Thursday, February 03, 2011

Free The Internet - It Is A Public Right!

The recent debate about an open and free internet is one which speaks to our very democracy itself.

Back at the turn of the century our forefathers paid hard-earned taxes to the governments of the day. These governments helped fund provincial (mostly crown-owned) Telcos which created the basic infrastructure our internet currently sits on. BCTel, AGT/Telus, SaskTel, MTS, Bell Canada, etc., were supported by the governments in creating the heart of the network, trans-Atlantic cables, public switches, and even research and development.

Over time many of these "Bells" became privatized - with much uproar from a public who had paid for everything, only to have to pay again for access... These Bells still stayed allied for R&D with groups like "Stentor", "Nortel", etc. They did expand the networks as well. The most successful (in providing telephony to all) was SaskTel. Saskatchewan was the first province to completely make rural "party lines" (shared lines) obsolete. SaskTel continues to be a crown corporation which injects millions back to the people of Sask every year.

Around the time of the privatization of many of the telcos, several new "upstarts" emerged in the field of broadcasting. Up to around the late 1960s, TV was always free and available to everyone who wanted it by simply putting up an antenna. The new upstarts were cable companies which decided "hey, there's all this free stuff out there that we can just package and sell to the rubes - they won't care, and we'll make a fortune". These cable companies convinced local governments (WE the people) to provide free access to utility corridors and public grounds (under streets, in sewers, etc) to run their copper network.

Some people latched onto the cable idea (mostly in very large high-rises), but the idea was still basically a very bad one. Why would people pay for something that was always free - like the air we breathe? The "innovators" of cable realized they needed a catch... They decided to import American channels/networks into Canada. This began a long and storied history of battle between the CRTC and cable. The hatred of the CRTC by cable is well-known. The cable giants took every opportunity they could to get their own hacks appointed to the CRTC (usually when conservative gov'ts are in power). Conservatives were the loudest voice for killing CanCon (Canadian content) at the expense of US media. It didn't hurt that the cable giants were conservatives themselves, and funded much of the conservative election efforts (check "shareholder" sections of major ISP websites for more info).

Slowly, US networks poured into Canada, and Canadians became hooked on the vacuous, but very flashy entertainment and "news-a-tainment" from down South. NFL football didn't hurt either - no matter what it did to the CFL. Our government wanted big cable to provide Canadian content on an equal basis to the populace, but cable didn't want to. Eventually, deals were reached where cable would provide the content - as long as government and existing Canadian networks provided funding. Watch any Canadian produced show, and in almost all cases you will see the Canadian logos at the end. It was the only way Canadian content and the Canadian entertainment industry could survive in the face of the US/Cable onslaught.

There is a LOT of taxpayer funding that went into the creation of our media giants. That includes the tax breaks and grants they get from all levels of government every year, access to public lands and utilities, etc. It also includes their almost unseeming "protection" as monopolies. How many cable companies can you chose from at your current address?

We need to fix the CRTC to be more of a friend of the people it was created to protect. It is a much needed public "watchdog" - IF it is indeed playing that role.

The biggest problem is the media monopolies - they must be broken up. Access to internet should be open, cheap, and encouraged. For years we've had governments of all stripes bragging about expanding the internet to small communities, and "every corner" of Canada. They talk of it being a national priority. They provided millions upon millions of dollars to companies to start on this (but it was never completed).

These gov'ts (at all levels) keep talking about the "new economy", yet have no idea what they actually are doing. The "new economy" that is supposed to save Canada - and get us away from the ancient "hewers of wood/drawers of water" mind-set - is a digital one, an IT one. This economy can ONLY survive with open and cheap access to the internet. Knowledge and information drive that economy. It cannot be in the hands of a handful of individuals.

We keep asking why Canadians aren't engaged in politics - then we turn off the tap that feeds us the information to be engaged. It is indeed typical conservative policy to choke the poor off of access to such information. Min. Clements recent "overtures" are simply political posturing. In reality the Conservatives had to weigh their support of the decision against their hatred of the CRTC regulator (which is still a very necessary organization).

An open, accessible internet for all citizens is something ALL governments should be fighting for. This recent battle over types of billing misses the key point. The internet is the "public library" of the new millenia. It should be freely available in every Canadian home. We've all already paid for the infrastructure.

post signatureVICTORY FUND


Anonymous said...

You socialists are unbelievable. ISP provide Internet for less than most people pay for water. How much cheaper is it supposed to be? Get real!

WesternGrit said...

We're not recommending any sort of "takeover" here... And we're not socialists at all. It's about democracy. Small local companies are much better for the economy than these MNXs... Small business employs 80% of Canadians.

You are clearly mistaking references to a "free internet" as "free" internet costwise. We're implying no such thing. We advocate a breakup of monopolies, and the introduction of more, smaller competitors. The Canadian people - who invested so much into the original internet backbone in this land - deserve a reasonably priced service. The monopolies that exist preclude this.

Thanks for your "anonymous" comment. It seems you didn't read the entire post...

Anonymous said...

It seems you don't understand the definition of monopoly. What you're really referring to are large businesses. You see, if there was a monopoly in the ISP business then there would only be ONE business. But the socialist streak in you wants to re-engineer the efficient make up the market has created. I don't mind encouraging more competition. That would be a great approach. No, you prefer the socialist approach. And besides, as I state above, my monthly water bill is more expensive than my Internet bill. Oh, and guess who runs the water systems in Canada. You guessed it, government.

WesternGrit said...

Anon: Having worked at a major ISP, I know a thing or two about what I'm writing. For the most part you do have very little choice of providers in Canada.

I back small business. Not big MNCs. Cross ownership in Canada's media is a pox on our democracy. I'll explain further when I get back from grocery shopping.

... Oh... and I AM a business owner. Not exactly a socialist. I just have an open mind.