Saturday, September 19, 2020

I support 1492 Land Back Lane

The following is a letter I sent to my federal Member of Parliament (MP), forwarding a letter I sent to my Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP).

 



Honourable David McGuinty, my MP in Ottawa South.


I am forwarding a letter I sent to my MPP.  The Indian Act is federal, and that act is the source of many of the problems we see at the provincial level.

If after yet another speech from the colonial throne we end up in an election, Mr. Trudeau's reputation isn't going to help Liberal nominated candidates as it did in the 2015 federal election.  Due to the land protection events at the beginning of the year with the Wet'suwet'en people, the ant-Chinese racist conspiracies about the origins of COVID, and the Black Lives Matter events during COVID, many people like myself have started their antiracist education.  In early 2019 I had no concept of how offensive it was for Mr. Trudeu to attempt to move Jody Wilson-Raybould to the Indigenous Services portfolio, but I do now.



---------- Forwarded message ---------
To: John Fraser Ottawa South



I live at 305 Southcrest Private K1V2B7, on unceded Algonquin territory.  This is just behind your constituency office.


While I'm a settler Canadian (ancestors primarily indigenous to Ireland, wife's parents born in India), I support decolonisation. I feel embarrassed by how much the settler-state of Canada and its provinces has disrespected treaties made with indigenous peoples, suggesting these politicians believe Canada was formed through conquest.

I heard an answer given to the media by Premier Doug Ford about the 6 nations land defenders, where he said there is "one country, one law" suggesting he is oblivious to how Canada was formed and exists.

This whole claim of "innocent third parties" being unlawfully "sold" land being able to maintain exclusivity to it is immoral, but apparently typical of the European worldview expressed by the settler-state courts. Something that is stolen and then sold is still stolen, and it is the settler-state that owes the developers a return of anything paid in the alleged sale.  I also disagree with the claim of innocence of these third parties, as any settler Canadian should recognize that the settler-state is not the only entity that they should confirm with.

I find the Indian Act created band councils being treated as indigenous representatives to be offensive, given these are settler-state created bureaucrats to help administer the foundationally racist Indian Act. These individuals are not at all legitimately representatives of indigenous people.


I also believe the Ontario government's negotiation of the Algonquin land claim is far too tilted in favor of European worldviews.  I understand the horrible position the Algonquin have been put in, given they have to accept what habitual treaty violators will offer or the survivors of past settler-state violence will only be subjected to more settler-state violence.


I am passionate about this issue and antiracism in general.  In case this letter is just filed under support/rejection of an issue I will leave it there.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Rethink: Inheritance, debt, and world views

At the end of June I joined a twitter thread started by George Soros where he referenced a short podcast essay he made about rethinking debt.

 

 

While the thread was short, it touched upon some interesting ideas I wanted to expand upon.


Read outside your echo chamber

One person suggested that my comment came from within an echo chamber. In fact, what I wrote is what it sounds like when someone of European descent (ancestors primarily indigenous to Ireland) finally exits the Eurocentric echo chamber.

Persons of European descent often imply that economic discussions are linear thinking between the theories of two Europeans: Scottish Adam Smith (Capitalism, 1700's) and German Karl Marx (Communism, 1800's).  If you question anything about current implementations of Capitalism, the dominant European economic thinking in the 1900's and thus far in the 2000's, you are then "accused" of being communist. The idea that we might be expressing concepts from world views that originated from outside of Europe doesn't occur to them.

Due to events in Canada earlier in the year (pre-COVID) involving indigenous land protection groups, and events during COVID-19, I have embarked on my own antiracism training. While I have been questioning some small aspects of dominant European thought throughout my life, I now have a better understanding of where these ideas came from and where some of the alternatives came from.


Government Debt

George Soros ideas are simple, and involve different instruments for global or domestic government debt.

Built into the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank) is economic policies mirroring a European world view, and debt from these institutions pretty much always come with an imposition of European economic policy within the borrowing countries.

The idea that capital accumulation should be individual, but debt shared (through government, or otherwise externalised) is European thinking that I don't subscribe to.

Inheritance

I believe we have all heard the phrase "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children". Some indigenous North Americans such as members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy subscribe to the Seventh Generation Principle where decisions we make today should taken into consideration and result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

For as long as I can remember I have thought the same thing about capital itself: that we don't inherit it from our parents, but borrow it from the future. Understood this way, inheritance is yet another form of shared (via the future) debt that exists only to benefit historical individuals. The future is claimed to "owe" the beneficiaries of this inheritance even if they make no contribution to society themselves.

There are levels of capital accumulation that are near a subsistence level that don't qualify as debt, where there is no issue with passing on to the same people you would normally be a caregiver for in life. This is the type of wealth transfer to descendants that most individuals will be personally familiar with, and is not what I'm referring to.

Individuals manipulating public policy to generate public debt

When we have individuals accumulating capital that could allow families or whole communities or countries to subsist for many generations without further contribution then this is public debt for personal gain.

I have never believed that those currently in the top 1% of capital extraction actually "earned" that wealth based on the value of their contributions to society. I believe they extracted that capital and created that public debt through flawed public policy (said in another way, corruption).

Rather than applauding these individuals, such as George Soros, Bill Gates, or Warran Buffet, I consider their building and abusing public debt to be immoral. While some of these individuals wish to direct some of this wealth and influence towards policy goals of their choosing, this doesn't change the fact that these individuals are manipulating public policy based on the public debt they have created.

If you take a close look at those declared the "richest" people in the world, you might notice something in common.  They were all able to accumulate this personal monetary wealth based on government granted and/or protected monopolies.

Cory Doctorow wrote a book-sized essay he titled "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism" where he discussed one aspect of government protected monopolies.  Rather than understanding that the mere existence of a monopoly is economic and political harm, western governments have transformed into believing that the only possible type of harm is "consumer pricing".

From this Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page (Google), Elon Musk (Tesla), Sergey Brin (Google) were able to build upon the decades of monopolist public policies actively promoted by Bill Gates (Microsoft, pharmaceuticals), Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison (Oracle), and other is more traditional media and communications.  These are individuals who helped expand government granted monopolies (right-of-way wired communication monopolies, wireless spectrum monopolies, author monopolies, inventor monopolies, etc) into something that enables a small number of individuals to accumulate personal benefit at the expense of society as a whole.

Much of the current attempts by western governments to regulate "Big Tech" are doomed to fail as they narrowly focus on the harm made blatantly visible by specific individual monopolists, rather than recognizing that flawed government policies entirely created the problem if the first place. They insist on rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than bothering to steer clear of the iceberg.


North American indigenous world views

Whether we call it Turtle Island or North America, there were people here for thousands of years before Europeans re-discovered this land in the 1400's. While early interactions were civil, this relatively quickly changed to colonization and in the southern part conquest (what the settlers declared to be the United States). While the European settlers in the North (what Europeans declared to be Canada) weren't as overt in their conquest, the ongoing violation of treaties suggests us northerners weren't that much better.  The official policy of the government of Canada has essentially been cultural genocide of indigenous treaty partners.

 

As I'm learning in the Indigenous Canada course I'm taking, North American Indigenous world views and governance are very different from European. While there are differences throughout North America as there are in Europe, commonalities exist:

  • Philosophy of interconnectedness and belonging
  • Unity through collaboration
  • Relationship with the land extending to environmental stewardship

 
Rather than the European focus on the individual, often to the exclusion of the group, indigenous North Americans believed each person should have accountability to the group for their own actions and words.

Rather than competition which is seen by Europeans as how to create growth opportunities, collaboration is the focus.  Each child, youth, adult and elder must have a role and each retain a responsibility to each other and to the community.
 

The European concept of "purchasing" and then "owning" land was inconceivable, and thus the perspectives of Europeans and North Americans on agreements and treaties were quite different.  Europeans believed in a concept of ownership (exclusivity without responsibility) of land, animals, people and ideas which was not shared by others. Indigenous North Americans believed in stewardship, a view I personally share.

The welfare of fellow citizens

With a pre-European North American world view, policies such as a Universal Basic Income would be obvious. As we all have responsibilities to each other, there would no longer be this push to have complex (expensive to administer) programs that seek to negatively stigmatize sharing as happens with most social welfare and other programs in North America today.

In a country where we recognized responsibility for each other, we would no longer be willing to sustain policies which enable so few individuals to extract so much wealth from the commons or the future.  Policies which create and sustain monopolies would no longer be supportable.

Land stewardship could replace land ownership, with the building up of public debt (as we see in the energy sector) being replaced with sustainable land and resource usage.

If we also replaced coercive justice with restorative justice, much of the problems with over-policing and the disconnect between policing and the communities would no longer exist.

 

I will never claim to have all the answers, but the most critical thing I have learned thus far this year is we all need to exit the Eurocentric echo chamber.

Decolonisation

I am a strong supporter of decolonisation. In this I'm not only referring to racist language used as part of colonizers treating the colonized as inferior, but to also visit whether precolonial world views, governance and laws should be readopted in countries such as Canada.

As I look at how Europeans and their colonies have addressed various crisis from the current pandemic to the global climate crisis, I have come to believe that European economic thought from the 1700's and 1800's has failed our species. We need to steer in a different direction if we are to have a sustainable future.


Friday, September 11, 2020

The COVID-19 Anniversary of September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes.  A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington, DC and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Many suggested that the world changed due to these events, and considerable resources have been spent by many countries to seek to prevent future such events.

I have been watching as the death toll from COVID-19 has passed that number: first worldwide, then USA, then New York State, and then New York City.

According to the Ontario Government COVID-19 case data: All Ontario, as of today the number of deaths in Ontario alone from COVID-19 is 2,813.


Far less resources were ever put into preparedness for this far greater threat, which had been predicted well in advance. This intelligence and policy failure on the part of many governments must be acknowledged and prevented in the future.

When you hear people claiming the pandemic is a 'COVID fake emergency', please remember that there were also people who denied the attacks on September 11'th ever happened.

As we morn the ongoing COVID-19 deaths I hope we will do everything we can to prevent this level of harmful impacts in the future!  While pathogens can't be prevented, the level of harm we are seeing and will continue to see from this pandemic could have been avoided.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Why are social scientists and fellow social liberals allowing Jordan Peterson to win the policy discussion?

Youtube regularly recommends videos of someone attempting to debate Canadian clinical psychologist and UofT psychology professor Jordan Peterson. I've also read articles written by several critics. I cringe when I read/watch these discussions as I feel embarrassed by the arguments used by Mr. Peterson's critics.

While I don't agree with Jordan Peterson's conclusions, the logic behind his arguments in these discussions (debates, articles, etc) are sound while the arguments deployed against him are generally lacking. If all you had to go on were these critics of Jordan Peterson you would be forced to believe he was right, and his critics were wrong.


Measurements and accuracy matter

I have a background in natural sciences (STEM), which was part of my personal interests as well as training at university for computer science. When we need to measure something we work to be accurate, especially when we then put it into a model and/or formula to then predict some outcome. We can often test our models in the real world and know that our predictions were incorrect.


In the social sciences I often see something quite different.  When there are many factors that go into analyzing and/or measuring something, a researcher will try to simplify the number of factors and make claims based on that simplification. To anyone who believes that a different factor would have a larger impact they will dispute those claims. All too often there is no mechanism to make real-world measurements to determine whose predictions are more sound.

 

One of the areas I study is governance systems, including democratic reform around electoral systems. Many people in representative democracies instinctively can tell that the people who site in representative bodies (such as the House of Commons in Canada) don't represent the population well.  Some electoral systems researchers have taken one factor in a multi-factor analysis, declared it to be the only factor, and made policy proposals based on the myth that there was only one factor. This is the case with so-called Proportional Representation, which takes political party affiliation as the only demographic factor that matters for elected representatives. What they promote may optimize some factor-specific formula, but does not make the resulting democracy any more representative unless you blindly agree with the researchers that party affiliation is the only relevant demographic trait.

Hey, we have a number, so it must be accurate science.


Gender pay gap is something people try to critique Jordan Peterson about. The concept of equal pay for equal work may sound simple, but when you look at the concept of equal work you find yourself in a very complex multi-factor analysis.

What some political partisans do is pick one factor, sexism against women, and declare it the only factor.  With this factor you can then compare the salaries of some definition of "women" and the salaries of some definition of "men" and declare the difference as "sexism" which can be fixed by quotas to counteract "sexism".

While nobody would argue that sexism doesn't exist, many will appropriately argue that optimizing hiring and promotion based on the assumption that sexism is the only factor will be counterproductive.


Narrow binary gender roles

I have male genitalia. As a person with this anatomy I have had many things that people have assumed and/or attempted to project/impose on me.

I have never had a remote interest in competitive sports, and the closest thing to sports entertainment I enjoy is classical and modern dance. It is unfortunate that people think that I'm being antisocial because I don't want to talk about sports scores at a bar or water cooler, but I'm quite frustrated when people think that makes me less of a man.

Even in today's "modern" society the role of males is to be hunter-gatherers, which now means gathering money. Physical strength and aggression was key to the hunting, and thus considered key to being masculine and key to many people's definition of success. Your masculinity is questioned if you question the methods used to hunt-gather money, whether money is all too often extracted rather than earned, and whether that hunt-gather is a social good or harm. You are definitely questioned if you don't project physical strength and aggression.

While I work with computers (systems administration and software author), a field that is male dominated, I have primarily applied my technical skills in areas I consider to be a social good. This has meant that I am quite often part of a male minority where I work, and it also means I am not "gathering" as much money as I could if I accepted one of the job offers that is less socially valuable to me.

As a person granted arbitrary privileges based on my anatomy, I am more free to choose my own role in society than if I was born with different anatomy.  That choice is still in opposition to many others who attempt to impose binary gender roles and expression on everyone. It is still an act of political and social defiance.


Even before we move entirely away from the antiquated concept of there being a gender binary, the problem of treating people based on anatomy should be obvious.

As much as our not-so-modern society wants to claim that a persons anatomy determines how they think, how they want to express themselves, and their role in society, I believe it is inappropriate to create laws which impose that outdated binary gender thinking.

 

Equality of opportunity vs outcome

Equality of outcome is simple: as an example, assume that nothing other than sexism exists, you can measure and then compare pairs of assumed binary demographic statistics.   Except, that analysis gets gender grossly wrong and will lead to policies that will be as harmful to society as the harm from sexism and various other harmful isms we are trying to account for.

Equality of opportunity is hard:  it requires detecting a large number of factors, and creating multiple policies to correct a wider ranges of problems which disable equality of opportunity.

If we want a fair and just society that isn't imposing arbitrary policies on people based on incorrect assumptions about demographic traits, we must be willing to do the hard work.  I see no evidence that taking shortcuts will solve problems, but see considerable evidence it will make existing problems worse.

 

Reworking success

While I strongly agree with Jordan Peterson's opposition to those who want to create harm by adopting policies based on equality of outcome, it is also obvious to me that I disagree with him when it comes to what qualifies as equality of opportunity.

Mr. Peterson has indicated many times that when counseling women on how to achieve better pay that they should become more aggressive. To make a long analysis short, his advise to individuals (regardless of anatomy) is to adopt more traditional "hunter gather" traits. My immediate question is this: are traits that are appropriate for human warfare and/or killing animals for food or sport the best traits to promote in the workplace, in economic policy, and society in general?

Hiring and promoting more women doesn't change this problematic criteria for success if the only women that are being hired and promoted are those who have already adopted the same traits.

On my bookshelf, along with Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" and Yochai Benkler's "The Wealth of Networks" is Robert Theobald's "reworking success".

Personally I think Adam Smith's ideas are more than a bit past their prime, and if we want to move forward with a modern society we need to put better thought into how we define wealth and success. I'm not suggesting we switch from the ideas of a Scottish economist (Adam Smith, 1723-1790) to the ideas of a German economist (Karl Marx, 1818-1883), as I don't think it is healthy to believe that all useful ideas are confined to a line between these two European males.

I'm convinced it isn't helpful to declare adherence to European ideas as a criteria for success, another thing I am not in agreement with Mr. Peterson on.


Systemic problems

I have spent much of my free (non-work) time in the last few months on my own antiracist training. Probably at the top of the list of thing I've learned is to move away from thinking about individuals (a racist, or a group of racists) to systems (racism).  An individual may prefer one race or the other, and may not even be aware of their biases.

This turns out to be ideal for me as a systems administrator. I've always been more comfortable thinking about systems, and less able (or sometimes interested) in narrowly focusing on individuals within the systems.  I've always been a "think global, act local" person.

I grew up in Canada, with Canadian culture all around me. While I didn't consider myself a racist, I still have views I adopted from the culture around me that have racial bias.

The current Canadian system of government was imposed in 1867 by colonialists who had already been occupying this land for a considerable time. When Europeans first traveled to the northern part of North America they established healthy trade relationships, but that relatively quickly moved to eurocentric colonialism. Whether the official colonial government policy to non-europeans (whether indigenous or european approved immigrants) was segregationist or assimilationist, both were and continue to be racism as part of the system of governance. The same is true of other demographic traits, where government and culture continues to try to make impositions on people that don't fit European, male, binary gender, or other narrow (and now many would agree outdated) concepts.

While it would be nice to think I would be alive long enough to request immigration status from a new government in a post-colonial northern North America (some call turtle island), I don't at all believe I live in a post-racism country.

Solving these systemic problems can't be accomplished by looking at individuals and assigning blame to individuals. Demographic trait based blame games seem obvious to me to be a distraction from moving forward with policies to reduce systemic injustice.


Affirmative Action

In the 1990's I was an opponent to affirmative action.  I have come to recognize this was because I am an opponent to policies trying to create equality of outcome, which I don't see as having merit.

I now recognize a lack of equality of opportunity, partly due to failures at defining success and dealing with systemic injustices.  I am a strong supporter of adjusting systems to not only correct existing systemic problems, but also for an appropriate level of time to grant an advantage to groups who were previously unfairly put at a disadvantage.

There may be some superficial similarities for some policies around equality of outcome and equality of opportunity, but how these policies are formed and what would be used as a metric of success would be quite different.

Unfortunately, I've rarely seen good arguments being brought forward for affirmative action and similar policies. As long as the discussion is around equality of outcomes, the justified opposition will always win the debate.  Policies to address social problems will either not be brought forward or won't last.

Only once convincing arguments that focus on systemic solutions to enable equality of opportunity are brought forward will we see sustainable progress.


Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Conservative Party of Canada's US-style primaries is counted today.

I disagree with Canada's adoption of US-style primaries where political tourists decide who will be treated as the leader/dictator of Canadian political parties.

Party leaders in the Canadian House of Commons should be decided by and accountable to caucus members, and never the other way around (caucus members asked to be accountable to party "leaders") if we wish to have a healthy representative democracy.


That said, there are possible outcomes of the CPC primary today that are interesting to different degrees.

Election not decided by "runners", front or otherwise.

The media likes to report on all elections as "races", where the fastest "runner" is the one that will win. There was constant talk about who was and was not a "front runner" during this primary.

The fact is most elections don't work that way, and the media tends to not even correctly identify who is being elected.  For instance, in Canada individual voters do not directly elect a Prime Minister.  We elect MP representatives in our districts who join and potentially change party caucuses. It is the entirety of the elected representatives in the House of Commons that decides who forms government, not individual district voters.


In the case of this primary election they are using a ranked ballot as well as a point system that allocates points equally among electoral districts no matter how many political tourists voted in that district.  This is nothing like a "one person, one vote" system.  The votes can transfer from one candidate to another based on the ranking on the ballot, and the weight of each vote is lower in districts with more ballots cast.


While a small number of journalists accurately reported this election, most did not.  While part of the job of the media in a democracy is to hold politicians to account, I have always wondered whose job it is to hold the media to account.

I wonder if Canadian representative democracy would be damaged by the centralization of decision making in unaccountable "leaders" had it not been for the all too common confusion of "Canadian" reporters who reported on Canadian elections as if they were similar in some way to US elections.  Would the CPC even be having primaries if not for media misreporting over generations?


All 4 candidates are possible

Given the way this election works, as opposed to how it was reported, all 4 candidates are possibilities.  It may not be how many #1 votes were cast that determines the outcome, but who was looked at by those with strong #1 preferences as their #2 choice.  The weight of an individual vote may change during each round, as the ballots of those who didn't rank additional choices are exhausted and no longer part of the count.


Leslyn Lewis

Ms. Lewis is seen by many to be a great #2 choice, for a wide variety of quite different reasons.   For the strong social conservatives her evangelical views, including strong anti-choice views, is seen as a plus.  For some social liberals her gender and race are seen as a plus, a refreshing change from the white maleness that dominates Canadian politics.

While I read interviews about her, as a past party member who voted in the last CPC primary I didn't receive constant campaign newsletters as I did the other 3 candidates.  I don't know if it was part of the plan to stay under the radar, and allow the other 3 candidates to provide ammunition against themselves in a future general election.

All of what I saw of her makes her the most interesting possibility during a general election, as different people can focus on different aspects of what is presented and come to very different conclusions.  I would speculate her influence on district voters in a general election to be more positive than the other 3 candidates, and some primary voters may have voted for her based on this reason.


Peter MacKay

I see Peter MacKay as a moderate compromise choice, much as Andrew Scheer was.  While Mr. MacKay tried to play up his social-conservative bona-fides during this election, that campaigning will hurt the party in a general election similar to how it hurt Andrew Scheer during the most recent general election.

I consider Mr. MacKay to be the least interesting possibility, and the least different from Andrew Scheer.

 

Erin O'Toole

What I found most interesting during the campaign is how much time the other two male candidates spent opposing his climate change plan.  This is because he had one, while Peter and Derek seemed to suggest that even recognizing the need to have a plan was somehow anti-conservative.  How it became Conservative policy to subsidize inefficiency and government debt remains confusing to me.

Mr. O'Toole is often grouped with Mr. MacKay as far as not being so visibly a social conservative, even though he used a "true blue Conservative" as a campaign slogan.  Like Mr. MacKay the attempt to push his social-conservative  bona-fides during campaign will come to haunt him during a general election.

Note: I have to admit to agreeing with his plan to defund CBC television, hopefully as a start to remove subsidies and special policy treatment from analog-era broadcasting and BDU's entirely.  This is 2020, not 1980...

Derek Sloan

Derek Sloan offers "no apologies" for his highly visible form of social conservatism.  If he somehow became leader it would be a gift to other general election candidates not nominated by the CPC.  What I read from his campaign put him very far outside of mainstream Canadian thought.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

My telecommunications focused brief to INDU for Canadian response to COVID-19 pandemic

On May 15th the Canadian INDU parliamentary committee published my brief to their study on the Canadian Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  They published a PDF version.  This is a slightly edited (turn footnotes into links) version.


Introduction

I am submitting this brief as a private citizen with over 30 years experience in the Information and Communications Technology field.

With population growth, aided by climate change, virus and other pathogen outbreaks are expected to be more common. With globalisation and increased global travel, pathogen outbreaks more easily become pandemics.

While pandemics need to be understood as a fact of life, our response to pandemics and the various costs of those responses are policy choices. There are emergency preparedness plans with considerable resources, including preparedness drills, for other types of threats such as war, terrorism or school schootings. This has not yet been the case for pathogen outbreaks or pandemics.

It seems our societies are quite willing to allocate resources to protect ourselves from fellow humans, but not from other threats.

While I believe mandatory social distancing is required to reduce the health impacts of outbreaks and pandemics, the cost of emergency measures to the economy and other aspects of society (including those waiting for surgeries, or afraid to go to hospitals) are largely due to the lack of preparedness. It is the failure to prepare that is costing the economy. The results are expected to be quite extreme, with some experts predicting that the economic impact alone may be comparable to the Great Depression. 

I believe this high cost could have been avoided.

 

Policy choices

In early April I sent a letter to David McGuinty, my MP in Ottawa South, offering my support for Universal Basic Income (UBE) and infrastructure spending as a longer-term response to this pandemic. I have been concerned that public spending has not been as focused as it could be.

What COVID-19 has made obvious is that Canada lacks infrastructure when it comes to public science and public health, as well as better communications infrastructure. This refers not only to better competition in urban environments, but also provision of equitable services to rural residents. This would be based upon a divested public utility model for the last mile, and a fully competitive model for other services.

As this is a submission to INDU, I will focus on communications infrastructure.


Complete the digital transition

During this pandemic communications infrastructure was declared an essential service. Being able to replace physical communication with Internet-based communication is critical to the physical (“social”) distancing request. Many have learnt how poor their Internet connections are when there are multiple people in the house competing for use of what telcos have convinced us is “scarce” Internet bandwidth.

Teleconference systems (such as webex, zoom, JITSI, gotomeeting, etc.) are providing what appear to be essential services, and require properly engineered and regulated networks. Previously, this level of services was limited to analog-era telephone lines. But, there is no longer any clear separation between communications infrastructure which is essential, and less essential services which run "over the top" (OTT) of that infrastructure.

During the analog-era, communications infrastructure using analog technologies needed to be purpose built. Into our homes we had wires for two-way voice communication (telephone), and another set of wires for one-way audio-video communication (Cable television, AKA: a Broadcast Distribution Undertaking or BDU), with similar purpose-specific allocations of wireless spectrum.

With digital technology the OSI layered approach upon which nearly all digital communications technology is modeled allows for structural separation such that the underlying layers of the network can be treated as a utility like every other connection into our home or offices, and the services that run over-the-top can be regulated appropriate to each specific service. It is that underlying utility which is the essential service, not every OTT service.

 

Using a layered model for road transportation as analogy

In 1994 the federal government formed the Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC). Discussing roads and highways is an appropriate analogy to communications technology as it exposes the layers and complexity of the network, even though road transportation is simpler and less flexible than digital communications networks.

A simplification of layers built on road infrastructure might be:

 

  • Road infrastructure. This is comparable to the physical network layers.
  • Vehicles run "Over The Top" of those roads. This is comparable to physical devices connected to the communications network. Not all vehicles on actual highways are treated equally: Ambulances are given priority, while trucks pay a higher tax due to the increased wear they cause on the infrastructure. Yet, anyone may operate a delivery service.
  • Drivers control the vehicles. This would be comparable to software authors, where software is the instructions that drive digital devices. (Note: It is software that differentiates between TCP/IP and other networking protocols. ISP's are businesses that run their own devices and provide transport of packets encapsulated within TCP/IP.)
  • Passengers and parcels which would be placed in/on the vehicles for transport. This is comparable to the applications which use the network (two way or one-way audio/video/text/etc communication)

 

With transportation the roads are a mixture of municipal, provincial and federal management. Private roads including driveways connect to publicly managed infrastructure, but we don't allow specific (OTT) companies (say, Canadian Tire) to own and claim the right to control traffic over core infrastructure. For instance, if Canadian Tire Trucks were to claim priority over the 400 series of highways, at the expense of HomeDepot trucks, we could consider that a market failure. If such a thing were to occur because of an alliance between the 407ETR and Canadian Tire, then it would trigger the competition tribunal to investigate. Such a conflict of interest would be obvious. While publicly owned vehicles exist, private (corporate and individual) vehicle ownership far exceeds public. Individual citizens are allowed (in many ways actively encouraged) to personally own and drive vehicles.

If we use this road transportation analogy to go through various policy discussions the failures becomes more obvious. (See: Hiding OSI layers leading to policy failures: Net Neutrality, Encrypted Media )

 

Understanding what is Over The Top

When I use the term "over the top" (OTT) I mean it in a technological sense, not as used by the lobbyists from the analog-era incumbents. Services which operate above OSI layer 2 (or some talk of layer 2.5 as technology has advanced) are considered OTT no matter which entity is providing those services.

It is important to understand that there is actually no “other” way anymore. The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) that consisted of SS7 and T1 lines, and switched by devices from companies like Nortel, is gone. All voice communications within the backbone of the voice network is based upon packet switching, rather than circuit switching.

This means that telephone service offered by Bell Canada and BDU services offered by Rogers are OTT services. They run over-the-top of Bell and Rogers’ commodity networks, using the same fibers, and often the same (IP) switching equipment as public Internet traffic. (That doesn’t mean they are connected to the Internet). Unfortunately policy makers have further privileged the analog-era incumbents by claiming that BDU services offered by Bell Canada or telephone service offered by Rogers aren't OTT, even though they are just as much OTT as when those services are provided by any other company. In particular, the last mile voice connections offered by cable companies like Rogers use VoIP technology, and all LTE voice (since “4G”) are VoIP connections, usually IPv6 links. These LTE links use private/privileged Bearer Channels unavailable to MVNOs to offer glitch-free communications.

We must adopt structural separation to ensure that appropriate public priorities are the focus of any of the underlying utility infrastructure. We also need to disallow the continued privileging of specific OTT brands who were given advantage during the analog era. They must no longer be allowed to use money (including a considerable amount of public money, often via the “rural broadband” initiatives) intended to enhance the utility infrastructure to instead subsidize their OTT services. We also must regulate each individual OTT service appropriate to the service, not allowing vertically integrated companies to circumvent this regulation.

(Note: Using the technological meanings of OTT, Bell's FiveTV is a "new media retransmitter" as excluded by section 31 to be granted the copyright exceptions granted to BDU's. This was added by Bill C-11 passed in 2002 specifically to disallow competing OTT services to be established in Canada. We would have had a Canadian Neftlix-like service before the US service emerged had the federal government not blocked this innovation.

As many people have learned during the lock-down, their VPN connections that ought to be “across” town, are often travelling thousands of kilometers to Toronto and back, because the incumbent providers are thinking like BDUs rather than utility companies.

 

Never cross-subsidize a non-essential service from an essential service

Prior to the pandemic the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, as well as other policy makers, were contemplating a cross-subsidy where fees intended to pay for core communications infrastructure would be subsidizing the creation of entertainment content. This is clearly a cross-subsidy of a non-essential service from an essential service.

Policy must be focused on providing subsidies to essential services, not extracting funding from essential services or increasing the costs of essential services.

 

Rural broadband

Rural areas will have been harder hit by the response to the pandemic because of poor communications infrastructure. With digital-era structural separation it would be the rural municipalities and communities themselves that set policy priorities for their communications utilities. While both provincial and federal governments should be providing assistance as they do with other infrastructure projects such as transportation, the ownership should remain in the hands of the municipalities as happens with transportation.

The importance of rural broadband has been discussed by this committee fairly regularly, so I likely do not need to repeat the importance.

Report 11 from the 2018 study specifically included on page 19 the advantage of the 6 communications infrastructure being planned by the appropriate level of government as part of transportation infrastructure, so that transportation infrastructure isn't dug-up to install communications infrastructure.

We should consider revoking the right-of-way privilege to communications incumbents via the existing CRTC regulations on fiber construction companies, as it is only the appropriate levels of government that should own the infrastructure under the ground, and on utility poles on public and private property. If a private sector entity wishes to lay cabling, they should have to negotiate with the land owners and pay appropriate ongoing rental fees for the use of the land. The incumbents seem to enjoy a privileged level of access to municipal permit processes, and in cases where another company has laid fiber, have in some cases managed to delay, or take over builds.

Report 18 from the 2019 study of M-208 specifically highlighted the importance of communications infrastructure during a crisis, as we are learning first-hand less than a year later.

While there have been successes such as CTAL , bringing together municipalities in the (Note: Près de 800 personnes découvrent la fibre optique avec CTAL, Mai 17, 2018) Antoine-Labelle regional county municipality, this needs to become the default scenario and not an exception. The federal government is promising money to rural broadband projects. These projects (Note: Government will accelerate rural broadband funds, details to come ‘soon,’ says Monsef (By AnjaKaradegilja, MAY. 1, 2020, Hill Times) need to be post-digital-transition projects where the utility layer of the infrastructure are owned by the appropriate level of government, and a properly competitive marketplace of OTT services can exist. Such a thing has existed for some time in Alberta via the Alberta SuperNet system.

 

Summary

  • Digital networking has separation between layers of a network stack in a way that analog communications technology did not. Public policy must take this fundamental difference into account.
  • As an essential service during emergencies, and essential for the modern economy, the lower levels of the network must be treated as a utility managed by the appropriate level of government.
  • Governments managing this utility reduces costs as communications become part of transportation, water, sewar, electrical distribution, and other infrastructure projects. This avoids the need to dig multiple times, but also makes sure that growth occurs in ways that municipalities have planned.
  • Governments managing this utility allows local governments, rather than distantly headquartered private sector companies (with unseen conflicts of interests), to set infrastructure priorities that meet critical public policy needs. This is especially important in rural and remote settings.

 

Why we shouldn't be attempting to send children to regular school during COVID-19

During the September 11 2001 attacks, 2,977 people died in the United States.  As of the morning of August 12 there have been 162,104 reported deaths from COVID-19 within the United States. Rounding the recent numbers it is similar to there being a S11 level of event every 4 days within the United States. Globally there have been 736,766 reported deaths thus far. These are reported deaths for COVID-19, and I expect we won't know the larger complete total until some time after the crisis is over.


After September 11, 2001 the west said that "the world changed", and many policies were put in place to try to prevent similar future events. While COVID-19 is a much larger crisis, and a global rather than country-specific crisis, we are not yet treating it with an appropriate level of urgency or requirement for future planning.


Several jurisdictions are wanting to send children back to school as if everything is normal.  In Ontario a few pennies per child are being spent for some protective equipment and cleaning. The poor conditions of the generally underfunded schools and small inadequately ventilated classrooms remain.



If citizens and governments were understanding COVID-19 as the crisis it is, the plan would be very different. While we need to provide something for children to do out of their homes during this crisis to allow their parents to return to work, that something isn't regular school. The infrastructure to provide a safe environment for those children and their families isn't available via the regular school system: there isn't enough teachers to act as supervisors, and there isn't the space in the classrooms to have appropriately small groups. Anything that children share with each other at school is brought home to their families, putting additional lives at unnecessary risk.



What is needed is to find additional space elsewhere, and to hire an adequate number of supervisors.  There are many appropriate adults that could be hired (university students and otherwise) that are without jobs, but to keep with the theme of safety there should be proper vetting ahead of time.  The same with organizing the spaces, given we need heated and properly ventilated spaces for the upcoming winter months.


Doing things right requires planning.  Instead at least the Ontario government has decided not to do any planning at all, and pretend that sending children back to their regular classroom qualifies as a plan.


Education is needed during this crisis, but the regular curriculum is not what is important.


We need to educate children, who will hopefully share with their parents, about situational awareness .  There are things which are important to take into consideration in decision making during a crisis, even one that is lasting for many months, that are not currently the focus.


We need to help with anxiety and other mental health.  Part of this relates to situational awareness where there is a need to focus on the important things, but to also disregard things which are not important.  Examples would be concern over teacher preparation, school curriculum, marks, or graduations.  Being concerned about these things increases stress for no value, and increases health risks by distracting from situational awareness.


While regular teaching staff should be included as child supervisors, regular school curriculum should not be a focus. I recognize this will be uncomfortable for regular teaching staff, especially at the high school level, but we need to remain aware of the crisis we are in and prioritize.


We need to help with the cognitive dissonance people have about COVID-19. With S11 there were visuals that were on a constant loop on television to remind people of the crisis, but these visuals don't exist with COVID-19.  I started this article with some numbers. Even when repeating the numbers comparing COVID-19 to the much smaller events of S11 that most people still emotionally believe that S11 was a larger crisis.