Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Definitely not MyDemocracy.ca

The government has created a MyDemocracy.ca website.

When I first heard the government would be doing a survey I assumed there would be some code on the postcards to ensure that people could only vote once, and the government could avoid the self-selecting sampling that happened with the town halls the ERRE committee did.  This didn't happen, making the website statistically invalid.

When I started to fill in the survey myself I cut-and-pasted the questions and my answers, which I then intended to comment on.  The survey was so bad I won't be doing that in detail: I include my answers at the end for curiosity, but they have no meaning.

With a useful survey you work hard to avoid leading questions, so you can get an idea of what people think without answers being tainted by the question itself.  Most of the questions in this survey are leading questions that direct people to specific answers, which causes the person taking the survey to ask who the author was and why they are biased towards specific answers.


Many of the questions ask about the government.  In a Westminster system we don't vote for a government, but vote for parliamentarians.  Parliamentarians then form government, and under a properly functioning Westminster system can form different governments between elections (including as a result of byelections, floor crossing, or coalition forming).

Questions about the forming and function of government are outside of the scope of a questionnaire intended to get views from Canadians about how we count the votes used to elect parliamentarians.  Unlike changing how we count in parliamentary elections which doesn't require constitutional amendments, changes to how government is formed would. Inclusion of these out-of-scope questions only confuses what the current debate is about.

If the goal is to ensure reform is impossible by bundling all issues together, then that goal will be achieved rather than modest incremental reform which is the only type of reform that will be possible.

The questions about government were also leading questions, intended to claim that only if there is a strong centrally lead executive branch is there accountability for decisions.  While this might be useful in a debate towards a constitutional amendment to separate the executive branch from a legislative branch as has been done in other countries (such as the USA), it is not a remotely helpful line of thinking in attempting to choose between different methods of voting in parliamentarians.  These leading questions are effectively perpetuating misconceptions about how parliament and the government function in a Westminster system.

With all this bias, leading questions, and perpetuating of civics misconceptions, and insecurity of the survey itself we really have to ask ourselves what the purpose of this survey is.  If I was Vox Pop Labs I would be embarrassed to have my brand associated with it, and I am embarrassed as a Canadian to see what at least one branch of government thought would be a legitimate process.



Why non-partisans don't like the Gallagher Index

The following is an edited version of a comment I added to a National Post story:  Liberals called it ‘incomprehensible,’ but professor flattered his formula was used in electoral reform debate


The Gallagher Index only measures the disproportionality of an electoral outcome based on presumed support for political parties. It assumes support for parties that doesn't always exist on a ballot that doesn't separate parties from candidates, it doesn't measure a voting system only estimates of the parliament potentially formed by a voting system, and it doesn't measure any other type of disproportionality.

Imagine you believed in secularism and someone came up with an index based on religious beliefs.  You would likely be quite offended by the index.

This is how non-partisans, people who don't vote along party lines, will feel about the Gallagher Index. It appears to be being wielded not as one tool among many in a toolbox, but as a sword to disenfranchise non-partisans. Being critical of the Gallagher Index isn't necessarily a criticism of the math, which isn't that complex.  In my case it is a criticism of holding up support for political parties as being something that should be optimized for to the exclusion of voters who vote for candidates despite, not because of, political affiliations.

In 2006, 2008 and 2011 (but not in 2015) I voted for David McGuinty in Ottawa South. While he was nominated by the Liberal party of Canada, I did not vote Liberal. I do not want my vote to be misinterpreted as support for the Liberal Party of Canada, or to go towards electing other Liberal nominated candidates.

The more I hear people talking about the Gallagher Index the less likely I'm going to be willing to vote for any party nominated candidate. I can't remember the last time there was an independent that ran in Ottawa South federally, so I guess that means I can't vote.



It is simply wrong to claim that anyone who votes for a party nominated candidate can be counted as support for that political party, but this is the nonsense activity which happens when party-PR activists measure Canada's parliament with the Gallagher Index.



I've spent more than 20 years as an electoral reform advocate who believes that plurality voting makes our parliament unrepresentative of the people that body is intended to represent.  Plurality distorts party politics, forcing the merger of dissimilar parties as happened with the Reform and Progressive Conservatives.  Left alone, a plurality system will eventually force us back into a 2-party system with only two names on the ballot.  The more diverse views that are shoved under ever larger big tents, the stronger party discipline becomes.  The harder it becomes for parliamentarians to represent constituents rather than obey party dictates, the less representative the parliament can be.

Opposition to plurality voting, not support for party proportionality, is my reason for wanting electoral modernization. While I believe that multi-member non-plurality based systems are better than single-member non-plurality systems, I believe this as I support proportionality to criteria other than support for political parties.

Of all the systems I've reviewed over the decades the only class I believe matches both those who are concerned with proportionality and those who want to fix the harm caused by plurality voting are systems based on STV: STV with fixed district magnitude, STV with mixed district magnitude, and ranked ballot Rural-Urban Proportional (ranked RUP) which is a mixed system with district magnitude of one (AKA: alternate vote in rural) and higher (STV multi-member in urban).

Think of STV as being a way to pick a team on the ballot similar to how sports fans pick a Fantasy Sports team: they pick the players they think are best regardless of what team they happen to be playing for at the moment.  STV is a proportional system, but allows both partisans and non-partisans to vote while party based proportional systems (based on party lists) benefits those who vote along party lines at the expense of those of us who do not.


Any other voting options beyond STV effectively disenfranchise some voters -- those who vote along party lines, or those who do not.  While parliaments formed by STV tend to have a higher Gallagher Index than party list systems, I do not believe this is a metric to be optimizing for any more than I believe a least squares index of religious beliefs is something to be optimized for.

We all need to remember: Under our Westminster parliamentary system Canadians elect parliamentarians, and parliamentarians form a government.  Parliamentarians can also change the government without calling an election.


Canadians are not directly electing the executive branch as they do in the USA and other countries, and it would take massive changes (including constitutional changes) to allow Canadians to directly electing a government.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The non-consensus consensus on Electoral Reform, and the Liberal promise

I haven't read every word of the third report of the Standing Committee on Electoral Reform yet. It looks like it will be great reading, and includes information about the other times this question has been studied in Canada, as well as the fact that different provinces have used different systems historically. This is important for those who think this is a novel topic to think about.  If there is one thing I have learned from my decades involved in electoral reform it is that Canadians are in need of an upgrade to their civics education: in this I mean all Canadians, not only the younger Canadians the report focused on for civics education.

The report clarifies that 1921 was a turning point for Canadian federal elections: that FPTP works fine when you have a two-option election, but since that time we have had 3 or more different options on the ballot in each riding which FPTP is ill-equipped to handle if voter intention is of any concern.

While there will be more to discuss later, for the moment I would prefer to focus on why there is confusion and disagreement about whether a consensus was reached, as well as discussing the Liberal promise.

What we heard in the house was that the Minister expected the committee to go as far as recommending a voting system, something the committee did not do. While some people cling to the idea that proportional representation was the system they recommended, everyone needs to understand that proportional representation is not a system but a feature that exists in one form or another in the vast majority of electoral system options.

If I look at what the committee was asked to do, coming up with one voting system wasn't required:
Identify and study viable alternatives to the current voting system as well as mandatory and online voting;
Fortunately the committee recommended that mandatory and online voting not be implemented at this time, so we at least dodged those bullets (online voting being the one that would corrupt the system the most).

They certainly did quite a bit of identifying and studying, speaking with many Canadians across the country.

They didn't narrow down the list of voting options much. They recommended against a "pure party lists" system, but recommended a low Gallagher Index which is "used to measure the disproportionality of an electoral outcome; that is, the difference between the percentage of votes received, and the percentage of seats a party gets in the resulting legislature."

I consider this reference to the Gallagher Index quite unfortunate as there are other things that an elected parliament can be disproportionate to than support for political parties.  It could be disproportional to votes for women, for votes for various ethnic groups, votes for individuals with specific experience or ideas not discussed in narrow party platforms, or other types of diversity.  Someone having a strong support for proportionality is not necessarily the same thing as supporting a low Gallagher index.

While partisans believe all this diversity is offered by parties, non-partisans do not.  Those who don't trust political parties won't believe there will be a change in other types of diversity for any PR system that grants seats based on support for political parties. Some Canadians believe that political parties are themselves the largest problem in our voting system, not the way we count.  This Gallagher Index recommendation ignores a (as of this time inadequately studied) percentage of Canadian voters who don't vote along party lines, and who even if they voted for a candidate nominated by a party should not be claimed to have supported that party, and who would not want their vote to go towards assigning party seats.

While many non-partisans support proportional representation, it is not the lack of proportionality to alleged support for political parties they are talking about.

With the call for FPTP to be on any referendum, as well as a referendum being recommended, they appear to have narrowed down the list to nearly all the options most often discussed in Canada. The following list is the remaining systems I've seen discussed recently, sorted from my least favored to most favored.

  • Dual-member proportional representation (DMP) - some suggest this is party proportional, but I believe this is wishful thinking.  This system has all the flaws of FPTP, with the additional flaw of bundling candidates together in larger districts.  It will make me less likely/able to vote as the two-name ticket means that I'm more likely to dislike one or the other and not be willing have my vote counted as support for the second person on the ballot.
  • FPTP - put there primarily at the insistence of the Conservative party.
  • MMP, as proposed in Ontario (FPTP + party lists), without clarity if the party seats are allocated per province or country wide.
  • Rural-Urban Proportional with FPTP for rural and open party lists for urban, without a clear definition on the variety of open list options or district magnitude. I rank RUP higher than MMP as I assume the size of rural ridings will not increase over pure FPTP!
  • Rural-Urban Proportional with AV for rural and open party lists for urban - IMO anything with a ranked ballot is better than one without.
  • Bicameral Mixed-member Proportional Representation - although I'm not sure if the Gallagher index folks would be happy with this one as they focus on how well the parties did in the lower house.  I rank this option higher as it doesn't add party list seats to the lower house, which will change the dynamic when parliamentarians choose the government and possibly reconfigure and choose a different government between elections (floor crossing, coalition building, etc  - a reminder about that required civics lesson for those who mistakenly believe Canadians vote for the government rather than parliamentary representatives!).
  • Rural-Urban proportional with FPTP for rural and STV for urban, without clear discussion of whether fixed or flexible district magnitude would be used.  I don't think this option is under consideration, but the RUP proposal didn't seem to care which of the 4 very different options it presented were discussed.
  • STV with a fixed district magnitude across entire country - not ideal, but at least we got past all the horrible party list and plurality (single or dual member) options.
  • STV with a varied district magnitude depending on the geographic region, where magnitude must be 2 or higher.
  • Rural-Urban proportional with AV for rural and STV for urban, which is a mixed system like the BC-STV system which includes district magnitude of 1 (also called alternative vote) along with multi-member districts with ranked ballots being consistent for all seats.
  • Not discussed is my ideal, which is a RUP-like system (ranked ballots in single or multi-member districts) where the neighboring districts decide to join and/or separate depending on the interests of the specific districts.  As boundaries are redrawn and populations move, what is within an urban area and what is considered rural changes.  District magnitude in the Ottawa region should be different than in Toronto as the population is quite different.

So, what was excluded?

  • Pure Alternate Vote (AV).
  • Pure party list systems.
  • FPTP+leaders , which is an oddball option where the leaders are given at-large seats if their nominated candidates received at least 10% of the popular vote.  It seems to be a close sibling of MMP except only a single at-large seat is assigned to parties.
  • Abolishing elections. Given all the wide number of options which are claimed to be proportional, which some confuse with being a system, I guess having a ballot at all was a voting feature that achieved consensus.

While there are good reasons to want to advance beyond AV, from reading the discussion it appears that the greatest mark against AV was that people believed the Liberals wanted this option as well as implausible claims that AV exaggerates false majorities to the benefit of Liberals.  While it is by far not my favorite system, the unnecessary campaigns against AV have confused people into believing the problem is with ranked ballots rather than single member districts in urban areas.  In my case I rank all ranked ballot systems, even AV, as being above any system based on party lists (open or closed) or plurality (single or dual member).

While there are now people who would disagree with any system that has ranked ballots, there are other people (myself being one) that will disagree with any system that grants seats to political parties or is based on plurality.  If you expand your understanding of proportionality beyond support for political parties the question about whether a system is proportional or not is not controversial, but the question about whether you achieve proportionality via ranked ballots in multi-member districts or party lists is very controversial.

While the report will make for a good read, I think it should be obvious that no consensus was found on a specific voting system, and no alleged consensus was offered by the report.

The Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members


I find the Supplemental Report of the Liberal Members to be illuminating.  While the NDP and Green supplemental report focused on narrow concepts that would benefit those parties rather than indicating concern for the improvement of parliament, the Liberal report was truthful in ways that can greatly harm the interests of the Liberal party of Canada.  The Liberal supplementary report corrects a number of problems in the Majority Report, but it also makes those who ran the 2015 Liberal campaign and wrote the 2015 election platform look amateurish (at best) or dishonest.

Recognizing the lack of consensus, something that has easily existed for a hundred years in Canada, the Liberal members indicated "Our position is that the timeline on electoral reform as proposed in the MR is unnecessarily hasty and runs the risk of undermining the legitimacy of the process by racing toward a predetermined deadline."

This deadline was set by those who wrote the 2015 platform at the Liberal Party campaign office.  Yes, it is arbitrary. Yes, it is ill advised if you want to have a legitimate process that actively educates and engages the population. The Liberal campaign office didn't suggest interest in legitimacy, realistic policy, civic education, or legitimacy of the process. They seemed only interested in simultaneously abusing some of the worst features of FPTP to ensure that they and not the NDP or Conservative nominated candidates won, as well as deflect criticism for their ongoing abuse and benefit of this flawed system.


This Liberal Campaign promised cannot be broken without consequences!


We will make every vote count. 
We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system. 
We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.
This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

Everything that the Liberal members wrote in the report was well known and true before the 2015 election. Given this fact, the Liberal Party needs to recognize that it needs to fall on a sword they forged themself.

The Liberal campaign said that the 2015 election would be the last under FPTP and if they as a party are to have any legitimacy and trust moving forward they need to change the system.

If there is a referendum, everyone associated with the Liberal party (candidates and all) will need to campaign in favor of a change to ensure that no matter how many options are on the ballot, that change wins. Funds will need to be dedicated to public education on the options (public and Liberal party funds). The Federal Liberal party can't be seen to be hiding the referendum or required educational material (both on the changes, as well as the required civics lesson to explain the current system) as the provincial Liberal party did in Ontario and BC.

At this point it doesn't matter which system the Liberals impose, it just can't still be FPTP during the next election. The Liberal party must recognize that any change or lack of change to the system will upset some Canadians, but that while they are damned if they do they will be damned much more by people who might have voted for them if they don't.




My own promise, and confession


On Canada Day this year I wrote that I was skeptical but optimistic about the Liberal promise to rid us of FPTP. I discussed how I campaigned against the Liberals during the election.

During the 2015 election I was frustrated by what I saw in Ottawa Center, a race between the largely unknown Liberal nominated candidate and a well loved across the spectrum NDP incumbent of Paul Dewar. Liberal campaigners were claiming that a vote for the NDP would split the vote and allow the Conservatives to win, something that was entirely impossible in Ottawa Center as the Conservatives weren't a contender in this two-horse race between the Liberal nominated candidate and Paul Dewar.

Based on what I saw as a corrupt campaign in Ottawa Center, I was unwilling to vote for the Liberal nominated candidate in Ottawa South, even though I believe that David McGuinty was (still is as an individual) the best option.

My confession is that even though I always want to vote for the person despite the party, I broke from my own political ideals and voted along party lines last election because of this issue. If the Liberals actually back away from their election promise, as naive as some of us can believe it was (or as dishonest as some believe it was), there will likely be far more people voting along party lines and punishing the Liberals next election.

While I don't yet know if the 2015 election will be the last under FPTP, I do know that 2011 will have been the last time I voted for David McGuinty (unless he crosses the floor) or a federal Liberal party nominated candidate until FPTP is gone.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Creator groups must Focus On Creators

When the current Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly suggested that someone saying "Without culture, nobody would be on the internet" was thoughtful, and possibly even a new idea, I became aware that this is a area of policy that is new for Ms Joly.

We now see a new campaign aimed at the Minister called Focus On Creators launched by several associations which has a similar message the Minister may not have a context for.

While I am an author of software and non-software works, and in my policy analysis and activism I always have a Focus on Creators, I do not agree that all the groups who are promoting this campaign have that same focus.  All too often representatives of these groups claim the interests of some intermediary is synonymous with the interests of a group of creators, and are focused on that intermediary.
 

Technology giveth, and technology taketh away


It is normal technological and societal progress that new technology disrupts old technology, as well as the businesses and business models that formed around the older technology.

As new communications technology comes forward the creators that embrace it will succeed, and those who do not will tend to have diminishing audiences as well as diminishing financial success. When yet another communications technology comes forward to disrupt that technology, those who succeeded with the older communications technology either need to move forward or be as left behind as those who did not embrace the previous generation of technology.

From a public policy standpoint the most important thing to remember is that while technologies and the businesses that surround them will come and go, there is absolutely no reason for the interests of any specific technology provider to be thought of as synonymous with the interests of the cultural and content industries.

Opponents to the ongoing cycle of technological change


This cycle has been true since humans first started to write stories down.  There were those who thought storytelling would die if it was written down and not kept alive by storytellers passing it down from generation to generation.


There have been quite strong personalities that have been opposed to change.
"These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."
  • Jack Valenti, longtime president of the Motion Picture Association of America, was also hostile to new technologies suggesting in 1982:
"I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone."
"So if you were to take this out of the context of an argument about film and television, I would make the case that what we're talking about here is industrial dumping. We have laws against stuff like this."

While Mr McGrath's words may be the most recent, what he is expressing is similar to what has been said throughout written history.  There is no reason for anyone to believe the current technological changes are all that different than what we have seen in the past: some creators who tie themselves to a specific previous generation technology (and the companies and business models that form around that technology) will have problems succeeding, and creators who embrace the new technology under its own terms (including related business model changes) will prosper.

I've interacted with Mr McGrath only a few times over the years (as he tries to quickly end conversations), but all evidence suggests that he confuses the interests of the creators of television with the interests of broadcasters.  Broadcasters are the companies that formed around a very specific type of distribution technology, and should not be seen as being part of the content creation or cultural industries. Mr. McGrath and some others in the "small screen" (Television) industry have gone so far as to suggest that anything that uses wired and wireless means of communicating small screen shows, whether that communication is programmed or not, should be regulated as if they were broadcasters.

I provided more details for this scenario in: Ad free CBC? Why not shift money to creators?
The shortform is that Netflix is not a broadcaster.  While this claim helps the interests of companies that are actually broadcasters, it harms the interests of creators of "small screen" shows.

Creator groups must Focus On Creators


In my participation in Copyright revision process starting in the summer of 2001 I have interacted with many fellow creators from a wide variety of creative sectors.  I have come to know many of the creator groups and their spokespersons. I have formed a good sense of which ones are helping members navigate change, and which ones have confused the interests of their members with the interests of specific intermediaries (technology providers, business model services, funding agencies, etc).

As a creator I can't sign on to this specific "Focus on Creators" campaign.  While I strongly believe that related government policy should focus on creators, I do not believe the groups behind this specific campaign are actually focused on the interests of creators.

Intermediaries sometimes barriers to creators getting paid


During the DigiCanCon consultations, many creators wanted to speak about funding.   I believe it is important for the Minister and the department to be aware of some of the barriers some intermediaries have been putting up to creators getting paid.

We are often told how copyright infringement is a cause of declining revenues for creators.  If we focus for a moment on scripted content for the big screen (Movies) and small screen (Television) we see a number of barrier put up by specific intermediaries which make it hard for audiences to access and pay for that access.


Video creativity is not the only creative sector where we see changes in technologies, and the related changes in business models, being claimed to be a threat to creators.
  • "Access Copyright activism disconnected from realities in educational publishing" discusses how some author activists, most notably specific individuals associated with the Writers Union and the Professional Writers Association of Canada, confuse the interests of Access Copyright with the interests of writers.  New technology has made direct licensing via online databases easier, as well as new peer production mechanisms possible, and the educational community is moving in that direction.  This only has an impact on fiction authors because of their ties with Access Copyright, with Access Copyright's primary money being an unrelated marketplace for non-fiction educational works that is being disrupted by modern technology.  The so-called "educational fair use" debate is largely about modern technology disrupting Access Copyright's older business services.

During the Bill C-32/C-11 consultations there was considerable discussion about the music industry.  In that case the interests of major labels were being confused with the very different interests of composers and performers.   The major labels were primarily a specialized banking sector formed around the high costs of the technology used to record and distribute music.  Technological advancement changed this business dynamic to where a successful industry flips the power dynamic to one where the interests of composers and performers must be the focus, and labels are only the "hired help" when and if needed by the musicians. In other words, a "Focus on Creators" is a focus on the interests of composers and performers, which are interests quite different from major labels whose interests often conflict with creators.  In Canada the major label interests are represented by "Music Canada", one of the groups behind this campaign.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ad free CBC? Why not shift money to creators?

In response to articles discussing an advertisement free CBC, I had the following to say:



When I was asked to elaborate, I realized I need to give context as most people in the content industry do not think the same way as I do as a system administrators with decades of experience in the technology industry.

The layered approach to communications technology


4134   COMMISSIONER DENTON: Mr. McOrmond, interesting brief. I see it is informed by an internet idea of the world.
4135   So in your preferred solution then there would be essentially some kind of bandwidth to the house, whether wired or wireless, it would be part of a municipal infrastructure such as sewage or water, and applications would float on top of that or through it.
4136   Now, what happens to the carrier in that instance?
4137   MR. McORMOND: I am essentially suggesting that we no long would have carriers in that instance. They would be replaced by a utility and a free market.
4138   COMMISSIONER DENTON: Right. So you realize this is formally heretical and they will be onto you for this?

The above is from an intervention I made in front of the CRTC in 2009.  I'm not informed by an Interned idea of the world, but informed by the OSI model upon which most digital communications infrastructure is designed.  This model emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was already in-place when I was learning about digital networking in the 1980's before I or most people heard of the Internet.

The core idea is quite simple:
Its goal is the interoperability of diverse communication systems with standard protocols. The model partitions a communication system into abstraction layers. The original version of the model defined seven layers.

A layer serves the layer above it and is served by the layer below it. For example, a layer that provides error-free communications across a network provides the path needed by applications above it, while it calls the next lower layer to send and receive packets that comprise the contents of that path. Two instances at the same layer are visualized as connected by a horizontal connection in that layer.

When we are talking about the layers that together offer wired Internet services, I separate the layers tied to geography (layers 1 and 2) from layers above that.  I consider all digital communications (whether it is ISP services providing IPv4 or IPv6 public routing, IPTV, cable or telephone) to be "over the top" of that service.

This is quite different than how the converged phone and BDU industries define it which is that only competitors to their own vertically integrated services are "over the top".  While I am using a neutral definition that is based on the underlying technology, they are using a business definition which privileges existing vertically integrated companies over the interests of a competitive marketplace.

This creates very different language between people from the Information Technology industries and people who are part of the converged telecom/BDU industries.

How does this layering impact the content industries?


When I look at the content industries I also see a number of layers.  Like my separation between physical networking and services that are built "over the top" I separate industries involved with the creation of content from those who are involved in the communication or distribution of that content between creators and audiences.

In the most recent "Canadian Content in a Digital World" consultations the type of content discussed most often was television ("small screen" format video content, contrasted with "big screen" format movies).

When some people think of television they bundle together everything from the first ideas that a scriptwriter has all the way to the wiring (aerial, cable/satellite/IPTV receiver) that plugs into the television.  Most stop there and at least don't consider the television manufacturers to be part of the same industry.


When I think of television I see a series of layers with interoperable interfaces between them.

  • Content generation:  There are a large number of creators involved in the production of scripted (and even unscripted) shows. While there are different layers within, I feel comfortable as an audience member grouping those layers together even if the different layers are critical within the industry.
  • Content distribution:  There are many interoperable and competing methods, with the following being only a few examples:
    • physical media distribution, such as DVDs, through online and physical retailers
    • online content libraries, which includes flat-fee subscription services like Netflix or online retailers like Google Play or Amazon Video (once launched in Canada to compliment their existing physical DVD distribution business)
    • Broadcasting and BDUs, which provide pre-programmed streams of content (Note: I strongly reject claims that online content libraries are more similar to broadcasters than they are physical media retailers)
  • Content access: there are a wide variety of access technologies, and an increasing number of these are networked within the home.  One content access device (receiver) may be a different home networked device than the screens used to view and the speakers used to hear, and we need vendor neutral interoperability between these devices.

In my primary submission to the DigiCanCon consultation I focused on how the government managed (I suggest mismanaged) convergence.  The transition could have been a transition from purpose-built analog networks where what was on top of the network was fixed to one that could be modeled after the OSI networking model with interoperability between services built on top of each other.


I believe the greatest threat to the content industries is ties to specific brands or technologies on other layers of the communications stack.  If, as an example, a screenwriter believed that their future is tied to that of "broadcasting" then they will try to force any type of content distribution -- even disruptive technologies that will likely replace broadcasting for most audiences of scripted programming -- to act as if they were the same "broadcasting".

This policy is of great benefit to the "broadcasting" industry, who would then have less to fear from competitors hobbled by a regulatory environment that is mismatched for these competitors.  It is, however, extremely harmful to the interests of the content industries as well as their audiences.  There are many features of some of these disruptive technologies which would benefit creators that they won't be able to harness if they incorrectly identify suppliers of these technologies as opponents.

The Innovator's Dilemma


Much of the dynamic we can see between the content industry, broadcast industry, and Canadian audiences can be explained by Clayton Christensen's 1997 textbook The Innovator's Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.

Over-simplifying: companies who were successful in one market have a hard time providing services based on disruptive innovation that is likely to replace the older market.

This can be seen with broadcasters, and those that see themselves as dependent on broadcasters, claiming that Netflix and other "foreign" companies are extracting money out of Canada.  Not discussed in this attempt to waive the Canadian flag is the fact that there are no domestic competitors because the incumbent content distributors are themselves "broadcasters" who see this disruptive innovation (online content libraries) as a threat. They have been unwilling to offer that service, and have done everything they can to block competitors.  The closest that will remain at the end of the month is CraveTV which isn't competitive with first-run content libraries like Netflix, most likely because it is owned by a parent company that doesn't want to disrupt its existing broadcasting and BDU services.


My own experience trying to watch Supergirl in Canada is an example of what happens.  As the "broadcast" industry was tied to specific geographic regions, much of the content licensing models have been as well.  Canada is carved out and one entity, in this case (and all too often) a broadcaster (Showcase, owned by Corus Entertainment), is granted an exclusive license for the region of Canada.  That broadcaster then doesn't want online content libraries to compete with broadcasting so doesn't advertise (or sometimes allow to be offered) legal alternatives to broadcasting, nor provide services to paying customers who have opted for existing legal alternatives.

I was essentially forced by Showcase to resort to using a VPN service to bypass region restrictions and watch Supergirl from a US source.  While I paid money to Showcase for a season pass, Showcase hasn't been willing to update the content library offered through Google Play with new episodes.

I had the same problem with other shows including Game of Thrones and BBC Class which Bell apparently would prefer I infringe copyright than find out about legal alternatives to broadcasting.

Personally, I "cut the chord" (unsubscribed from cable service) years ago, and don't want to go back any more than I want to give up indoor plumbing or other modern conveniences.

An Ad free CBC?


CBC is a large corporation that receives a large amount of public money for all the layers that exist within it.   I believe taxpayers should be looking more closely at each layer and ensure that it is taxpayers and the politicians that represent us that more closely direct the specifics we want we are willing to pay for:

  • Canadian content creation:  I want to see more of this.  This means not only am I willing to have my tax money going towards content creation, but that I want the results to be available to me.  I don't use the services of broadcasting (OTA or via a BDU), so content that is only made available via broadcasting isn't made available to me.  As I wrote in my submission, public funding should be conditioned on wide public access.  This means being neutral on the wide variety of content distribution mechanisms and services.
  • Domestic and foreign radio broadcasting:  This is the cheaper of the two types of broadcasting, both for transmission and reception.  This is an important way for Canadians domestically (especially in rural and remote areas), as well as abroad to get news from Canada.  Terrestrial audio radio is accessible in locations which can't be served by the Internet.
  • Television broadcasting: I only believe in subsidizing television broadcasting in rural and remote areas not able to be adequately served by commercial broadcasters.


A proposal to add $318million more to CBC's budget to remove advertising from broadcasting doesn't sound appealing to me.  If we were talking about $318million more for Canadian content creation that would be accessible to me as an audience (public money conditioned on being neutral as far as content distribution systems) then I would be in favor.

Even if we were talking about transferring budgets away from television broadcasting to subsidize emerging content distribution as a policy tool to reduce copyright infringement, I would be in favor.

I don't see anything of value to me of making broadcast television ad-free.  It might make that broadcaster more competitive with online services that are paid for by subscribers rather than advertisers, but I think that is a very inappropriate abuse of public funding.  The last thing I want is my tax money funding a broadcaster which would think of online content libraries as a "competitor" (or some extremists claim "industrial dumper") and be denying me access to content which I partially funded.

A more future-facing proposal

 

I believe we should be creating structural separation between the major layers in the CBC.  Specifically, content creation would be structurally separated from any type of content distribution.

As part of that structural separation some of the money currently paid to the content distribution layer (the broadcaster) should be shifted to content creation.  I do not believe it is advertising that conflict with CBC's public interest mandate, but the conflict of interest that arises whenever content creation and content distribution are thought of as a bundle.

In markets where the broadcasting arm is seen as being in competition with commercial broadcasters, we really need to finally ask ourselves if a publicly funded content distribution service should be in that market at all.

And yes, it wouldn't make sense to call the Canadian Content Creation Corporation (CCCC?) the CBC any longer...

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Notes from watching Supergirl via VPN

It is only 2 more sleeps (as the kids would say) until the Monday episode of Supergirl launches #DCWeek, the 4-series crossover event between Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, and Legends of Tomorrow.





I have been looking forward to this since I first heard about the possibility last spring.

Unfortunately, as anyone who reads my blog knows, I've been having trouble watching Supergirl in Canada even though this content is very Canadian, being filmed in Vancouver.

The other 3 shows are on the CTV GO app which, while not being ideal, at least works. For Supergirl I tried to watch on the Showcase website, then gave up and paid for a season pass via Google Play. It is Saturday and last Monday's episode of Supergirl has still not been posted to Google Play by Showcase.

(Nov 29 update: Nov 14'th episode still last posted, so 2 weeks behind).

There is no way I'm going to trust that both episodes will be available on Monday, and that Showcase's screwup won't continue the rest of the season. Typical with my interactions with Canada's broadcast industry, I feel duped.


I've sent tweets to @showcasedotca , and while the person in charge of that account acknowledged the problem it hasn't been resolved yet.



I sent a messages to feedback@showcase.ca, and while I received an automated reply from "Showcase Viewer Relations" I have received nothing else.


I've now taken the next step to ensuring I can view the launch of the crossover event Monday without a problem.

Setting up a VPN to watch via the US source


While I use VPNs as part of my work every day (I manage servers spread across the country, and need to communicate between them securely), this is the first time I have been driven to use a VPN to bypass region restrictions.  If anyone in the broadcast industry has a problem with me using a VPN for this purpose they can send their complaints to feedback@showcase.ca to see if they get any better response than I have.


Some quick searching found many review sites for services that use VPNs for the purposes of bypassing region restrictions.  The one I decided on was ExpressVPN, and paid $99.95US for a year subscription.  They indicate that if I cancel within 30 days I get a refund, so like Netflix I have a month to decide if this is worth keeping.


My first attempt to use ExpressVPN was with the Android App on my ASUS Flip Chromebook.

I ended up learning about something new about the Android support in new Chromebooks.  It seems that it is only the Android container, and not the device as a whole, that the VPN software works with.  This meant that the version of Chrome running within ChromeOS would show my normal IP address, while I would get the US based IP address if I used the Android version of Chrome.

With this setup going to The CW's Supergirl site didn't work as I would have hoped. Detecting that I was on an Android device (not a Chromebook) it sent me to Google Play to download the Android CW App. Google Play indicated that the app wasn't available in my country.

I installed the ExpressVPN client on my Linux desktop in the basement. I was able to go to the CW Supergirl site and watch last Monday's episode.

This isn't where I want to watch television, so isn't something I would be wanting to do often.  I could set up the VPN via my gateway rather than on a desktop, which would allow me to watch via my Chromebook, but then enabling/disabling the VPN all the time would be inconvenient. Any use of VPNs slows down network speed, and I wouldn't want our normal network usage to be diminished because of a few broken content delivery services.

If I keep the VPN software I might have the router send specific subnets via the VPN (CW, not sure about Netflix).  I just checked the BBC iPlayer and it works well with this VPN service -- all it took for me to finally decide to take a look at bypassing region blocking was to finally get so upset with dealing with the Canadian broadcast industry and Showcase finally pushed me over that edge.

The CW experience.

It's a broadcaster, so I'm putting it in that context.  I really prefer first-run subscription content libraries like Netflix, and wish there were competitors to this in Canada for anything not available on Netflix.   Second-run subscription content libraries like CraveTV are fine for watching old shows, but are not a substitute for first-run services.

The CW's website is a massive improvement over anything I've seen from the Canadian broadcaster-run websites.

The show has commercials, and like when watching broadcasting they are at the same video quality and sound volume as the show.  None of this jarring mess of uneven video quality and massive audio volume jumps that you can see on the Showcase.ca website.

The commercials even have text below them (outside of the video) clarifying who the advertiser is, and have links directly to the advertisers website.   This must be amazing for US based advertisers where audiences are more likely to want to thank them for sponsoring the show, rather than in Canada where you feel like contacting them to let them know the broadcaster has duped them.

I wrote in the earlier article how Supergirl was the only series I'm watching where I saw advertisements.  I'm not sure if advertisers are better treated by Showcase which tries to display commercials and does it poorly, or CTV where the CTV GO app doesn't bother to show advertisements (just interrupts the stream and takes a few moment for buffering to catch up again).

I'd rather pay to not have advertisements, but bad experience with paying Showcase to access Supergirl has reminded me that paying money is no guarantee you'll get service from a Canadian broadcaster.  I'm getting good service so far from Space for my season subscription to BBC Class, even though they'd rather I didn't pay them that way.


I've now paid for the ExpressVPN service, money I would have preferred was sent to a content creator.  I might as well make use of it for watching the rest of the CW series.  I don't know if I'll keep the service, but I at least know I'll be able to enjoy the crossover event next week no matter what the Canadian broadcasters do.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Minister Joly wrong to want to bring tech companies "into the system".

I own Samsung and ViewSonic televisions,  Philips and Panasonic DVD players, and mobile devices from ASUS, Huawei and LG.   I don't think I know anyone who only uses Canadian designed and manufactured technology to watch scripted programming.  I never heard a Minister of Canadian Heritage claiming that these technology companies should be brought "into the system", confusing these technologies as being part of the broadcast system and thus should be regulated as part of it.

Why does Minister Joly apparently believe that other technology products and services such as Netflix, Google (YouTube, and Play Movies and TV), or Amazon Video should be brought into the system?  These technology companies are no more part of the system than the hardware manufacturers.


When discussing how Canadian Content Creators harmed when Netflix claimed to be a "broadcaster" I discussed the differences between content libraries and broadcasters/BDUs.  There is a need to regulate companies using Canadian airwaves such as broadcasters, as well as those putting wired above and below public and private property (something that would otherwise be trespass) such as BDUs and telecommunications companies.

None of these regulatory reasons apply to technology companies offering content libraries or technologies used to access content libraries.  Online libraries are not in any way part of the "broadcast" system, and should be regulated as providers of technology products and services as is the case for other technology products and services.

This outmoded way of thinking of "online" content distribution as being related to "broadcasting" is harming both Canadian creators and Canadian audiences.

 

Barriers to Canadian Content creators reaching audiences.

On Wednesday I wrote about the case of writer and director Christopher White who is using Amazon Prime video to distribute a movie.


Amazon is already a content distributor in Canada, but only when the movie or TV series is stored on DVD and Blue Ray disks.  Their Amazon Video service is not currently offered in Canada, most likely because of regulatory barriers and other red-tape when dealing with Canadian governments -- most likely policy under the jurisdiction of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Why is Minister Joly threatening to force Amazon Video to be "part of the system" if it enters Canada, while Amazon's existing distribution of physical disks to Canadians doesn't concern her?  The Minister should be trying to reduce barriers to Canadian content creators, not erect new ones!  It's not her job to "build a wall".

 

Barriers to Canadian audiences accessing Canadian Content

While some narrowly concern themselves with the headquarters of the company financing the production, or the nationality of some tiny number of writers, I consider the amazing creativity filmed and and produced in Canada to be Canadian content.  I've been a big fan of the Stargate and related franchises (including Sanctuary), Battlestar Gallactica, and recently all the DC comic Superhero series -- all primarily out of Vancouver!

I have been looking forward to next week's DC Superheros Crossover Event since it was announced last spring.





Because of the type of thinking that Minister Joly is demonstrating, the event may be ruined for me as I may not be able to see the first episode of the event before I watch later episodes.

All 4 shows are financed by The CW network.  Unfortunately because of broadcast-era regional licensing these shows are not made available directly to Canadians in a single modern first-run content subscription library (such as Netflix), but on distribution channels controlled by "Canadian" broadcasters.

Three of the four series are exclusively licensed in Canada by CTV, and Supergirl is licensed by Showcase.

While Bell owns both CTV and CraveTV, new episodes are not made available on CraveTV as that service is operated as a second-run service and isn't attempting to compete with first-run content library services like Netflix.  This outdated attitude more than anything else is likely why Shomi failed as Canadians want a first-run streaming content library which makes new episodes of series available as soon as they have been published.

I've been having a hard time watching Supergirl via Showcase -- first their website was so poor that I was having a hard time enjoying the show.  Then I gave up and paid money via Google Play for the season 2 pass.  It is now Friday, and Monday's episode is still not been released by Showcase for Canadian viewers.

I may, if I'm very lucky (unlikely) get a response from Showcase to my various only questions (twitter and email), and have Mondays episode available in time. It is far more likely I will be forced to get from some other source (VPN to access US source, or some "other" less authorized source).

I'm left wondering why I have to deal with Showcase, CTV or Bell at all?  I'm not interested in going back to broadcasting or BDU services to access scripted programming any more than I'm interested in giving up indoor plumbing and other modern conveniences.   There is no reason for the government to be supporting regional exclusive licensing in a world where technology makes most of these restrictions counterproductive (See Bell's inducement of copyright infringement).

Audiences should be able to directly access these shows from the copyright holders, not from some irrelevant and outdated country-based intermediary.

(Update:  Notes from watching Supergirl via VPN)

Core cultural policy changes

While I have written a series of articles during the DigiCanCon consultations, if there is one thing I can recommend to the Minister of Heritage and the Department of Canadian Heritage is that they need to separate the creation, distribution and access to Canadian content from each other.  Having the entity that distributes the content be "Canadian" is no longer any more relevant than the brand of television people are using in their homes.  Thinking that entities which are carrying out activities entirely unrelated to broadcasting should be brought "into the system" is facing backwards into the past and rejecting the possibility of supporting Canadian content into the future.



  • Canadian Content funding should be to creators, not intermediaries
  • Each different content distribution mechanism should be regulated separately.  Online content libraries are no more part of the "broadcast" system than retail DVD distribution is.  These retailers do not not use our "spectrum" and they do not use "right of way" privileges to put wires above and below public and private property.
  • Barriers for creators reaching audiences should be removed.  If this means actively soliciting non-Canadian content-distribution companies to offer their services to Canadian creators and audiences, then that should be quickly pursued.
  • While broadcasting is a different market, legal content libraries directly compete with copyright infringing content libraries.  As a measure to reduce copyright infringement, the Canadian government should be supporting (financially and otherwise) legal content libraries.  For those who believe that infringement is a substitute for payment, they should support the government creating as many new payment options as possible.