The CRTC fumbles, again.

The CRTC ruled this week that Bell Media cannot hold exclusive rights to streaming NHL and NFL games to their mobile devices.  This means that Bell must allow other cellular providers, like Telus and Rogers, access to their licensing deals with both the NHL and NFL so they can stream live games to their devices as well  This comes out of a challenge from Telus after Bell successfully negotiated rights deals with both the NHL and NFL.  where do I even begin…….

First off, I often criticize the CRTC of being anti-consumer, and on the surface this seems to be a very pro-consumer move.  In some ways, it is, I am more against the CRTC overstepping what should be reasonable, and this goes far beyond reasonable.

This ruling essentially means that no media company in Canada should be allowed to have exclusive rights to anything, which is unbelievable to me.  Competition is built on companies trying to get an advantage over their competitors.  For media companies, that means offering content that no one else does.  That is a strategy that will attract subscribers and viewers.  The CRTC ruling, in essence means that a media company cannot try to gain a competitive advantage over another media company by offering exclusive content.

This ruling hurts the entire chain.  Gaining exclusive rights to broadcasts is often expensive for that company.  While I'm obviously not privy to the dollar amounts, I find it very hard to believe that buying exclusive rights to streaming NFL games especially were cheap.  I would imagine that there was a bidding war for this type of content, with Bell winning out in the end because they offered the NFL the best deal for them.  Under this ruling, when future deals are negotiated what is the incentive for any company, Rogers, Bell, or Telus to really bid for content, when they know in the rules that whoever wins the rights will have to sell content to the other two as well.  This will mean fewer bids, for less money, for that content.

The CRTC's theory on this is that no one should have to choose their wireless carrier based on what streaming content they offer.  While there is some argument to that, and I do believe that Internet providers should be a pipe for customers to get whatever data they want, I can appreciate that these content deals drive the competition between them.  If Telus wanted the streaming rights to the NFL, they should have provided a better bid than Bell did.  Simple as that.

I'm not saying this move is anti-consumer.  Because in many ways, it is pro consumer.  However, I believe it is anti-competition, which is anti-consumer.  Competition is good in every business.  It means that each company is constantly striving to be better, because if they don't, their customers can walk away.  Competition is almost always good for customers because competition makes for better service.  But this week, the CRTC has decided that they have the authority to kill competition between companies in Canada, which is really the scary part.

The CRTC has proved yet again that they have no idea how to actually regulate or manage anything.  It is time to overhaul a dinosaur that has existed long before the internet was invented, and has demonstrated time and time again that it simply does not understand how to regulate an industry that looks nothing like it did at the inception of the CRTC.  If the CRTC cannot understand new media, it needs to stop trying to tell the industry how to work, as all it does in the long run is hurt the consumer.  It is as simple as that.

[Read] - Bell's streaming deals breach CRTC rules

Bandwidth and Data - Clearing up the confusion

There has been a lot of confusion over Usage Based Billing over the past few weeks.  There has been much debate on both sides of this issue.   Unfortunately, much of this debate is being had by people who do not understand the technology behind the concept.  I do not claim to be an expert, but I do believe that I can help clarify some of the confusion that has been so clear over the past few weeks.  Once again, I will mainly use Shaw as my example.  This is only because I personally have Shaw as my provider, and I have the most experience with them.  I am not trying to single Shaw out, as what I am going to talk about here is true for all Internet Service Providers. First off, nearly everyone who has talked about this story has been using the term “bandwidth cap.”  I myself am included in this.  Many people have been doing this because it makes it easier for most people to understand, and keeps some confusing terms and technology out of the discussion.  I need to clarify two things to make the rest of what I’m saying make a little more sense.

The term “bandwidth” does not actually have anything to do with the limits being put in place by the ISP’s such as Shaw.  Bandwidth is the term used to describe how fast your internet connection is.  Shaw’s high speed plan provides a bandwidth of 7.5 megabits per second (Mbps).  This means that a user can download files, videos, music, etc, at a maximum speed of 937 KiloBytes (KB) per second; or just under 1 MegaByte per second.  The High Speed Extreme plan is twice that speed.  The bandwidth that Shaw provides allows for faster downloads.

What I, and many others, have been calling the “bandwidth cap” until this point is actually a data transfer limit.  This limit governs how much data you can transfer, not how fast you can download it.  The limit on Shaw High Speed is 60GB per billing cycle, while for High Speed Extreme allows for 100GB per billing cycle.  This data transfer limit has no bearing at all on how fast you can download that data, which is your Bandwidth.

Wait, what?

To put it simply, data limits are how much you can download, and your available bandwidth is how fast you can download it.  At the end it’s pretty simple, but it’s been misrepresented to this point.  This should hopefully make my next explanation a little easier to understand.

Networks that have been built by ISP’s are very complex.  Much too complex for me to really talk about in detail here.  Shaw, Bell, Telus, Rogers all spend considerable amounts of money to build out and upgrade their networks.  This point is fact, and it can’t be disputed.  I won’t even try, because that they do spend that money for the upgrades is, in the long run, better for Canadians.  This is good, and something that we want to continue.

This brings us back to the bandwidth vs. data limits discussion.  What the ISP’s spend money on to upgrade their networks is mostly about the ability to increase available bandwidth.  The infrastructure is upgraded to allow for faster data transfers.  Now, this doesn’t mean just for you.  Part of the investment is for the “backbone” network, which is where the bulk of data is carried.  When you load a website based in Europe, the BBC for example, that website comes through a cable that literally runs through the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and then runs across North America to its destination.  The upgrades that ISP’s, as well as the major “backbone” providers that most of the public has never heard of, to allow for faster transfers.   Again, this is good for consumers, and is something that we want to continue to further expand what users can do on the internet.  The investment that the ISP’s make have allowed for improved speed on our internet in the past 10 years.

Now we talk about data transfer.  I’ll just get this out of the way first.  Data transfer over that network is not free. However, it is much closer to free than most know.  All large ISP’s have contracts or agreements with each other to allow traffic to flow from one ISP’s network to another.  This is how someone on a Shaw or Bell computer can read this website, which is hosted by a provider in the United States.  These agreements are called peering agreements, which is actually at its core a very simple thing.  Taking the example of Shaw and Bell, a peering agreement is where they build a connection between their two networks that allows data to be transferred between them.  If the overall data transfer is anywhere close to equal between both sides, most times no money changes hands, since the cost would end up being equal for both sides anyway.  In cases where the data transfer is not equal, the party with lesser traffic may have to pay for that connectivity.  However, the sheer scale of traffic that is transferred between ISP’s means that in most cases, no money does change hands.

Where money often does change hands is in an IP transit agreement.  This type of agreement is where a provider such as Shaw does not have direct access to another provider’s network, i.e. one in the United Kingdom.  In this case, Shaw would have to pay an IP Transit provider so traffic can get from Shaw’s network to the United Kingdom and vice-versa.

My understanding from communicating with people who do have direct knowledge on this is that the cost to deliver 1GB of data to a customer is 1-3 cents.  This means that at most, on a 60GB/month plan the actual cost to deliver 60GB to the user is at most $1.80.

There is a fantastic write up that goes into more detail about peering agreements and how much it costs for data transfer here.  I encourage you to read it to get a more detailed grasp on this concept.

Now, the 1-3 cents/GB does not include costs like network maintenance, labour, etc.  There is a cost to that of course, and that will increase the cost per GB overall.  However, this is why Shaw charges $37 or $47/month for the High Speed plan.  Those costs, as well as others, are built into that price that you pay per month.

However, the simple fact that Shaw would like to charge an overage fee of $2/GB when in fact it costs them 1-3 cents is a markup of approximately 6600%.  This is why they can offer the “data packs” which can give you up to 250GB for $50, which is 20 cents/GB.  Even this is a significant markup (600%) on something that is as close to free as a gigabyte of data.

So If All This Data Is Free, Why Do They Want to Charge So Much For It?

I’ve heard many arguments for UBB that bandwidth is limited, and that charging for data is a way to solve that.  Frankly, that is not true.  Bandwidth, by its definition of being how fast a provider can serve that data to you, is limited.  This is why Shaw has plans of 1, 7.5, 15, 50, and in some areas 100Mbps.  That is the physical size of the “pipe” that Shaw is providing to you, and that is what is scarce.  There is no scarcity on the actual amount of data that can be transferred to you.  The only limiting factor is how fast you can actually get it.  The cost for an ISP to provide you with 5GB of data is, in the grand scheme of things, virtually identical to how much it would cost them to provide you with 500GB of data.  It doesn’t matter whether it takes a 1 hour, 1 week, or 1 month to transfer that data to you; the actual cost of the data is the same.  The real cost is in how fast they can actually get that data to you.

Shaw, and many other providers would have the general public believe that the internet should be treated like utilities such as water.  They say that it costs money to build the pipe to deliver the product to the user, but also for the actual product they deliver.  If an area needs more water, they have to build a bigger pipe to carry more water, and there is a cost to that.  This makes sense, since water is a scarce resource, and there is a finite amount of it in the world.  However, this argument does not quite work for the internet.  While actually building the “pipe” and expanding it from time to time does cost money, the cost of actually moving data through that pipe over time is negligible.  Data, or “bits” as I like to call them, is not a finite resource, and cannot be treated as such.

The actual data transfer, which is what Bell, Shaw, and Rogers seek to limit and charge overage fees for, is actually the cheapest part of the entire equation on the internet.  This is simply another way for these companies to make money where they do not have to raise their basic rates.  They don’t even need the majority of their customers to go over the limits, since the current overages that they are charging are so inflated that the profit margin on those 10% of users is massive.

So when many ISP’s tell you that bandwidth is limited, remember two things.  First, bandwidth actually is limited.  However, in the discussion of UBB, bandwidth has absolutely nothing to do with what your ISP is charging you for overages.  While an ISP would like to have you believe that they are the same, in reality, they are trying to take the most plentiful and cheapest part of their ecosystem and pass it off as a much higher cost and limited part.

Bandwidth Caps–The Critical Mass

The issue of bandwidth caps in Canada has hit critical mass. It is being widely reported by mainstream media, and more and more people are asking questions, and voicing their opposition to these limits. This has caused the House of Commons to respond to Canadians unrest.

So how did the tipping point get reached?

I believe the final straw came when news broke on January 31st, 2011 that a small ISP in Eastern Canada, Teksavvy, was being forced to significantly reduce what it could offer its customers. As I discussed in an earlier article, Bell and Rogers are now allowed to charge smaller ISPs that lease space on their networks on the same usage based model that it can for it's customers. This essentially means that those smaller ISPs are very limited in what it can offer to it's customers. This resulted in Teksavvy having to reduce it's bandwidth limit on customers in Ontario from 200GB a month down to 25GB. This is a reduction of nearly 88%. Even a single average Canadian can use 25GB of data per month, without using any online video service like Netflix.

The reaction to this news has been overwhelming, with people finally understanding what the usage based billing model means to Canadians, and what we can expect from our ISP's.

The link to the CBC article that really started this can be found here.

This specific case has even been carried on some US based technology news websites. Ars Technica and crutchgear both had articles about this, and Tech News Today, a daily tech news show produced by the TWiT network, covered it on their show on Monday, January 31st as well cnet's Buzz Out Loud covered the issue on Tuesday, February 1st.. This issue has interested our neighbours to the south in a big way, and goes to show how big of an issue this is.

[read] – Ars Technica

[read] – crunchgear

[read] – Tech News Today

[read] – Buzz Out Loud

What will the CRTC do?

Honeslty, I have no idea. The CRTC just recently ruled that the rate that Bell can charge small ISP's for overage is to be reduced by 15%. That is not much, but it is a start. With the Government ordering a review, anything is possible. However, the CRTC does not have a history of being friendly to consumers in it's decisions. The vast majority of its rulings in the recent past on ISPs and Usage Based Billing has been in the favour of the media companies, with little regard to the consumer. Perhaps with a government ordered review the CRTC may look more carefully at the wishes of Canadians, but it really is unknown.

What is the landscape looking like in the Government

The New Democratic Party(NDP) has been in opposition of UBB since the beginning, and now with the issue hitting critical mass, more people are finding that out. On February 1 the opposition Liberal party also stated that they are opposed to the UBB model in Canada.

The Conservative government has not come out with a firm stance. Stephen Harper has called UBB "troubling" and Industry minister Tony Clement has confirmed that the government will be reviewing the CRTC decision and that it will be watched closely.

What if the CRTC doesn't change it's ruling?

Well, in that unfortunate scenario, the Government could step in and overrule the CRTC decision. With the Liberals and the NDP already stating their opposition, this would pass the House of Commons quite quickly and easily. This is one of the few issues in recent memory that all major parties agree on, and I hope that they can come together for the good of the consumer on this issue.

So does this mean that the debate is over?

Not even close. There are no guarantees yet. The CRTC could rule to keep UBB as it is. And the Government could chose not to override that decision. There is still much work to do.

The best thing you can do right now is contact your Member of Parliament, Prime Minister Harper, and Tony Clement, to voice your opposition to UBB. The next thing you can do is sign the online petition at The petition has grown by almost 75,000 signatures in the last 24 hours, and as of this writing is around 250,000.

The time to act is now. The voice of the consumer is very powerful, and hundreds of thousands of voices together can be deafening, and hard to ignore. Sign the petition, write to your MP and to the Prime Minister. Without further action this could be nothing more than window dressing.

Anything else?

This is a note relating to Shaw users. Shaw took a good step today, February 1st, and enabled it's bandwidth monitor for all of its customers. This can be accessed from Be aware that clicking on the modem usage link tries to open a pop up to display the graph. Most browsers block pop up windows automatically now, and it will have to be disabled for Shaw's website. An annoyance, but at least we have the tool now.

I found that in the previous two billing cycles my household used 77.8GB in both months, well over the 60GB cap on the plan. This is troubling because those of us in the house, especially in the December-January billing cycle, were aware of the cap and were trying to lower our usage. We did not use Netflix at all and tried to curb our streaming video usage.

We will have to monitor our usage, and if we cannot get under 60GB, will probably have to upgrade to Shaw extreme. Based on our usage we would have had $36 in overage fees, with nothing but "normal" usage.

I personally hope that the CRTC reverses the decision to allow ISPs to implement Usage Based Billing. This is nothing but a cash grab for the service providers, while Shaw is currently enjoying record profits without the UBB system in place. It is simply not needed, and only serves to crush innovation and technology in Canada, when the future moving forward is based on that technology.

[read] – Conservative and Liberal parties talking about the topic

[read] – CRTC ordered to review the decision

[read] –

[sign] – Stop the meter petition

The New Shaw Reality – Bandwidth caps: How this came to be

Editor's note: This is article #2 about Shaw's new bandwidth caps.  For article #1, please click here I received such a large response to my first post about the new Shaw Bandwidth caps, that I feel that I need to write more. I have had many questions, suggestions, and comments from people who want to know more, or have asked me to talk about certain things, and I am happy to oblige. This is the first of two more articles, the next one will talk specifically about how to monitor your bandwidth, but for now, I want to talk about how this came to be, and expand a bit more on my previous article.

Is Shaw The Only One Doing This?

If you’re in western Canada you may be surprised to learn that no, Shaw is not the first. Bell and Rogers, who are the big Internet Service Providers(ISP) in eastern Canada already have caps on their plans. Some smaller regional ISP’s are also starting to put limits on it’s users, because Bell and Rogers, who they usually lease network infrastructure from, are starting to place limits on them.  Not all regional ISP’s have these limits on their plans.

How Does Shaw Compare To The Other Providers With Caps?

To be totally honest, I’ve learned a lot as I’ve looked up my information for these articles. Shaw actually compares favorably to Rogers, and actually provides a bit more when compared to Bell at similar price points. So are Shaw’s limits exactly revolutionary?  No. That still doesn’t make them good, and them doing this will only increase awareness of what other Canadians have had to face. And it should also help to increase the awareness that these limits at their current levels by all of the ISP’s does nothing but harm the general consumer in the long term.

What About Telus?

Telus’ website does state that they have a limit of 125GB/month on their internet plans. Several people have pointed that out to me, and one individual did tell me that he was told Telus does charge overages. However, every other piece of information that I have been able to find indicates that Telus does not currently enforce this limit. In my last article I referenced a CTV story where a Telus representative stated that Telus has no intention on enforcing any limits. You can find a video of that story here:

That being said, even if Telus does being to enforce their stated limits and charging people who go over, their limit is still higher than Shaw’s at a comparable price. That does mean that Telus is still a better option if both enforced their stated limits.

So How Exactly Did This All Come About?

In May of 2010, the Canadian Radio-television Communications Commission (CRTC) approved a Bell request that allowed Internet Service Providers (ISP) in Canada to move to a Usage Based Billing(UBB) model. This means that ISP’s can charge customers based on the amount of data they use, rather than an unlimited package for a fixed price. This is the framework that has allowed Shaw, Bell, and Rogers to begin capping and charging users. As stated Telus does have a stated limit, but does not currently enforce those limits.

Wait, Doesn’t Shaw own both a Cable business, and the TV Network on it?

Shaw is a very large company that now operates a TV Network (Global TV), a Cable TV business, and an Internet service. They also operate a home phone service, and will be launching a cellular network in 2011. Shaw is absolutely not the only company that is in this situation. Rogers owns the CityTV network along with its TV, internet, phone, and cellular services. Bell is waiting for CRTC approval to buy CTV.

Many people feel that having a single company own an entire channel of content, from the content itself, to the delivery method to the end user is a bad thing for consumers. Now, whether we like it or not this is the reality in Canada, and to be totally honest, I’m not completely against it. The simple fact is that there are not many companies in Canada big enough to effectively support the kind of infrastructure it takes to run all of those services. This is partly because of past practices made to limit competition in those spaces, but facts are facts now. There is very little avenue for new companies to come in and challenge, because the cost would be prohibitive. This type of problem exists even in the United States, where Comcast, a very large ISP and Cable provider is seeking regulatory approval to purchase NBC. Now, there are things that can be done to minimize the issues brought up by this, and to make the situation better, such as the CRTC putting conditions and restrictions on those companies. The CRTC is making efforts in this space. For example as part of Shaw purchasing Global TV, Shaw must ensure that it make Global TV available to its competitors cable networks at a competitive and comparable rate.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. Could the CRTC do more? Yes. I think the system can work, as long as proper regulations are put in place to ensure that the landscape is as fair as it can possibly be.

But Shaw Hasn’t Been Completely Honest About This At All.

You’re right. Thanks to some helpful readers from the first article on this subject, I’m able to prove one of my favorite things of this whole situation. I mentioned that Shaw changed it’s Terms of Service on it’s website to reflect lower Bandwidth caps, but did not update revision date on the document. This means that Shaw edited the document without stating that it has been edited. The document changed, and they are trying to show that it hasn’t changed in months.

I am able to show this using a service by Google called Google Cache. Google Cache is a system in which Google stores older versions of web pages for archival purposes. This allows people to go back and see what websites looked like in the past.

The following is how the Shaw Terms of Service page read on December 16, 2010. The last updated date on the document is July 20, 2010.

· The guidelines for Bandwidth Usage/month for each service package are the following: Shaw High-Speed Lite — 13 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed — 75 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Extreme — 125 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Warp — 250 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Nitro — 500 GigaByte

Now here are the Shaw Terms of Service read on January 9, 2011. Again, the last updated date on the document is July 20, 2010.

· The guidelines for Bandwidth Usage/month for each service package are the following: Shaw High-Speed Lite — 15 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed — 60 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Extreme — 100 GigaByte;  Shaw High-Speed Warp Internet — 175 GigaByte; Shaw High-Speed Nitro — 350 GigaByte

The link to the Google cache webpage is here:

And the current Terms of Service can be found here:

Now, this may be an oversight by whoever did update the page. Anything is possible. However, the simple fact that Shaw chose to update its Terms of Service in a manner in which is made to look like they haven’t changed in months is something that is very worrying. Many people would call such a move deceptive, and anti-customer. I hope that this error does get corrected very soon.

EDIT: Please note that as of January 13, 2011, the Shaw Terms of Service have been updated to show the revision date of December 15, 2010.  This change was made after the publishing of this article.

On a personal note I am glad to see that Shaw has corrected the error on the page.  I can only hope it was simply an oversight on their part.

What Happens if People Steal My Bandwidth?

Then you’re pretty much screwed. Do you have a wifi network that is not password protected? If you do, you should lock it immediately, for many reasons that go beyond bandwidth. But think about this. If you have a wireless network that is not password protected, anyone who can get within range of it, and the range is usually enough to reach a front sidewalk, or several apartments over, can access it and start using your internet connection. If that person wants to, they can start downloading anything they want, and it will count against your cap. This happens in most cases completely without the knowledge of the person who has the open wifi network. A person over the course of several days could download several hundred gigabytes and you would not know until you get your bill. This is a reality that still exists. Every time I go to an area with higher density houses, there are usually several wireless networks, most of them are completely open. This is something that will shock many people. Now, granted this is something that has nothing to do with Shaw, and is something it is completely up to the user to manage, but it becomes all that much more important.

So What’s Next?

As I have said, there are only a few things a person can do. The first is to live with the new caps, and hope that you do not go over. The second is to call Shaw to voice your concerns. And the third is to switch to another provider. Needless to say I am a proponent of at the very least calling Shaw to voice your concerns. As I stated in my previous article, please be respectful if you choose to contact Shaw. Calling and yelling and demanding they reverse their changes now will not solve any problems, especially if you are talking to a front line staff member who has no control over any of those decision that are being made.

At the end of the day, the moves made by Shaw, and most of the rest of Canadian ISP’s, do nothing except hurt the consumer. They are protectionist, and expose a company that is afraid of new content delivery systems taking away from their businesses. It hurts customers who don’t even know what bandwidth is. Shaw has decided to not inform its users of this change. And unless users read their bill line-by-line every single month, most will simply have no idea what is going on.  The most troubling thing about this is that this change likely will not have a big impact right away.  It won’t start to hurt users next month, or the month after.  This is something that might really come to a head several months from now as the internet usage of the general public goes up naturally.  As more people discover content sources that are internet based the usage will go up significantly. I’ve said a few times through two articles that I’m not completely against the ideas of bandwidth caps; however the methods that Shaw has used to implement this new system have left me discouraged and frustrated. To make a change to one of their biggest services without informing it’s customers is something that cannot be forgiven or excused. That is the single biggest reason why I am upset about this process. Shaw is putting an already controversial system into place, and doing so this quietly only makes them look worse.