Let’s talk about internet policy! In Canada! Wheee!
I ‘m serious that there are useful lessons from a saga over home internet service in Canada. What has been a promising, albeit imperfect, system for increased choices and improved internet service for Canadians is poised to fall apart.
Barring a last-minute government intervention today or Friday, many smaller internet providers in Canada are likely to significantly increase their prices and lose customers or shut down. The dream of more competition leading to better internet service for Canadians is on life support.
What is happening in Canada reveals why we need smart internet policy to be paired with strong government oversight for better and more affordable internet for all – and it shows what happens when we lose.
The US has botched it for years, and that’s one reason America’s internet service stinks. Canada may be a real-world experiment in what happens when muddled government regulation undermines internet policy that has recently been effective.
Bear with me for a lesson in Canada’s home internet service. The bottom line is that Canadians have something that is relatively novel to Americans: Many people have the choice of a home internet provider that they don’t hate.
That is because in Canada – similar to many countries including Britain, Australia and Japan – companies that own internet pipelines are required to rent businesses that have access to businesses that sell Internet services to homes. Regulators keep a close watch to make sure those rental costs and terms are fair.
Owners of Internet infrastructure in Canada and elsewhere do not like this approach. They generally say that if they must share their infrastructure and the potential profits from it, they are less incentive to improve and expand Internet pipelines.
The US in the past 20 years has not worked this way. Big companies like Comcast and Verizon own most of the Internet pipelines, and for the most part, there is no obligation to rent out access to smaller companies that may want to sell us service.
By and large, mandated and regulated leasing of internet pipelines is one reason why Europeans tend to pay far less for better internet service than we do in America, according to a 2020 analysis by New America, a left-leaning US think tank.
Canada’s internet service is still not great. But a 2019 analysis by a government agency found that while there were drawbacks to the existing rental-access approach, it was largely effective in making Internet service more competitive and pushing companies to lower costs and improve their networks and customer service.
The sticking point in Canada is the price that internet pipeline owners charge. Over the past few years, there has been legal and regulatory wrangling over the appropriate costs and terms for large companies to rent their pipelines. Smaller Canadian internet companies say that infrastructure owners misled regulators about how much it costs to build and maintain networks.
The result, after some flip-flops by government officials, is that the telecom regulator is assisted by the internet pipeline owners. Unless there is a last-minute change this week, the government is set to impose significantly higher fees for smaller internet providers than large companies’ pipelines. At least one such provider in Canada already sold itself and said it has not been able to stay in business with the new rates.
Small internet providers say Canada is about to break a system that was serving customers well.
“It will mean no uncertain terms that home internet prices will continue to rise and consumers will suffer,” said Geoff White, executive director of the Competitive Network Operators of Canada, a trade group for smaller telecom service providers. White told me that it has taken years for the Internet to become more competitive and that “it has been undone piece by piece.”
He and other critics of Canada’s Internet policy said that service providers and customers have suffered from years of regulatory limbo over the costs to lease the internet. To be sure, figuring out the right price is a complicated analysis in any country. Set prices too low or too high, and the system fails.
It’s worth paying attention to what happens in Canada. Like other essential services, including electricity and health care, great internet service does not happen by accident. It is a choice that demands a sensible mix of effective public policy and the best that capitalism can offer.
Tip of the Week
Tips for DIY gadget fixers
Brian X. Chen, the Consumer Technology columnist for The New York Times, has learned that he learned from his column this week about trying, and failing monumentally, to fix his own iPhone.
I told my story of failure using Apple’s new self-repair program, which involved renting 75 pounds’ worth of repair machines, to install a battery in my iPhone 12. I made a stupid mistake that destroyed my screen. My fault, but it speaks to how unforgiving the Apple machines are. There is virtually no room for error.
I did, however, have success installing a battery in my wife’s iPhone XS using the far more modest tool kit from iFixit, a company that publishes instructions and sells DIY repair tools. Its kits for replacing include a battery, tweezers, a screwdriver and plastic picks to cut through the glue that seals the phone together.
I have hard-earned advice if you would like to try your own electronics repairs:
Practice: Any DIYer knows that it’s rare to do a job perfectly the first time. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Before trying to pry apart your phone or laptop, hunt for lower-stakes gadgets on practice. Good candidates are an obsolete Kindle or unused iPad.
Stay organized. It’s very important to keep track of what you’re doing so you can put a gadget back together correctly. With my wife’s iPhone, I took a photo before repairing it and then labeled each screw that I removed with numbers. I put the screws in the paper trays labeled with the corresponding numbers.
Be slow and careful. Unlike repairs we can do on cars, bikes and plumbing, electronics are extremely fragile. Be delicate. Place something soft, like a lint-free cloth, on your device. Move slowly and mindfully to avoid ripping cables and stripping screws. This can actually feel meditative.
If you succeed, it will hopefully all feel worth it.
Before we go…
Hugs to this
This poor dog, Lottie, does not seem to enjoy daily group hikesGeneral Chat Chat Lounge