Saturday, December 1, 2007

Buying electromagnetic spectrum

Anyone interested in speculating on our global wireless futures would do well to note that wireless spectrum auctioned in the United States affects everyone. Let the games begin!

On home turf, things got exciting this Wednesday when Minister of Industry Jim Prentice announced a May 2008 spectrum auction where 40% of the available 2 GHz spectrum will be set aside for new players, and existing carriers (Bell, Telus, Rogers) will have to rent out their cell tower networks so that newcomers can offer roaming services while they build their own networks. (And if they fail to do so at reasonable rates, the government will send the matter to arbitration.)

The government says: "At the end of the day, our goals are lower prices, better service and more choice for consumers and businesses. That is why we are setting aside a portion of radio spectrum exclusively for new entrants into the wireless market."

The Globe&Mail's Report on Business article led with "Cellphone giants lose stranglehold" and as one might imagine, the Big Three were none too impressed. Telus had wanted the government to sell all the spectrum to the highest bidder, and Bell called the decision "one of the most regulatory and intrusive spectrum auctions in Canada." But the writer concluded that while it may be "contrary to pure free market principles [it is] in keeping with the Conservative government's populist approach and its focus on consumers."

Apparently, of all the OECD countries we're second-last before Mexico in terms of mobile phone penetration and popular opinion is that a lack of competition in the wireless arena has allowed for unchecked pricing, which in turn has stifled the industry. For example, Michael Geist estimated that the iPhone could cost $300 a month here. Clearly something needs to give, but I'm not up on my economics. When things like this happen, I have to go talk to my capitalist friends and try to suss out what it means.

For my part, I would have liked to see the government make sure that I can use any phone I want, running any software I want, on any network I want. (Yikes. Does that make me some freaky free-market type?)

And while we're dedicating spectrum - where's the space for non-profits? Or even the health system? (Phew. I think I'm safe!)

In any case, a good diagram of the known electromagnetic spectrum and different countries' management and licensing categories would make it much easier for citizens to understand what it is that someone would want to pay $4.6 billion for--and why they should care if someone does.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Regulating new (mobile) media in Canada?

What: CRTC Public Hearing
When: Monday 17 September 2007 at 9 am
Where: Conference Centre, Phase IV, 140 Promenade du Portage, Gatineau, Québec

As the Americans make their move on net neutrality, in just over a week the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will begin the public hearing to review its "approach to ownership consolidation and other issues related to the diversity of voices in Canada".

While I find many of the related issues interesting and important, I'll be there because the CRTC "has never [before] assessed whether policies need to be in place with respect to the ownership of new media undertakings in order to ensure an appropriate diversity of voices on these important new platforms." In other words, this will be the first time that the government looks specifically at regulating new media and I want to be there.

I definitely care how the CRTC tackles the matters of net neutrality, cultural plurality, public broadcasting and how technology policy is always already cultural policy, but my current research means I'll also be paying close attention to all things mobile. Major funders for new mobile media research and development in Canada include Canadian Heritage's Canadian Culture Online programme, the Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund and smaller programmes like the NFB's mobiDOCS initiative, so I expect they'll have reps there. I also hope to see some of the folks from OCAD's Mobile Experience Lab and the various Mobile Digital Commons Network projects too. But mostly, I'm curious to see if there are any private citizen concerns.

And since I've recently been writing about the differences between mobile media and wireless technologies (like the new smart meter just installed in our house), I'm also interested in seeing how these concerns play out in relation to the Broadcasting Act's mandate that the Canadian broadcasting system "should be regulated and supervised in a flexible manner that is readily adaptable to scientific and technological change [and] does not inhibit the development of information technologies and their application or the delivery of resultant services to Canadians."

Stay tuned for more after the 17th!

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Assembly of First Nations - National Day of Action

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