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Self-Serving in the Extreme: Bell’s Broadcast and Telecom Submission to the BTLR Revealed

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Tue, 2019/05/28 - 10:49

The government’s expert panel on broadcast and telecommunications law reform is expected to release its preliminary report on the results of its public consultation next month. The panel has remarkably kept the submissions to the consultation secret, rejecting an open and transparent policy making process that the government insists is essential to good policy development. I filed an Access to Information Act request for some of the more notable submissions (some have been made available and are posted online by the FRPC). An interim release of that request just arrived in my inbox and I’ll have a couple of posts on point over the next few days.

This post starts with the submission from Bell, which was released via ATIP and which I’ve posted for research and news reporting purposes. The running theme from Bell is a simple one: regulate others, but not us. For example, the Bell online video regulation proposal conveniently seeks to regulate Netflix, Amazon, and other large U.S. providers while largely avoiding regulation for Canadian-based services. It does so by limiting regulation to those Canadian services with $300 million or more in revenue from online video services (likely no one right now) vs. the same $300 million threshold or $1 billion in total global revenues for foreign operators (thereby capturing Netflix, Amazon, CBS, Disney, etc.). Bell acknowledges the difference, effectively arguing that Canadian policy should encourage Canadian market entry without regulation and that domestic market entrants have long been supporting the system.

As for the proposed regulation, Bell wants a mandated contribution of 20% of Canadian revenues to support Cancon. It argues that the same foreign companies that would be required to pay into the system would be ineligible to access the funding nor able to use their existing investments to off-set the mandated contributions. This is notable for several reasons. First, foreign sources are already outspending Canadian broadcasters such as Bell on priority programming such as English-language drama, yet Bell argues that spending is irrelevant. Moreover, while Canadian entities would be able to tap into the Canadian funding, companies such as Netflix would be required contribute hundreds of millions of dollars without being able to do the same.

According to Bell, the lack of access to funding for Canadian programming is irrelevant, since it claims foreign providers don’t want Canadian content. It argues:

In reality, it is pointless to expect foreign OTT providers to focus on qualified Canadian productions as they simply want content not that is uniquely Canadian but that is designed to reflect audiences in its largest markets and is attractive to all international markets in which they operate.

Why Canadian content can’t be both – of interest to Canadians and a global market – is not explained. Nor does Bell square its concern with the rising costs it faces to acquire foreign programming from the U.S., demonstrating telling Canadian stories is hardly a corporate priority.

The incredibly one-sided proposal would surely be subject to a trade challenge under the USMCA. While the trade deal features a carve out for the cultural sector, the U.S. would be entitled to retaliate against the measures with equivalent costs to Canadian firms. In other words, get ready for hundreds of millions in new tariffs against Canada if the Bell proposal were to be adopted.

Online video is not the only cash grab that Bell has in mind. After years of debate over television fees was put to rest in 2012, Bell brings back the fee-for-service issue, arguing for payments for local television signals. Payments for local television signals would presumably only exacerbate the cord cutting trends of recent years with increased cable fees for programming that is already being abandoned by many Canadians.

No Bell submission would be complete without a call for website blocking. Bell resurfaces its arguments for the FairPlay site blocking system (even including one of its CRTC submissions as an appendix). In addition to changes to support site blocking within the Telecommunications Act, Bell wants an expansive new criminal prohibition in the Broadcast Act that would make it a criminal offence to knowingly “operate, advertise, supply or sell or offer to sell access to a distribution undertaking that retransmits broadcasting without lawful authorization from a programming undertaking.” In other words, Bell is calling for widespread criminalization of anyone even tangentially associated with unauthorized online video streaming.

Bell also wants its privacy obligations under the Telecommunications Act eliminated. It argues that the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has applied a lower standard to companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon than it has to Canadian telecommunications companies. Bell’s claim rests on requirements that it obtain express consent for its consumer surveillance program (referred to as a relevant advertising program), whereas it argues that other companies do not face the same requirement. It describes this as an “Internet platform privacy gap” and it wants the same standard applied to all (how eliminating the CRTC’s role over privacy would achieve this is not explained).

While Bell is all-in on regulation for broadcast competitors, it adopts the reverse approach in telecom, where it urges the BTLR to lighten its regulatory burden. To support its position, Bell unsurprisingly spends considerable time trotting out largely discredited arguments about the competitiveness of the Canadian wireless market (“over the course of three decades, it has been repeatedly determined that the wireless market is competitive.”) There are the cherry-picked data points, but few answers for the consistent global comparisons that point to Canada as one of the world’s most expensive wireless markets.

Indeed, on the question of competition, Bell argues “there is consensus among the Commission, the Competition Bureau, and the Government in support of that [facilities-based competition] policy.” Obviously, the submission pre-dates more recent developments that suggest the consensus is shifting in the opposite direction with the government’s proposed policy direction and the CRTC’s new position on MVNO’s both pointing to support for a policy objective that supports all forms of competition.

Rather than regulation in support of greater competition, Bell provides the panel with a prescription for reduced or eliminated regulation wherever possible. In fact, even the provisions that support net neutrality (Bell otherwise ignores the issue) would be lightened with a reversal of where the onus lies on proving wrongdoing and a weakening of Section 36 to facilitate website blocking.

The net effect of the 167 page submission is self-serving in the extreme: higher wireless and entertainment costs for consumers, competitive advantages for Bell, the risk of a trade war with the United States, harms to net neutrality, and an extensive regulatory system aimed at Bell’s competitors. Even in an era where one expects companies to argue in their self-interest, the Bell submission is shocking in the risks it posses to virtually all stakeholders in the Canadian communications world.

The post Self-Serving in the Extreme: Bell’s Broadcast and Telecom Submission to the BTLR Revealed appeared first on Michael Geist.

Routing Detours: Can We Avoid Nation-State Surveillance?

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/08/30 - 18:44
Since 2013, Brazil has taken significant steps to build out their networking infrastructure to thwart nation-state mass surveillance.  For example, the country is deploying a 3,500-mile fiber cable from Fortaleza, Brazil to Portugal; they’ve switched their government email system from Microsoft Outlook to a state-built system called Expresso; and they now have the largest IXP […]

Differential Privacy is Vulnerable to Correlated Data — Introducing Dependent Differential Privacy

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/26 - 09:57
[This post is joint work with Princeton graduate student Changchang Liu and IBM researcher Supriyo Chakraborty. See our paper for full details. — Prateek Mittal ] The tussle between data utility and data privacy Information sharing is important for realizing the vision of a data-driven customization of our environment. Data that were earlier locked up […]

Language necessarily contains human biases, and so will machines trained on language corpora

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/24 - 16:32
I have a new draft paper with Aylin Caliskan-Islam and Joanna Bryson titled Semantics derived automatically from language corpora necessarily contain human biases. We show empirically that natural language necessarily contains human biases, and the paradigm of training machine learning on language corpora means that AI will inevitably imbibe these biases as well. Specifically, we look at […]

Security against Election Hacking – Part 2: Cyberoffense is not the best cyberdefense!

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/08/18 - 09:00
State and county election officials across the country employ thousands of computers in election administration, most of them are connected (from time to time) to the internet (or exchange data cartridges with machines that are connected).  In my previous post I explained how we must audit elections independently of the computers, so we can trust the […]

Security against Election Hacking – Part 1: Software Independence

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/17 - 09:27
There’s been a lot of discussion of whether the November 2016 U.S. election can be hacked.  Should the U.S. Government designate all the states’ and counties’ election computers as “critical cyber infrastructure” and prioritize the “cyberdefense” of these systems?  Will it make any difference to activate those buzzwords with less than 3 months until the […]

Can Facebook really make ads unblockable?

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/08/11 - 17:18
[This is a joint post with Grant Storey, a Princeton undergraduate who is working with me on a tool to help users understand Facebook’s targeted advertising.] Facebook announced two days ago that it would make its ads indistinguishable from regular posts, and hence impossible to block. But within hours, the developers of Adblock Plus released an […]

The workshop on Data and Algorithmic Transparency

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/10 - 09:57
From online advertising to Uber to predictive policing, algorithmic systems powered by personal data affect more and more of our lives. As our society begins to grapple with the consequences of this shift, empirical investigation of these systems has proved vital to understand the potential for discrimination, privacy breaches, and vulnerability to manipulation. This emerging […]

A response to the National Association of Secretaries of State

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/08/09 - 08:11
Election administration in the United States is largely managed state-by-state, with a small amount of Federal involvement. This generally means that each state’s chief election official is that state’s Secretary of State. Their umbrella organization, the National Association of Secretaries of State, consequently has a lot of involvement in voting issues, and recently issued a […]

Supplement for Revealing Algorithmic Rankers (Table 1)

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/05 - 05:35
Table 1: A ranking of Computer Science departments per csrankings.org, with additional attributes from the NRC assessment dataset. Here, the average count computes the geometric mean of the adjusted number of publications in each area by institution, faculty is the number of faculty in the department, pubs is the average number of publications per faculty […]

Revealing Algorithmic Rankers

Freedom to Tinker - Fri, 2016/08/05 - 05:35
By Julia Stoyanovich (Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Drexel University) and Ellen P. Goodman (Professor, Rutgers Law School) ProPublica’s story on “machine bias” in an algorithm used for sentencing defendants amplified calls to make algorithms more transparent and accountable. It has never been more clear that algorithms are political (Gillespie) and embody contested choices (Crawford), […]

Election security as a national security issue

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/08/03 - 13:11
We recently learned that Russian state actors may have been responsible for the DNC emails recently leaked to Wikileaks. Earlier this spring, once they became aware of the hack, the DNC hired Crowdstrike, an incident response firm. The New York Times reports: Preliminary conclusions were discussed last week at a weekly cyberintelligence meeting for senior officials. […]

Brexit Exposes Old and Deepening Data Divide between EU and UK

Freedom to Tinker - Mon, 2016/07/25 - 10:45
After the Brexit vote, politicians, businesses and citizens are all wondering what’s next. In general, legal uncertainty permeates Brexit, but in the world of bits and bytes, Brussels and London have in fact been on a collision course at least since the 90s. The new British prime minister, Theresa May, has been personally responsible for […]

Pokémon Go and The Law: Privacy, Intellectual Property, and Other Legal Concerns

Freedom to Tinker - Tue, 2016/07/19 - 10:59
Pokémon Go made 22-year-old Kyrie Tompkins fall and twist her ankle. “[The game]  vibrated to let me know there was something nearby and I looked up and just fell in a hole,” she told local news outlet WHEC 10. So far, no one has sued Niantic or The Pokémon Company for injuries suffered while playing […]

A Peek at A/B Testing in the Wild

Freedom to Tinker - Thu, 2016/05/26 - 09:40
[Dillon Reisman was previously an undergraduate at Princeton when he worked on a neat study of the surveillance implications of cookies. Now he’s working with the WebTAP project again in a research + engineering role. — Arvind Narayanan] In 2014, Facebook revealed that they had manipulated users’ news feeds for the sake of a psychology study […]

The Princeton Web Census: a 1-million-site measurement and analysis of web privacy

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/05/18 - 11:59
Web privacy measurement — observing websites and services to detect, characterize, and quantify privacy impacting behaviors — has repeatedly forced companies to improve their privacy practices due to public pressure, press coverage, and regulatory action. In previous blog posts I’ve analyzed why our 2014 collaboration with KU Leuven researchers studying canvas fingerprinting was successful, and […]

Is Tesla Motors a Hidden Warrior for Consumer Digital Privacy?

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2016/05/18 - 07:00
Amid the privacy intrusions of modern digital life, few are as ubiquitous and alarming as those perpetrated by marketers. The economics of the entire industry are built on tools that exist in shadowy corners of the Internet and lurk about while we engage with information, products and even friends online, harvesting our data everywhere our […]
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