Why I’m Not Participating

On July 11, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission — the CRTC — began hearings on Telecom Notice of Consultation 2011-77, a review of the future billing practices for wholesale residential high-speed access services. In other words, the Commission is reviewing their past decisions on Usage-Based Billing (UBB) and the now proposed Aggregated Volume Pricing (AVP) before either billing method has even been implemented.

I chose to not participate in the current CRTC proceeding. Here’s why.

The Proceeding

First, it’s important to understand that a CRTC proceeding is a rather restrictive government process. All public notices of consultation deal with a single issue. For example, this particular CRTC proceeding deals specifically with “Aggregated Volume Pricing”, or how the owners of the “last mile” network (i.e. the phone and cable TV lines) will bill independent Internet service providers for access to the “last mile” connection to your home. AVP is offered as an alternative to the original UBB proposal of billing for “data consumption”.

Participants in CRTC proceedings (officially known as “intervenors”) aren’t allowed to discuss any other subject matter even when these subjects are heavily intertwined with the current proceeding. As a result, the different business divisions of vertically integrated corporations are shielded from one another from a regulatory point of view. Even if you had solid evidence that UBB or AVP is exploited not only as a cash grab, but also as a means to slow down the progress of competing Over-The-Top (OTT) services such as Netflix, you’re not allowed to discuss or even mention OTT at all since they’re not part of the current proceeding.

So while the large media corporations have the luxury of working with both the forest and the trees, the CRTC restricts everyone’s field of vision to individual trees only. It doesn’t matter if UBB, AVP, telephone, cable TV, VOD services and OTT services are all mutually interconnected from the point of view of a large corporation. This proceeding is specifically about AVP and nothing else regardless of any correlation with any other services.

The large corporations have been exploiting this cross-subject protectionism to their advantage for decades.

The Preparation

Pretty much anyone can submit written comments to the Commission via the Internet in regards to any of the proceedings currently open for discussion. You can also request to present your comments in person to the Commission. If the CRTC accepts to hear your comments in person during the hearings, you’ll need to prepare a five to twenty minute presentation (usually ten minutes) to be made either in front of the Commission or via on-line video conferencing from one of the CRTC’s regional offices.

Such presentations can take days if not weeks to prepare. It’s very easy to create a detailed presentation when the length of the presentation isn’t a factor. But when your presentation time is limited, you soon discover that ten minutes is equivalent to a three page document. You find yourself spending an insane amount of time trying to get all of your points across within three pages without sounding like a complete lunatic.

And even if you do manage to present your point of view in the allotted time, you still need to back up your statements with evidence. You can’t just say “such-and-such-company is doing this because of that.” You must demonstrate how you’ve reached that conclusion by properly presenting all of the details of your evidence in your accompanying documents.

It’s not unusual for some presentations to take weeks if not months to prepare, which is why most presenters consist of large corporations that can afford to assign large teams to the time consuming task of preparing the presentations and documenting the evidence.

Evidence Concealment and Deceit

It’s also possible for a business to submit evidence to the CRTC in confidence if the business believes that public disclosure of said evidence could give other businesses a competitive advantage. This is a common request when the submitted evidence includes the company’s own internal numbers such as bandwidth usage statistics and operating costs.

This means the CRTC will accept evidence submitted in confidence, which automatically denies other participants the opportunity to review, analyze, and potentially discredit the submitted evidence. This shroud of confidentiality gives predominantly large corporations an opportunity to strategically lie to the Commission, with little or no chance that any of these lies will ever become public knowledge.

And even if such lies were uncovered at a later date, the huge revenue streams created with the help of falsified data submitted to the Commission will more than make up for any penalties and fines levied against the guilty parties.

As for the competition, any bad decision made by the CRTC would have put them out of business long ago. They are no longer relevant.

Conflicts of Interest

Here are the Commissioners presiding over the current hearing, along with some of their past work experience before joining the CRTC.

  • Chairperson Konrad von Finckenstein: civil servant since 1973, various positions.
  • Vice Chairman Tom Pentefountas: two years with CKDG-FM Montreal, five years with the Action Démocratique political party.
  • Commissioner Timothy Denton: two years with CIRA, two years with CAIP, two years with the Minister of Communications.
  • Commissioner Michel Morin: eight years with the CBC.
  • Commissioner Marc Patrone: 14 years with CTV.
  • Commissioner Candace J. Molnar: more than two decades with SaskTel.
  • Commissioner Leonard Katz: 17 years with the Rogers Group, 11 years with Bell Canada.

Have you noticed the particulars of the last two Commissioners? A combined fifty years of experience with large telecommunications corporations, corporations that have the most to gain with the forced implementation of Usage-Based Billing style payment schemes on all Internet service providers.

This is a monumental conflict of interest.

There is absolutely no way to be certain if Commissioner Molnar’s and Commissioner Katz’s past experience with large telecommunications corporations may or may not influence their ability to reach an impartial decision in the current proceeding. Even if they swear under oath to not let their past experience influence their decision in the current proceeding, they still have the potential to be influenced subconsciously through their ties with former colleagues and current friends and associates. They also have the potential to consciously or subconsciously influence the other Commissioners presiding over the same proceeding.

Commissioner Timothy Denton is also in a potential conflict of interest for his previous experience with a domain name registry and an ISP advocacy group, although that combined experience is limited to a total of four years.

These conflicts of interest are analogous to a courtroom proceeding where the judge or a member of the jury is or has been personally involved with either the prosecution or the defence. Such individuals would be required to withdraw from the case due to the huge potential for bias and preferential treatment towards either side of the case. But with the CRTC, there is no requirement for a Commissioner to withdraw from any of the proceedings due to a possible conflict of interest with any of the interested parties.

How can I possibly present an effective argument against UBB and AVP if some of the Commission’s own members might have already reached a decision before the hearings have even begun?

Their Own Worst Enemy

But even if there were no conflicts of interest in the higher echelons of the CRTC, that doesn’t mean UBB or AVP could be more easily defeated. One thing I’ve noticed during past CRTC hearings is that the consumer panels and public advocacy groups are for the most part extremely poor presenters.

Poor pronunciation, poor pacing, poorly worded presentations… Even when the participants manage to deliver an excellent presentation in front of the Commission, many individuals quickly go from “hero” to “zero” when the Commissioners start asking questions. The participants struggle to answer the questions in a clear and concise manner, with their presentations completely destroyed by their inability to answer even reasonably simple questions.

The problem is that individuals or public advocacy groups can be so convinced over the validity of their own arguments, that they can’t imagine anyone asking the type of questions that could effectively counteract and even discredit those arguments even during a public process where such questions are commonplace. Too many participants have presented themselves in front of CRTC proceedings ill prepared and incapable of properly answering the Commission’s questions, mumbling and stumbling their way through their poorly worded and often incoherent answers.

This self-centered perception of the subject matter not only affects the current presenter’s performance, it can also alter the Commission’s perception of the presentations to follow. I’m not interested in following someone who bombed so miserably in front of the CRTC that my own presentation might be completely ignored, and all of my hours of preparatory work are suddenly transformed into a monumental waste of time.

What’s The Point?

Restrictive subjects of discussion, extremely long and difficult preparation times, potentially falsified evidence submitted in confidence, conflicts of interest, and shoddy presentations and rebuttals by the participants.

There’s no point for me to even try to present to the Commission an effective argument against Usage-Based Billing and Aggregated Volume Pricing under these nearly impossible conditions. My time would be better spent expressing my objections against the UBB and AVP fraud outside of official government proceedings with the hope that someone in government with enough power to implement true reforms against this broken down system will sincerely pay attention to what I have to say.

And if UBB or AVP does become the norm, I might consider pledging allegiance to another nation, one whose national broadband strategy is more in tune with my future aspirations. There’s no point in me continuing to be the citizen of a country that would deliberately hold back my growth both as an individual and as a productive member of society.

And chances are I’m not the only person considering a move to greener digital pastures.

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