Internet Monopolies Walls are Going to Tumble

Telus better pack it up or get right!

Telus better pack it up or get right!

Dallas     At the ACORN Canada staff training and then the management meeting in Montreal, we spent a LOT of time assessing and strategizing about our next steps on our Digital Access to Opportunities campaign which, plainly stated, continues to be our effort to build bridges for lower income families across the digital divide.

In Canada the companies are even more closely held monopoly concerns with the big three Telus, Canada Bell, and Rogers than are found even in the United States, although Comcast with its proposed merger of Times-Warner clearly has its heart set on going the same way.  Despite some steps to accommodate us with a $10 per month plan in public housing in Tornoto, Rogers has not moved past that opening round and what they delivered has been less than promised.  Telus in a meeting in Vancouver had told us they were moving our way, but then have not gotten back to us, and Bell continues to be unabashedly arrogant and impervious to our concerns, having adopted what can only be seen as a Comcast head-in-the-stand, make-me-do-it, schoolyard bully approach to the problem, hoping it will disappear into the Ethernet or something.

Not clear what tea leaves their lobbyists are telling them to read, but they’ve got trouble on the horizon.  The regulators in Canada are preparing for a hearing this winter on declaring the internet a public utility, and the same thing has been promised in the US by the FCC.

ACORN is committed to participating in the Ottawa hearings, but we’re convinced the court of public opinion is where we will be able to be heard more clearly.   They may have invested in some infrastructure but surveys of our members and others reveal that people hate their cable and internet company the way they once hated the local tax man.  Furthermore their brands are ubiquitous and their tentacles stretch everywhere from their ownership to sports teams in Tornoto to the bicycle sharing program in Montreal.  That’s a big, wide butt ready for the kicking!  We’re convinced that to get them finally to take seriously the desperation of lower income families to have access to opportunities, we’re going to have to go big, go broad, and be as ubiquitous as they are.  Enough said for now.

Meanwhile the often clueless former industry lobbyist heading the FCC must have startled the big boys of the industry in the financial papers the other day by pretty graphically drawing a picture of all of the internet companies as being emperors with no clothes on.  He simply stated the obvious without stating the obvious.  He said there is little or no competition in most markets so that internet service costs too much and changing from one operator to another is prohibitively expensive.  All of which is another way of saying that the companies are anti-competitive and operating like Canadians, or what we used to call monopolies.  Chairmen Wheeler claimed 80% of Americans have access to high speed internet at 25 megbits per second, though he didn’t say at what price, but if he’s going to acknowledge as his statement indicated that the “F.C.C. planned to promote more choices and protect competition, because a lack of adequate consumer choice inhibits innovation, investment and economic benefits,” it’s hard to believe that they can’t get the message.  For a change it was even an indirect shot across Comcast’s bow, since their claim that they are not a monopoly through their purchase of Times-Warner is that they don’t often compete in the same markets.  Someone seems to have given Wheeler the memo that they are in different markets, because they don’t compete, and you can’t claim you are regulating them to assure competition when they are silently colluding to kept customers captive and control separate geographies.

Ok, yeah, maybe I’m dreaming about the FCC being something other than chattel for the companies, but maybe when they see what we have in store for the companies in Canada some of the chill will blow down from the north to cool some of the imperial monopoly dreams that are widening the digital divide.  Here’s hoping!

 

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Bell Flaunts Corporate Commitment to Monopoly Profits and Damn the Divide

Toronto   The initiIMG_5558al response from Rogers, one of the big three telecommunications giants in Canada controlling internet and cable, was not all we needed or wanted, but it showed progress and a path forward for future discussions.  ACORN’s similar letters to Bell Canada and Telus were met with opposing corporate strategies.  Telus dug its head in the sand, didn’t answer at all, and has obviously adopted a strategy of pretending this is not happening, and praying that it will all go away.  Bell Canada elected to go on the offensive and strike a pose both arrogant and hostile, replying that if we thought internet access was unaffordable to lower income families, then we should get the government to make them do something.  Meet with ACORN, oh, hell, no, they seemed to be saying.

            After marching from Ryerson University to the Bell headquarters in downtown Toronto across from City Hall, and asking for a meeting with the company on the issue of internet access and reasonable pricing, no ACORN members who were part of the delegation now have any doubt about Bell’s response, since they adamantly refused all requests we made to meet with 150 people in their atrium.   A separate ACORN leadership delegation entered the building and sought to make the request for a meeting to CEO Cope, but found the elevators turned off to the 9th floor executive suites and all stairway entrances blocked by burly security guards.  Seeking to have a letter delivered concerning the meeting, one guard outside replied only that they would be with us all day and night until the police came.

            Bell has a reputation for this kind of robber baron mentality, ignoring the softer profiles that many huge companies, especially publicly regulated monopolies have tended to endorse.  The ACORN crowd found themselves outside with the elevator constructors union who had been on the streets on strike for 8 weeks, not trying for a raise, but simply trying to retain seniority in the face of Bell union busting.   Calls to several television stations before the action, led one of the stations to remind the ACORN organizer that they were actually owned by Bell Canada, so what did she think were the chances of them covering the rally and action?

            In campaigns like this ACORN doesn’t pick the issues, since they are so large we stumble over them every time we are talking to our members and hearing their endless complaints about these company rip-offs, nor do we really get to pick the targets.  Sometime companies like Bell are just itching for a fight, no matter how hard we try to be reasonable.  We’re in it to win it though, and the first round with Bell makes it obvious that this is going to be another one of those campaigns for our members where they have to win in order to have access to jobs, education, and the communications required by modern society, but it’s going to be a long, hard struggle to victory.

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Telephone Monopoly Troubles: Peru & Canada

rogersToronto It is not often that my friends in Canada are willing to concede that there might be a service in the US that is superior to what exists in the great north, so I was paying careful attention to the torrent of complaints that spewed forth before the beer was even on the table after a well played game we had enjoyed between the Blue Jays and the Yanks about the lack of competition in the Canadian telephone industry which was simply hammering Canadians on both cost and service. The company drawing heaviest fire was Rogers, but this was partially because they are one of the few in the sight line of course.

Many of them were astounded at the lower cost of monthly and specialized services in the US market compared to the more restricted, low competition scene in Canada. I stumbled on to the problem first hand early on a Sunday morning trying to get on wireless. Where service had been fine in my basement lodging, it had suddenly disappeared off the screen completely. Worse there were no other unsecured sites that I could locate even in this residential area in not that far from the University. Strange? Same problem on the unsecured site at the Starbucks where I drug my computer 5 blocks down the way.

Talking to Josh Stuart, ACORN Canada’s Special Projects and international master of technology, it turned out that Rogers is on a wild campaign against unsecured wireless sites. In the name of “checking” security, they regularly go on unsecured sites and turn them off for days on security “checks” in order to try and force customers with fully paid bills to change their sites to “secured.” Why? Simple reason is that they want to make everyone pay for wireless service so they see an unsecured site, even where only a simple houseguest like myself or a Starbucks customer, as a place for free riders and scofflaws. Being a quasi-monopoly, they don’t mind being both expensive and bully boys and pushing people off the air. Dogs!

These kinds of telephone tactics seem all the rage around the world even while service expansion in places as remote as India, China, and Kenya are growing. When we were recently in Lima, the organizers for ACORN Peru were even more adamant about the problem of texting or calling any of the members for meetings and actions, because in the slums the time is carefully calibrated to the minutes bought, and though this practices is so “1990’s” in the US and elsewhere, in Peru the telephone monopolies charge minutes for incoming calls still, so no one ever wants to answer their phones unless it’s an absolute emergency.

The cheerleaders for globalism sometimes forget to read the fine print on the problems of working people trying to access even the basic services whether in the slums of Lima or the neighborhoods of Toronto, but where companies are allowed to have their way with people, it will never be pretty.

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