Internet drama in Canada. (Really.)

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Let’s talk about internet politics! In Canada! Yeah!

I’m serious that there are useful lessons from a saga about home internet service in Canada. What has been a promising, if flawed, system that has expanded choice and improved Internet service for Canadians is on the verge of collapse.

Barring last-minute government intervention today or Friday, many small ISPs in Canada are likely to dramatically increase their prices and lose customers or close their doors. The dream of greater competition leading to better Internet service for Canadians is on life support.

What’s happening in Canada reveals why we need smart internet policy coupled with strong government oversight to have a better, more affordable internet for everyone – and it shows what happens when we lose that.

The US has botched it for years, and it’s one of the reasons US internet service stinks. Canada can be a real-world experiment in what happens when confusing government regulation undermines internet policy that has generally been effective.

Stick with me for a lesson on Canada’s home internet service. Ultimately, Canadians have something relatively new to Americans: many people have the option of choosing a home Internet service provider that they don’t dislike.

Indeed, in Canada – as in many countries including Britain, Australia and Japan – companies that own internet pipelines are required to lease access to companies who then sell internet services to homes. . Regulators are watching closely to make sure these rental costs and terms are fair.

Internet infrastructure owners in Canada and elsewhere do not like this approach. They generally say that if they have to share their infrastructure and the potential benefits that flow from it, they have less incentive to improve and expand Internet pipelines.

The United States over the past 20 years has generally not operated that way. Big companies like Comcast and Verizon own most of the Internet pipelines, and for the most part, there’s no requirement to lease access to smaller companies that might want to sell services to us.

Overall, mandatory and regulated leasing of internet pipelines is one of the reasons Europeans tend to pay significantly less for better internet service than we do in America, according to a 2020 analysis from New America. , an American left-wing think tank.

Canada’s Internet service is still not great. But a 2019 analysis by a government agency found that while the country’s rental access approach had drawbacks, it had been largely effective in making internet service more competitive and pushing businesses to cut costs. and improve their networks and customer service.

The sticking point in Canada is the price charged by Internet pipeline owners. In recent years, there have been legal and regulatory wrangles over the appropriate costs and terms for large companies to lease their pipelines. Smaller Canadian internet companies say infrastructure owners have misled regulators about the cost of building and maintaining networks.

The result, after some flip-flopping by government officials, is that the country’s telecommunications regulator has sided with the owners of the internet pipeline. Unless there is a last-minute change this week, the government is poised to impose significantly higher fees on small ISPs to lease pipelines from big companies. At least one of these providers in Canada has already sold out and said they couldn’t have stayed in business with the new rates.

Small internet providers say Canada is on the verge of breaking a system that served customers well.

“This will unequivocally mean that home internet prices will continue to rise and consumers will suffer,” said Geoff White, executive director of Competitive Network Operators of Canada, a trade group for small service providers. telecommunications. White told me that it took years for the nation’s internet system to become more competitive and “it was undone piece by piece by piece.”

He and other critics of Canada’s internet policy said service providers and customers alike suffered from years of regulatory limbo over the cost of renting internet conduits. Admittedly, determining the right price is a complicated analysis in any country. Set prices too low or too high, and the system fails.

It is worth paying attention to what is happening in Canada. Like other essential services, including electricity and healthcare, great internet service doesn’t happen by accident. It is a choice that requires a judicious mix of effective public policies and the best capitalism has to offer.


Tip of the week

Brian X. Chen, the consumer technology columnist for The New York Times, has tips he learned from his column this week about the attempt, and the monumental failure, to fix his own iPhone.

I told my story of failing to use Apple’s new self-repair program, which involved renting 75 pounds of repair machinery, to install a battery in my iPhone 12. I made a mistake stupid that destroyed my screen. My fault, but it shows how ruthless Apple machines are. There is virtually no room for error.

I did, however, manage to install a battery in my wife’s iPhone XS using a much more modest toolkit from iFixit, a company that publishes instructions and sells DIY repair tools. Its kits for replacing a battery include tweezers, a screwdriver and plastic picks to cut the glue that seals the phone.

I have some hard-earned advice if you want to try your own electronic repairs:

  • Practice: Any do-it-yourselfer knows that getting a job done right the first time is rare. Mistakes are part of the learning process. Before attempting to disassemble your phone or laptop, look for low-stakes gadgets to practice with. Good candidates are an outdated Kindle or an unused iPad.

  • Stay organized. It is very important to keep track of what you are doing so that you can reassemble a gadget correctly. With my wife’s iPhone, I took a picture before starting the repair, then labeled each screw I removed with numbers. I put the screws in paper trays labeled with the corresponding numbers.

  • Be slow and careful. Unlike the repairs we might perform on cars, bikes, and plumbing, electronics are extremely fragile. Be delicate. Place your device on something soft, like a lint-free cloth, to avoid damage. Move slowly and carefully to avoid tearing cables and unscrewing screws. It can actually feel meditative.

If you succeed, it will hopefully be worth it.

This poor dog Lottie, does NOT seem to enjoy daily group hikes.

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