier: Quantities of prerequisite reading.
A lot to read onsite, beginning with the Consultation Paper Improving Canada’s Digital Advantage: Strategies for Sustainable Prosperity. Copied into Open Office it ran 32 pages. The digitaleconomy.gc.ca site was bursting with links to reference material (much of it government web pages). It listed rules and regulations, defined the terms of the consultation, provided News, FAQ’s and forums, although I never saw them since there just wasn’t enough time.
There was a fair bit to read and think about before participating in the online forums or making a submission. Which would have been fine except for the time limit. Either the consultation period should have been substantially longer, or the reference and background material should have been made available online for at least a couple of weeks before the Consultation even began.
The last problem was the submission form itself. Unlike the Copyright Consultation where you could answer all the questions in one submission, the Digital Economy Consultation was segregated into different categories. You had to choose one category or another. Some people made submissions in more than one category, and some answered questions for all the categories in one submission. Either way the very process was awkward, and more difficult than it had to be.
Did they actually want submissions?
The Submissions Page
My submission was the first posted after the extension. I could have made it in under the wire– there was an hour left to submit when I finished– but once I saw the Consultation had been extended I chose to take the time to proof read.
When my submission was posted it was disappointing to see my summary wasn’t included. Instead a portion of the submission was extracted. So I uploaded it a second time. When my resubmission appeared it was added to the submission page without replacing the original.
Multiple drafts of the same submission appear to be separate submissions. A few submissions were made in both official languages, and both these appear as individual submissions to a casual perusal, again making it look as though there were more submissions.
It took quite a bit of effort just to separate the organizations from the individuals. Initially I thought it would be a simple matter to scroll through the submissions page. In many cases the extract didn’t clearly indicate if the submission was on behalf of an individual or an organization, making it necessary to read the entire summary, or even the submission. And even then there were some I still wasn’t entirely sure of.
When I noticed new submissions being added, I was curious if any submissions had been expunged, so I ran the URL through archive.org’s the WayBack Machine. This is an excellent online tool that makes digital snapshots of the web for safekeeping, and allowing for web searches into the past. But it seems the Canadian Government doesn’t allow this kind of oversight since they’ve elected to disallow robot searches.
The Government’s decision to lock out the Wayback Machine means Canadians have no way to tell if submissions have been quietly removed. Or not.
Even so, you don’t have to be a statistical analyst to see that there weren’t very many submissions at all.
Looking at the Submissions
Discounting duplicates, only 52 submissions were submitted before the original deadline.
Which sounds like an excellent reason to extend the deadline. After all, over 8,000 Submissions were made to the Copyright Consultation.
At the eleventh hour, the Government extended the deadline for four days.
During those four days another 206 submissions were made, bringing the grand total up to 258 submissions.
Before the deadline, individuals made 18 of the submissions while organizations made 34. Around half.
After the deadline extension, individuals made an additional 18 submissions, while organizations made an additional 188 submissions. That’s a stunningly different ratio, with only ten percent of post deadline submissions being made by individuals.
Four days was an odd amount of time to choose for an extension. Last year’s Copyright Consultation announced a 48 hour “grace period” to allow all the submissions to get in. Of course, the government site was being overwhelmed by the volume of last day submissions which resulted in an enormous backlog.
In a perfect world I would have liked a week to make the best submission possible, because I think it would probably have taken a week — full time — to do it properly.
So four days wasn’t really enough time for most people to come up with a comprehensive full fledged submission from scratch. But four days might be just enough time for a team.
Clearly this isn’t the case for organizations because they can spread the work around. I have to wonder why so many of these organizations came in after the initial deadline. Is it possible that some organizations didn’t even start a submission before the deadline?
Was the deadline extension to allow entities government friendly entities an opportunity to whip up quick submissions to slant the results of the Digital Economy Consultation in the direction the Government always intended to go?
Or perhaps some submissions came in deliberately too late for discussion in the idea forum? The Digital Economy Idea-Forum on the website was shut down at the same time as the submissions deadline, leaving no official place for discussion of these late submissions. Perhaps some of the late submitters hoped to avoid public scrutiny.
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I am curious. Was this consultation doomed from the beginning by stacking the deck?
Stacking the deck?
A small trickle of additional submissions are being added. A new one today. There was one yesterday, none the day before, one the day before that. Why are submissions being added after the Consultation closed?
This is the digEcon, not the copycon. It isn’t like the government is snowed in under the response– far from it. The amount of digEcon registrants was a quarter the number of submissions made for the copycon.
Not only that, the copycon didn’t post submissions locked in PDFs (with the exception of the SOCAN submission, which asked for and received special treatment), they converted them to html so they could be easily read by anyone online without forcing citizens to use the proprietary Adobe reader. (And although PDF is quasi-open source, only the proprietary Adobe reader reads Adobe PDFs properly.)
It was plausible that it would take some time to get all of the copycon submissions online. That is certainly not true here.
If these submissions were actually submitted before the (extended!) deadline, there doesn’t seem to be any legitimate rationale as to why it’s taking so long to include them. Particularly as submissions were accepted via the digEcon site’s online form.
What possible justification is there for these submissions to be posted one at a time? The most reasonable supposition is that they are still being submitted. Is it possible that some organizations made these late submissions because the Government asked them to?
If submissions are closed they should be closed to everyone. If the consultation is open, it should be open to all. Doing it this way at the very least gives the appearance of impropriety: it appears that submissions are closed unless they says what the government wants to hear.
This simply further undermines any credibility of the consultation may have had.
Shuffling the Deck
Going back to the digEcon submissions page again tonight (Thursday 22, July, 2010) things have again changed. Duplicate submissions– or at least some of them, including my initial submission — have been removed.
I can’t say either way if there are more or fewer submissions, but my numbers seem a wee bit off. There are also menu options at the top of the submissions list which allows selection of a listing of submissions by Individual or Organization as well as by “most recent”, which may or may not have been there before. It would have been extraordinarily helpful had it been there/had I noticed before.
At this time I don’t have any more time to sink into this article, so I think it’s time to cut to the chase.
The strangest submission I looked at was this: The Minister of Industry’s Advisory Committee on Assistive Devices for Persons with Disabilities, or ACAD. The digEcon is supposed to be a public consultation, but this submission was made by an Minister of Industry’s Advisory Committee. Don’t they already have access? Even more troubling, this Government Committee didn’t actually write the submission, it was made by an outside PR firm. What’s up with that?
My vote for the most incredible submission made by a corporation is the one made by Adobe Systems Canada Inc.. This submission caught my eye as one of the very few submissions made in plain text rather than sealed into an Adobe PDF requiring the use of the proprietary Adobe reader. It seems Adobe knows when it is appropriate to use PDFs.
Of the small number of submissions that were made, there does seem to be some variety.
Individuals made submissions.
Carrier/ISPs and Independent ISPs
The Internet “backbone” is made up of “Carriers”, or the companies that control the wire that the Internet travels across, namely telephone and cable wire. Internet Service Provers, or ISPs connect to the Internet through the carriers.
Some ISPs are branches of the same companies that are carriers. In addition to being Internet carriers and ISPs, many if not all of these corporations are involved in other businesses as cell phone providers, broadcasters and content creators. This certainly seems to be a recipe for anti-competitive practices at the very least, and certainly is Canada’s largest barrier to net neutrality.
Bell in particular is appears to be many different companies on paper, but in reality these are a family of Bell companies, who share similar if not the same goals. I’ve included CTVglobemedia in the Bell/Telus group since Bell is a major shareholder.
- Bell Aliant
- Bell Canada
- CCICT, “an initiative of Bell Canada”
- CTVglobemedia Inc.
- Telus: A Future Friendly Digital Economy Strategy
- Telus: A Future Friendly Digital Economy Strategy – Appendix 1
- Telus: A Future Friendly Digital Economy Strategy – Appendix 2
- Telus: A Future Friendly Digital Economy Strategy – Appendix 3
Independent Internet Service Providers
Independent ISPs acquire Internet access through the same carriers and the same wire as the carrier ISPs. The Independent ISPs compete directly with the carrier/ISPs.
Independent Internet Service Provider Submissions
Total Bell related submissions: 8
Total Carrier/ISP submissions: 12
The disproportionately large volume of input from the Bell/Telus group in particular worries me.
Currently, Canadian Internet users are living under the threat of Bell introduction of Usage Based Billing. Although not yet implemented, UBB has been approved by the CRTC with the specific intent of discouraging Canadian Internet use. The CRTC approved this as a way for Bell the carrier to practice Internet “traffic management”. The CRTC approved Usage Based Billing because Bell Canada convinced them that the best way to manage the Internet was to curb customer use by imposing caps and high prices
Because Bell thinks decreased Canadian Internet participation is a good idea.
This seems like the absolute worst thing that Canada could possibly do in terms of growing a Digital Economy. Any proposal on how the Canadian Government should manage Canada’s Digital Economy from a corporate entity that believes reducing Canadian Internet participation is a good thing makes me very nervous indeed.