Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
David Christopher

GET UPDATES FROM David Christopher
 

The Closed-Door Media Talks That Could End the Open Internet

Posted: 07/20/2013 7:52 am

Big Media lobbyists and unelected bureaucrats are holding closed-door meetings in Malaysia this week, as they continue secret talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a highly secretive and extreme trade deal being negotiated by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Peru, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the United States, Singapore, and Vietnam.

Reports from Malaysia indicate that the TPP talks are stalled over five key issues -- including a key chapter on copyright and Intellectual Property rights that would censor and criminalize Internet use. This is not good news for Big Media lobbyists, who are demanding the TPP include extreme new copyright rules that could end the open Internet as we know it. Big Media is spending a fortune on lobbying as they try to shore up an old-fashioned, high-cost command and control media business model that no longer makes sense in the Internet age.

TPP organizers are going to incredible lengths to lock citizens out of these negotiations -- when talks recently took place in Vancouver, Canada's trade ministry instituted what amounted to a media blackout, even refusing to tell journalists in which part of town the talks were taking place. TPP documents are top secret -- unless you're one of just 600 big industry lobbyists invited to take part.

Why all this secrecy? Well, because what's on the negotiating table is so unpopular that it would never pass with the whole world watching. We know from leaked documents that the TPP contains extreme proposals on copyright that would never pass muster with the public. According to the drafts Big Media's extreme proposals would criminalize your online activity, invade your privacy, and cost you money.

But it's starting to look like they've bitten off more than they can chew, as, despite the secrecy, word is spreading fast about Big Media's secret and extreme proposals. Citizens across the region are speaking out, with over 15,000 citizens and 30 major organizations uniting behind the Our Fair Deal Coalition, which is demanding an end to restrictive copyright proposals and a fair deal for the future of the Internet.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is also sounding the alarm, noting that Big Media's proposals mean that: "normal online activities could lead you to be cut off from the Internet, have your computer seized, be fined up to $150,000, or even land you in prison."

With talks stalled, momentum is rapidly building behind the campaign to open up the talks to citizen input. Over 23,000 have told U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman not to criminalize our Internet, with thousands more speaking out on Facebook and on Twitter.

All this citizen pressure is delivering results, with heavyweight decision-makers like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren now demanding transparency and an open, public debate about the implications of the TPP.

Here at OpenMedia we're working closely with our international allies to open up the closed and secretive TPP process to the public. Citizen voices and the Internet community in general must be heard, and we'll be launching an exciting and positive new initiative next week to ensure they will be. Watch this space!

Remember -- Big Media lobbyists and unelected bureaucrats need you to stay silent for their plans to succeed. The Internet needs you to speak out -- do so now by joining the Our Fair Deal Coalition at http://OurFairDeal.org, and spread the word by sharing this article with your friends.

Loading Slideshow...
  • QUESTION

    How much of the code is new?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Marc Choma of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, the industry lobby group representing incumbent players:</em> A lot of these things are already common practice from carriers, but I think it’s good that consumers, on a national basis, know this and it applies to everybody. It’s going to supercede any provincial legislation and that was our main goal going into this because we were seeing a patchwork of regulations across provinces and it was costing the industry a lot of money to adapt their systems potentially 13 different ways.

  • QUESTION

    Are there any restrictions in the code that will prevent the cost of two-year contracts going up as a result of the new rules?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> The CRTC wireless code proceeding did not address pricing, as the Commission had previously determined that there is sufficient competition to protect consumer interests with respect to rates. Service providers are free to determine their rates for service and how much will be charged for phones up front. At the same time, improving consumers’ abilities to switch providers should push service providers to compete on price.

  • QUESTION

    How will the shorter contract length affect handset costs?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Steve Anderson, executive director of OpenMedia.ca, a wireless consumer advocacy group:</em> It’s unclear. There’s no market reason while the cell phone companies would suddenly raise the cost of cellphone service because people are on shorter contracts. So if they do that it’s really just price gouging. They could try and raise upfront handset costs, but the Canadian companies have higher revenue per user than any other telecom companies in the world and other places where we have two-year contracts, the device cost is not higher than it is in Canada, a great example is the U.S. (Pictured: Steve Anderson of OpenMedia)

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Lawford:</em> It’s call your bluff time. The CRTC is saying “let’s see if it’s true that really your costs are so high and that really you're subsidizing these devices so much, or is it that you’re locking people in so the contract is longer than the usable life of the device?” If we send people back in the market every two years is that going to make competition pick up the slack. If they all go up in lockstep, [then] the Competition Bureau should be looking into what’s going on. Pictured: John Lawford of PIAC

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Changing the length of the subsidy from three years to two years can actually raise the price of the upfront cost for your device. So before you had the option of putting it over three years and you could get a much lower rate for your phone, but now you’ve only got 24 months to earn that subsidy back. Obviously, carriers are going to have to adapt their business models to comply with that. But we’ll have to wait and see how carriers respond.

  • QUESTION

    The new rules allow a fully purchased handset to be unlocked immediately or a subsidized handset to be unlocked in 90 days. What effect will this have?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Anderson of OpenMedia.ca:</em> Unlocking the phone means it’s easier to switch carriers, easier to go international and use different services that aren’t Canadian, so it makes it more affordable. But I also think that area could have been better, for example they didn’t talk about what the cost of unlocking would be. And even the 90-day part could have been stronger. If I get a contract for a phone I should be able to do what I want with it. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Most carriers already do that now and some of them actually do it before 90 days now.

  • QUESTION

    Are providers allowed to charge a fee to unlock a phone?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from CRTC:</em> Yes. Since the CRTC did not examine rates or prices, it is up to the provider to decide on their unlocking fee. However, as of December 2, that rate must be clearly identified in your contract and your critical information summary. <em>Answer from Shawn Hall, Telus spokesman:</em> We already do that – we charge $35 and allow unlocking after 90 days. That covers our costs of providing the service.

  • QUESTION

    What are the effects of the new rules on people who are not on a contract or already have their phones unlocked? 

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> People not currently on a contract will be covered if they sign a contract after December 2. If they are currently on an indeterminate or month-to-month contract, they will be covered as of December 2. <em>Answer from Marc Choma of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association:</em> Most of the elements of the Code deal with contract services, so the impact on no-contract customers that already own their unlocked phone would be minimal.

  • QUESTION

    Do the caps mean the carriers will cut off your data or roaming after a certain point?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Anderson of OpenMedia.ca:</em> What’s expected is once you hit your limit in data roaming charges, you’ll receive a text message notification asking if you’re okay with that and do you want to continue. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Most carriers already provide notifications when you are approaching your data limit, or provide you with notification that you are roaming and how to purchase roaming packages. With the new code, a customer's data services will be automatically suspended once the customer has reached $50 of usage, unless the customer expressly consents to override the $50 default limit. In the case of international roaming, a customer's service would be suspended after the customer has reached $100 of usage, again, unless the customer expressly consents to override the $100 default limit. <em>Answer from Telus:</em> Currently, Telus caps international data roaming at $200. We send customers a free text message when they hit that point letting them know (after a series of usage notifications starting at 2 MBs), and will only reactivate roaming if they ask us to. <em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> The code doesn’t prescribe how carriers should do it. The way the code is set, there is a maximum amount carriers can charge unless they make specific arrangements with the consumer or the cell user gives consent to continue after a notification is delivered.

  • QUESTION

    Why did the CRTC decide on two-year contracts, rather than one year, the direction the rest of the world is taking?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> The Commission looked at what would be best for Canadians. Many jurisdictions feature two-year contracts – we also heard evidence during the hearing that multi-year contracts with subsidized devices allow Canadians to get new, sophisticated devices at a lower upfront cost. <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> We’re in Canada, so we’re always behind. They could have done that too, but then they would have almost certainly raised everybody’s rates, at least the cost of a handset quite a bit. I hope that as the two-year contract becomes standard the one-year will become a competitive offering.

  • QUESTION

    Are the new rules on three-year contracts retroactive? Can I get out of a three-year contract today?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from CRTC:</em> The rules apply, as of December 2, to all new contracts. In addition, on June 3, 2015, all wireless customers are covered, regardless of when their contract was signed. In practice, that means that if someone signed a contract in May 2013, then on June 3rd 2015, they can cancel without penalty. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> With most carriers right now, there isn’t a cancellation fee. If you want to cancel, you just cancel and pay off your device subsidy.

  • QUESTION

    Can a consumer use the new rules as an argument to fight an "outrageous roaming bill" they receive before they are technically protected?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from CRTC:</em> Consumers are always free to contact their service provider to contest a bill. The service provider is not obligated to lower the bill simply because new rules are on the horizon. <em>Answer from Choma of CWTA:</em> Yes they could. However, the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) is already available for consumers that have billing issues. The CCTS will also be the body responsible for enforcing the new Code. <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> No. In the meantime you can go to the CCTS and say the rate being billed wasn’t made clear. The CCTS has a history of knocking those down unless the company can show the customer was made very aware of what was going on.

  • QUESTION

    If you decide to get out of a three-year contract after 2 years, do you still have to pay fees like the cost of the handset?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from the CRTC:</em> If you currently have a contract and you want to exit, you will likely be charged a cancellation fee, which is determined by your service provider. Some provinces have rules setting out how these fees must be calculated. Once the code is in force, you will be able to exit after two years without any penalty or fee.

  • QUESTION

    Sky high billing is the biggest concern in Canada. Why weren't rates per second and per megabyte addressed?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from CRTC:</em> The CRTC’s wireless code proceeding did not address pricing, as the Commission had previously determined that there is sufficient competition to protect consumer interests with respect to rates. The new rules will enable consumers to make informed decisions and shop around for the best deal that meets their needs. In addition, the rules around bill shock, including caps on data and roaming, will reduce the high bills that some consumers see. <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> The code wasn’t intended to reduce rates or touch rates at all. The whole premise behind us even getting any rules was we’re not talking about rates because the CRTC says, "We’re not rate regulating, all we’re doing is putting in standards so everyone is treated relatively fairly." The Commission could regulate rates, but they don’t. But addressing high rates is the next step, so that [question is] onto something.

  • QUESTION

    Will providers have to show separately the handset cost consumers pay each month?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from CRTC:</em> No. However, the service provider will need to clearly indicate the price of the phone, and any discount, in the contract and on the critical information summary.

  • QUESTION

    So is there any incentive before or after the rules come into effect in December to choose a three-year contract?

  • ANSWER

    <em>Answer from Lawford of PIAC:</em> If the code’s coming out in December a lot of people will be wondering, "Should I lock in now if they offer me three years or wait until to get a two year [contract]?" You could wait and get the benefit of the code or cash in on a sweetheart deal for a three-year plan ahead of the code, which carriers are likely to offer. There will be some pretty nice deals coming even at the end of the summer, trying to get people in on the three-year plan. <em>Answer from Anderson of OpenMedia.ca:</em> After the rules go into effect, there may be some trinkets that they put into a three-year contract that they won’t put into a two-year contract, but you’ll still be able to leave whenever you want, so I think they might find ways to add value to three-year contracts and get people to sign onto them.

 

Follow David Christopher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dchristopher_bc

FOLLOW CANADA BUSINESS