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Taking It to the Streets

Mark Goldberg

It is interesting to see telecommunications policy issues being covered by the general media. Of course, we expect to see coverage of communications issues in the business press. The sector is a large employer, makes massive investments in infrastructure and virtually every citizen buys communications products and services every month. Still, covering the sector in the business section is different from seeing coverage move to the front page or the general editorial pages.

Even then, it is perhaps more expected for telecom policy to be covered in The Washington Post. But it struck me as unusual for an OpEd to appear in The Detroit News.

In "Who is winning the broadband race?”, Richard Bennett makes an argument that resonates with thoughts I have expressed on these pages:

Too often, however, enthusiasts simply skim the surface of broadband statistics on speed and price and reach erroneous conclusions. While it certainly is the case that a dozen or so nations score higher than the U.S. on speed tests, it's not always the case that the gap between the U.S. and the higher-scoring nations is significant; and even if it were, in many cases the higher speeds in other nations are caused by factors that have nothing to do with policy and regulation.

The US is in the midst of a review of broadband regulation, largely centred on a belief that its Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to be empowered to assert authority over network neutrality issues. Some of the proposals being floated would declare internet services to be regulated as "common carrier" services, contrasted with the long standing treatment as "information services". Verizon filed a paper with the FCC arguing that such a declaration would not withstand a court challenge.

Bennett's article concludes:

In reality, the nations that have treated broadband networks as public utilities are high on promises and low on results. France and Italy are the truest examples of the utility model for broadband; wired broadband in France is no faster than mobile broadband, and Italy has the slowest networks in the G7.

AT&T recently argued that some service providers are investing in regulation, rather than investing more in building networks.

It is great to see more citizens getting engaged in telecom policy issues. I like seeing coverage in the media. Unfortunately, a recent report on coverage of Net Neutrality said "Experts Agree: Majority of the Media is Missing Something on Net Neutrality” The Society of Professional Journalists hosted a discussion on "Why Media Should Care about Net Neutrality."

Among many salient points made, there were two main takeaways:

  1. It is imperative for the media to get it right when discussing net neutrality, and
  2. The majority of the media don't get it right.

Many similar issues are coming up in Canadian regulatory proceedings as we see in other jurisdictions. TV unbundling, wireless competition, wholesale internet access, net neutrality. These communications policy issues are complex and often benefit from looking at secondary and tertiary impacts. I have talked about the complexity in the past, referring to the need to think 3 moves ahead, like a chess master.

How can we help "get it right" in reporting?

How can we help drive even more engagement, and more informed engagement, in the processes by a broad spectrum of consumers?

By Mark Goldberg, Telecommunications Consultant
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