Problems and Purpose
The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) held a public consultation on Reddit, an online discussion forum, seeking requests for comments on a proposal to eliminate differential pricing practices among mobile data providers. Differential pricing exempts using certain apps or other behavior patterns from being charged.
The discussion was triggered by customer complaints in 2015 which argued that Videotron and Bell were in violation of the Telecommunications Act when offering an Unlimited Music package that was tied to their own applications (apps)[Did you know section].
Background History and Context
On September 26 to September 30 2016 the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) held a public consultation on Reddit, an online discussion forum, seeking requests for comments on a proposal to eliminate differential pricing practices. The discussion parameters were set in English and French.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Reddit, an online discussion forum, allows users to comment on topics and to vote on each others' comments. The thread was hosted under the subreddit /r/Canada. The website was aquired by Condé Nast in 2006. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is a Cabinet appointed federal commission.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Reddit, unlike other platforms, does not have a character limit, nor does it have a "real names" policy, and does not require a valid email address to sign up. This means that activists of different backgrounds can present their thoughts in depth and without fear of retaliation from their identities being compromised. Demographic characteristics, therefore, cannot be assertained but some argue that Reddit users tend to lean heavily towards open internet governance. They may also be more young than most legal/regulatory experts and lobbyists, and are techsavvier than the population at large but they are thought to also skew towards more male than female representation--although this is the hardest claim to ascertain. The voting system also means that the community itself sets the priorities and most relevant talking points for the discussion. There is no barrier to entry other than having access to internet access and creating a free and anonymous account.
Methods and Tools Used
Government and regulatory bodies often issue a ‘Notice and Request for Public Comment’ (NRPC) to solicit feedback on proposed regulations, laws, and amendments. NRPCs are predominantly used by government departments and agencies as well as public oversight or regulatory bodies.
The 'Request for Comment' process used in this case followed the model established by the Internet Engineering Task Force. RFCs consist of the following steps: proposing a question, holding a public debate, collecting the general audience's thoughts, generating a report that will serve as a basis for further discussion or policy. RFCs are more dialogical and are held on public forums like Reddit which encourage participant interaction and engagement with requesting bodies/individuals.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The government provided a short version ("tl;dr") of the issue at hand and a link to a longer description of what differential pricing practices meant, along with four questions it asked users to consider regarding Canadian data packages to better understand their points of view. The topic at hand was differential pricing practices, construed as the circumstances when certain mobile internet providers exempt customers from data charges for certain behavior, but not all of it. They were very careful to coach this in terms of differential, and not preferential, but many of the participants pointed out that differential violates the network neutrality principles, and would by one way or another, give preferential treatment to the behavior exempted from data-counts.
- What do you think are the benefits of differential pricing?
- Do you have any concerns about differential pricing?
- Do these concerns outweigh the benefits and, if so, are they significant enough to justify us stepping in and regulating the practices? Or should we let the home (wireline), and mobile (wireless) service providers decide?
- If we should step in, how should we regulate it?
During the commenting period, 1189 comments were amassed. These are to be published in the CRTC website. In a second phase, oral and written public submissions from the parties will be addressed from October 31st to November 23, 2016.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
At the time of writing the CTRC had not completed its assesment of the comments and formulated a policy conclusion.
The Reddit effort was a "web 2.0" version of the current Request for Comments method used by CTRC and other telecommunications' regulating authorities.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Will be updated upon CTRC conclusion of policy review.
Internet Engineering Task Force Requests for Comments (RFCs)
Financial Post Tech Desk Canadians flood CRTC Reddit forum calling for ban on differential data pricing
Katy Anderson-Rabble.ca CRTC goes full-Internet with #EndDataCaps Reddit consultation
Lead image: r/Canada screenshot, https://goo.gl/XS5wp9