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Trudeau Ends Endless Debate on Taxing Internet Content Providers: Canadians Pay Enough Already

Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly blunders through the dicey issue of Canadian content on Netflix in a press tour called “disastrous” by critics.

The arrival of Netflix Canada and its tens of thousands of alternative on-demand viewing choices has had defenders of Canadian culture up in arms ever since the American interloper showed up.

A little background:

For Canada, the dominance of their neighbor to the south has always presented a challenge to a country that fears having its cultural independence steamrolled and its official two-language experience watered down by an avalanche of English-language content. Canadian broadcasters and cable networks are governed by regulations that require they reserve at least 50% of their program schedule for Canadian content (the percentage varies slightly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada — Canada’s public broadcaster, and Canadian cable networks).

Because Canada is a much smaller media market than the United States, finding the money to produce enough high quality Canadian TV shows and movies has always been a challenge. Most recently, Canada’s telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) mandated that broadcasters spend 30% of their revenues on original Canadian content. As a result, many commercial networks and stations spend that money on cheap reality shows or news content to satisfy Canadian content requirements. While that fulfills the government mandate, it doesn’t always fulfill the demands of many Canadian viewers that prefer to watch something else.

Netflix’s streaming service in Canada competes directly with those broadcasters, as well as Canadian cable and phone company on-demand services, but is not subject to the same content laws because the 25-year old law governing broadcasting was written before there was the prospect of online streaming alternatives. In less than a decade Netflix has grown its original business renting DVD’s through the mail into a multi-billion dollar international streaming business that has deeper content acquisition pockets than any Canadian media entity.

The Liberal Party of Canada is trying to manage Canadian content rules now 25 years old, before the era of streaming video.

There is also a technology shift in play here. What exactly constitutes “media” is open to debate. Traditional broadcast media now competes with newly emerging, and largely unregulated digital social media (a-la Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and online over-the-top services (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc.) Broadcasters are regulated in the public interest and have lived under that framework for decades. Upstart new media relies on an internet platform that has never been significantly regulated at all.

Efforts by the government and Canada’s creative community to get Netflix Canada to follow the Canadian content model has largely failed, and it seems unlikely Netflix will ever see itself tied down by content or language quotas. It flies in the face of Netflix’s marketing — giving customers unlimited access to the content they want to see, not what a bureaucrat in Montreal or Ottawa wants customers to see.

Netflix has hired some high-priced lobbyists to make sure their interests are represented before federal and provincial officials, and it has been a constant battle over the last two years as the service confronts content regulators, those upset about the service’s lack of French Canadian titles, and the desire by some of Canada’s political parties and provinces, Quebec notably, to subject Netflix to federal and provincial sales and value-added taxes (GST/HST).

The federal government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has refused to impose these kinds of taxes on Netflix or other foreign-headquartered internet services, despite the fact many fellow members of the Liberal Party think it should. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage called for an internet tax last June, and content creator groups have lobbied the government hard to demand Netflix be required to substantially invest in homegrown Canadian productions envisioned, filmed, and produced by Canadians.

It has also the components you need to create a melodrama:

  • a deep-pocketed and arrogant American corporation that made an inelegant entry into Canada and alienated the CRTC by refusing to disclose information to the regulator;
  • a sense of an unfair playing field where Canadian companies face sales/use taxes while American companies like Netflix don’t;
  • the ongoing fear among Canada’s Francophone community that their political and language sovereignty is under threat;
  • the ongoing fear of Canadians that their cultural sovereignty will be washed away by an American cultural tsunami.

The Liberals’ Sacrificial Lamb: Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s Disaster Tour

Some Francophone tabloids in Quebec specialize is assaulting all-things-Liberal, especially Mélanie Joly.

Trudeau’s point person on the Netflix controversy in 2017 was Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, who was swept into the political maelstrom during a cross-country tour to promote the government’s new Creative Canada cultural policy. By all accounts, it was an unmitigated disaster for the government.

Joly’s performance in Quebec — her home province where she serves as MP for the Ahuntsic-Cartierville riding in Montreal, managed what few thought possible — uniting critics from the province’s governing Liberals with the sovereigntist Parti Québécois and the left-wing party Québec Solidaire.

Mathieu Bock-Côté, writing in the Journal de Montréal, claimed Joly was guilty of “dereliction of duty.”

After Joly bizarrely asserted on Radio-Canada’s popular talk show Tout le monde en parle (“Everyone’s Talking About It”) that Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator with over 1.6 million subscribers was not a cable company, center-right tabloids Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, both specializing in attacking all-things-Trudeau, had a field day. One columnist labeled Joly “Mélangée Joly” ( All-mixed-up Joly). Her propensity to stick close to her index card talking points and repeat them over and over, regardless of the question asked, bemused columnist Richard Martineau, who wrote Joly sounded “like a living answering machine having a nervous breakdown.”

In Quebec, the debate over tax fairness shared the stage with concerns about how much attention Netflix will pay producing French Canadian content.

In hopes of assuaging concerns, Joly announced Ottawa would increase investment in the $349 million Canada Media Fund to make up for shortfalls from declining contributions based on decreasing revenue from Canadian cable operators. She also promised $125 million to promote Canadian productions abroad. Heads that first nodded in agreement over the announcement quickly froze after Joly also announced Netflix would be exempt from federal sales tax in return for a five-year commitment to invest $100 million annually in Canadian content and $25 million specifically for “market development” of French-language content, whatever that means.

The lack of any specific commitment on French language programming went over like a lead balloon and ignited a firestorm of criticism over the perception Joly was going to rely entirely on Netflix Canada to protect and manage francophone programming on its own terms.

“We are alarmed as Francophones because there is no guarantee that a part of this [$100 million annually] is going to francophone content,” said Gabriel Pelletier, head of the province’s producers’ union, the Association des réalisateurs et réalisatrices du Québec. “Cultural questions are definitely more sensitive and obvious in Quebec, but my colleagues in the rest of Canada have similar priorities. We need to be able to see ourselves and our own stories in cultural content. Our own distributors play by very strict rules, but here we are giving Netflix a red carpet and an open market. It could lead to the disintegration of our entire regulatory system, because Rogers and Bell might say ‘Why do we have to pay when Netflix doesn’t have to?”

Joly also made little headway defending the Liberal government’s sales tax policy exempting Netflix. Appearing on Cogeco-owned CHMP-FM in Montreal, Joly was questioned by center-right talk show host Paul Arcand over her claim the decision not to tax Netflix was based on the Liberals’ promise not to raise taxes.

“Tou.tv (Radio-Canada’s streaming film service] is taxed. Vidéotron’s Illico is taxed; we are not talking about adding a new tax, we’re talking about taxing a product thacrticismt already exists,” Arcand said. “Are you ready to remove the taxes for those two comparable [Canadian] companies?”

Joly did not specifically answer.

Cartoonists have been particularly vicious over the Netflix affair, portraying Joly as vapid or a camera-friendly tall, blond, 38-year old politician more style than substance. Some of her critics on the right — usually older middle-aged men, according to her defenders — ‘cross the line’ into sexism by repeatedly calling Joly “the majorette” — a reference to a baton twirling performer usually seen in marching bands during parades.

Despite the criticism, Joly rarely sat back and allowed those perceptions to go unchallenged.

A tradition among guests on Tout le monde en parle is to end their segment by reading aloud a card handed to them by a producer that succinctly summarizes their position. Viewers understand the words are written by the producer and not the guest, but Joly unilaterally decided to change her card. The original said, “It’s amazing that with all the digital media available, our politicians have stayed faithful to the cassette.” Joly replaced the word “cassette” with the word “innovation.”

Dany Turcotte, the show’s co-producer tasked with creating the cards, was not happy with Joly’s change.

“When someone changes the meaning of my cards, ça me met en t****,” using an expression that roughly translates to “that makes me f***ing angry.”

The NDP vs. the Liberals

After the embarrassing press tour ended, the issue went back on simmer mode until Feb. 5, when an opposition members of the NDP brought the issue forward once again during the House of Commons Question Time, where members can directly question the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.


“The government seems more than happy to let web giants continue to make huge profits without contributing to the Canadian economy,” said MP Peter Julian (NDP-New Westminster/Burnaby, B.C.). “While the rest of the world is trying to make these companies pay, the Liberals are doing the opposite. They are making deals with Netflix and other companies, and offering massive tax breaks. Canadians pay their taxes and expect companies to do the same. When will the Liberals start making web giants pay their fair share?”

“Mr. Speaker, the NDP is proposing to raise taxes on the middle class, which is something we promised we would not do and have not done,” responded Prime Minister Trudeau. “We explicitly promised in the 2015 election campaign that we would not be raising taxes on Netflix. People may remember Stephen Harper’s attack ads on that. They were false. We actually moved forward in demonstrating that we were not going to raise taxes on consumers, who pay enough for their internet at home.”

“Mr. Speaker, is it fair that Netflix, Facebook, and other web giants have to pay neither sales nor income tax whereas Canadian companies in the same sector do?” followed up MP Guy Caron (NDP-Rimouski-Neigette/Témiscouata/Les Basques, Que.) “Around the world, other countries are trying to make sure that these web giants pay their fair share. Australia and the European Union are excellent examples. After all, it is those giants that are going to monopolize the advertising market and suck the lifeblood out of our print media. They are also responsible for the challenges facing print media. Instead of reining in the web giants and ensuring a level playing field for everyone, the Liberals want to make this preferential treatment official. When will the Liberals show some backbone and level the playing field?”


“Mr. Speaker, we are not going to raise taxes on Canadians. That is what the NDP is asking us to do,” responded Trudeau. “We recognize that the media environment and television viewing and production are changing rapidly. That is why we reached out and got Netflix to make historic investments in our content creators here in Quebec and Canada, to help them succeed in this changing universe. We have a great deal of confidence in our creators; the approach we have chose is a testament to that.”

In a later exchange, the issue of Netflix and taxation was debated by MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (NDP-Sherbrooke, Que.) and Sean Casey, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage:

Dusseault: My question primarily has to do with the Netflix agreement. Everyone is starting to understand how this agreement gives Netflix a tax advantage over its competitors. I want to follow up on this issue and on the government’s completely twisted logic. Last week, the government kept spouting the same empty rhetoric to explain why it decided to give Netflix a tax holiday. This tax holiday was granted in exchange for an investment, but there is no guarantee of this investment. Netflix is getting a tax holiday in exchange for the infamous agreement presented by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. This is what I would like to talk about today.

The government gave a foreign company a tax break for doing business in Canada without having to abide by same tax rules as its competitors. This company is doing business with Canadian consumers. When it sells a product to consumers in Canada, it does not have to charge GST or federal sales tax because the government is allowing this situation to continue. The government is allowing a company to sell a product, in this case a subscription to Netflix, without charging consumers any GST.

According to the government and its twisted logic, this is not a problem because that is just how things work. That is the government’s reason for not forcing Netflix to charge GST. It is possible to make Netflix charge sales tax because several other countries have already done so. Although Netflix is an American company that operates all over the world, it pays sales tax in some countries. Most countries actually have taxes associated with the sale of goods and services.


Canada can make Netflix charge sales tax. It is possible. The argument that the government cannot do this does not hold water. In fact, the government is not even using that argument. In the beginning, the Minister of Canadian Heritage said that it was too complicated and that it would require an international agreement to make Netflix charge sales tax. That is completely untrue.

Now the government’s argument is that it does not want to impose a new tax on consumers. Based on the government’s twisted logic, the GST is a new tax. This is like telling huge multinationals like Target or Walmart that when they come to Canada to sell their goods and services, they will not have to charge their customers GST at the checkout because that would be a new tax. This is like telling a new company that sets up shop in Canada that we cannot ask it to charge GST because that would be a new tax, and Canadians cannot afford any new taxes. That is the logic the Liberals are using today. In other words, they are saying that a foreign company or multinational that has a physical presence in Canada does not have to charge GST, although the store next door does.

Can my colleague explain how the government came up with this logic? How is the GST a new tax for businesses?

Casey: Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my honorable colleague from Sherbrooke for giving us a chance to talk about the many benefits of the agreement with Netflix.This government strongly believes that the establishment of a new Canadian business in the film and television production sector by Netflix is wonderful news for Canadian creators and producers, and ultimately for our cultural industries as a whole.

The approval of this significant investment in Canada under the Investment Canada Act is yet another indication of our government’s strong commitment to growing Canada’s creative industries, with new investments that create more opportunities for creators and producers across the country. In fact, this major investment of a minimum of $500 million over the next five years on original productions in Canada will provide them with even greater access to financing, business partners, and ultimately new ways to connect with audiences across the globe.


Such an unprecedented investment by a digital platform in Canada, a first of its kind for Netflix outside of the United States, is yet another confirmation to the world that Canada is a great place to invest, attesting to the creative talent of this country and the strong track record of our cultural industries in creating films and television productions that really stand out.

It is important to make a distinction between the cultural activities of Netflix Canada, which has committed to investing a minimum of $500 million Canadian in the production of Canadian-made films and television series, with the activities of its U.S.-based video streaming service. These are in fact two separate kinds of cultural activities.

It is also important to reiterate that all businesses, including those involved in television and film production that set up and operate in Canada, must abide by the Canadian tax system, which includes GST. Given that Netflix Canada plans to operate a production company in Canada, it will have to comply with all GST-related rules, which could apply to its production activities in Canada.

Lastly I would like to point out that Netflix announced last week that it has acquired the award-winning Canadian film, Les Affamés, written and directed by Robin Aubert, one of the most unique voices in Quebec’s cinema, to be made available on the international market as early as this coming March. This represents the first of many Canadian films and television series to be acquired or produced by Netflix Canada as a result of its significant investment announced last fall.

Dusseault: Mr. Speaker, I know the parliamentary secretary is trying to draw a distinction between Netflix Canada and Netflix USA. I know the two are different. However, he avoided answering my question about Netflix USA subscriptions that are not subject to GST. That was probably intentional, so I would like him to comment on this specific issue. Netflix USA sells a product to Canadian consumers and, unlike its competitors, does not have to collect GST.

Can my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, explain to me why a foreign company is exempt from the tax rules that apply to Canadian businesses? Why are Canadian consumers not paying tax on Netflix subscriptions?

Casey: Mr. Speaker, Netflix Canada created a new film and television production company. This is great news for Canadian creators and producers. Once again, over the next five years, Netflix will invest a minimum of $500 million Canadian in original productions produced in Canada in English and in French for distribution on Netflix’s global platform.


Let us not forget that Netflix already has a strong track record of investing in Canadian producers and content, with recent examples including Anne and Alias Grace with the CBC, Travelers with Showcase, and Frontier with Discovery.

We believe that this significant investment in Canada demonstrates that Netflix is committed to continuing to be a meaningful partner in supporting Canadian creators, producers, and the Canadian creative expression.

A day later, Caron was ready to follow up with the Prime Minister.

“Mr. Speaker, when we ask him why web giants like Netflix and Facebook do not have to charge sales tax even though their Canadian competitors do, the Prime Minister says that he promised not to raise taxes for the middle class. We are talking about a tax that already exists, sales tax. We want fairness in the industry. It is unacceptable that the Prime Minister does not have the courage to ask web giants to pay their fair share. When will the Prime Minister understand that and insist on fair treatment for the entire industry?”

“Mr. Speaker, once again, as the NDP has said, web giants must pay their fair share,” responded Trudeau. “It is not web giants that the NDP wants to charge, it is taxpayers. The New Democrats want to make taxpayers pay more taxes. They want Canadians, Quebec and Canadian taxpayers, to pay more taxes for their online services. We, on this side of the House, promised not to raise taxes for taxpayers, and we are going to stand by that promise. If the New Democrats want to raise taxes for Canadians, they should say so instead of hiding behind talk of big corporations.”

“Mr. Speaker, he does not get it,” retorted Caron. “We are not talking about a new tax; we are talking about a tax that already exists and must be collected by Canadian competitors. He needs to follow the example of France, Australia, and many American states that have decided to make these web giants pay. Even here at home, the whole province of Quebec wants to do the same. Imposing on Bombardier a sales tax that is not required of Boeing would be unthinkable, so why do it in the online sector? Not only is the Prime Minister trying to justify these tax breaks, but he is going even further by making deals with those companies. When will the Liberals stop getting into bed with these web giants?”

“Mr. Speaker, once again, the New Democrats are misleading Canadians,” replied Trudeau. “They are talking about making web giants pay their fair share. It is not the web giants they want to pay more in taxes; it is taxpayers. We made a commitment to taxpayers that they would not have to pay more for their online services. We on this side of the House plan to keep that promise.”

Trudeau Settles the Matter… for Some

The issue of Netflix, taxation, and to some extent Canadian content has apparently resonated with the NDP, as their members return to press the issue with the Liberals again and again. But Trudeau’s steadfast response has made it clear his government intends to bury the issue once and for all.

In a sense, both sides are right. Canadian content regulations and protections for Canadian culture and the francophone community in Canada are at risk of being diluted by an onslaught of cord-cutting and new online streaming services that do not always recognize the sensitivity of these issues for many Canadians. As viewers gain new choices, especially those not subject to regulatory oversight, the dominance of American streaming services will be even more apparent than the dominance of Hollywood and American network television. Netflix is not in the business to cater to Canadian content quotas and likely never will unless the government mandates it.

French language content on Netflix will largely come from European producers and networks in France and to a lesser degree Belgium and Switzerland.

But Netflix’s enormous budget for content development does open the door to opportunities for Canadian productions with budgets Canadian networks like CBC, CTV, Global, TVA, and Radio-Canada can only dream about. Quality should trump quotas, and may the best productions win.

Canadian telecom companies have a pervasive presence in all forms of Canadian entertainment. Bell (Canada) owns Bell Media, which in turn owns CTV – Canada’s largest privately owned commercial network. City, which has network affiliates in Canada’s largest cities, is owned by Rogers, Canada’s largest cable operator (Rogers also owns Omni Television, a multicultural network). Global is owned by Corus Entertainment, which in turn is controlled substantially by Shaw Communications, western Canada’s largest cable operator. Canadian cable and telco-TV providers run their own streaming services which are subject to sales taxes, while foreign streaming companies like Netflix are not. There is a case to be made for a lack of a level-playing field.

But Prime Minister Trudeau is also correct stating that any new taxes imposed on Netflix Canada or other new entrants would immediately be passed on to subscribers and raise the price of internet services. The Liberals’ platform during the last election insisted that the party wanted universal access to affordable broadband service for all Canadians and no taxes on Netflix. For many consumers, the price of content and the price of access are essentially the same thing.

Netflix has thrown a “token” $500 million at the problem in hopes of placating its Canadian critics. It may be enough to satisfy Vancouver and Toronto, where many series and movies are filmed, and it certainly has “resolved” the matter for the Liberal government of Mr. Trudeau, but it seems unlikely to soothe the concerns of Quebec and its vocal and proud francophone community. Quebec could move forward and impose a provincial sales tax on Netflix at any time, and will likely continue to pose a challenge to Netflix Canada until the company seems more sensitive to the concerns raised in many quarters in Montreal, Quebec City, and beyond. The creative community of French Canada can deliver some excellent productions, so long as Anglophiles are willing to read subtitles. Netflix may have to spend more money to make certain those types of shows turn up on the service in the not too distant future.

Charter Spectrum Will Only Talk to Theresa Peartree’s Dead Ex-Husband About Her Account

Phillip Dampier February 9, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Consumer News, Editorial & Site News 8 Comments

He’s dead. Death notice for Richard Peartree published in the Democrat & Chronicle on Oct. 13, 1992.

Charter Communications’ inability to exercise common sense judgment in helping their customers is demonstrated once again by what we call: The Case of Mrs. Peartree and Her Curious Cable Bill. 

Theresa Peartree, a retiree living in Rochester, N.Y., and a customer of “the cable company” under its various names for more than 30 years, has a problem.

Spectrum won’t talk to her. About anything.

Peartree called the cable company to ask why her bill has increased a few dollars a month starting last fall. Spectrum effectively told her it’s none of her business because the account is in the name of her ex-husband, who died in 1992.

Time Warner Cable and Greater Rochester Cablevision — the former names of what today is Spectrum, understood Peartree’s situation and were willing to talk to her about her account, although nobody bothered to suggest she change the name on the account along the way. Spectrum will not talk to her, until she obtains a certified copy of her ex-husband’s death certificate and walk it down to the company’s notoriously overpacked customer service center on Mt. Hope Avenue in the city. Peartree is 89 years old and walks with a cane.

Spectrum’s customer service told Peartree it was easy to get a copy of a death certificate because “they’re a public record.” But most Spectrum customer service representatives are not attorneys or legislators, because if they were, they would have realized the advice they were giving about death certificates in New York was dead wrong.

So Mrs. Peartree and Spectrum are at an impasse. She took her plight to a local talk radio show and finally to David Andreatta, a feisty and occasionally exasperated columnist for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, where he usually covers the insanity of local and state politics.

He visited with Peartree and listened in on the legal advice being given by the cable company’s call center employee.

Andreatta knows Spectrum’s claim that death certificates are public records was not quite right:

No, they’re not. In New York, they’re semi-public. If the deceased person has been dead for 50 years, his or her death certificate is public record. If not, only spouses, parents, children or siblings of the deceased are entitled to the death certificate. Exes don’t count.

Others eligible to obtain a death certificate under the law are those with a medical need, a documented lawful claim to receive a benefit or a court order from a state judge.

Peartree has none of those. Her declaration that, “TV is my life,” is a metaphor. Her cable isn’t a “medical need” and her desire to learn why she’s being charged $4 a month more isn’t a “benefit.”

Peartree (Photo courtesy of: Rochester Democrat & Chronicle/Shawn Dowd)

In short, Peartree is trapped by Spectrum. She cannot even close her account because they won’t talk to her. The only chance she has, assuming the public shaming of Spectrum proves ineffective in getting them to budge, is to present herself as a hardship case at the Monroe County Office of Vital Records in hopes of getting them to produce a copy.

But in Monroe County, where the county government prides itself on holding the line on the property taxes (already among the highest in the country) but makes up the difference by charging astronomical fees for almost any county service, that photocopy will cost her $40 — ten times the amount her bill increased last fall.

“They take my money every month,” she told Andreatta, showing him her checkbook with hers being the only name on the account. “They take my money, but they won’t answer my questions.”

“I know they say you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers, Spectrum, but believe this: Richard is dead and the house you think is his isn’t his,” Andreatta wrote. “It would take a few minutes for your customer service rep to transfer the account in Richard’s name to Peartree’s and tell her why her bill rises $4 a month.”

But so far they won’t. But we can at least answer her question. The additional fees are the result of an increase in Spectrum’s bill padding Broadcast TV Surcharge ripoff and a more recent rate increase on certain cable equipment rental fees.

Andreatta is somehow not surprised:

Ever since Time Warner was rebranded as Spectrum, more readers have asked me to write about their problems with the cable TV and internet provider than any other topic.

I’ve always declined, mostly because their problems were so generic. Their internet was slow. They didn’t want to pay for channels they didn’t watch. That four-hour window for home service.

It was, like, join the club. Cable companies by any name have always been a racket, regularly ranking below airlines, banks and drug makers in opinion polls. What could I do about it?

N.Y. Governor Reneges on 100% Broadband Promise, Offers Satellite to 72k New Yorkers Instead

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing rural broadband initiatives in New York.

It was called “Broadband for All” — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to bring high-speed internet service to every New York State resident. But it now appears the governor will break that promise and leave more than 72,000 rural New York residents with satellite-delivered internet that does not come close to meeting the broadband speed standard and is infamous for customer frustration, slow speeds, and low data caps.

Ensuring High-Speed Internet Access for Every New Yorker

In today’s world, internet connectivity is no longer a luxury—it is a necessity. Broadband is as vital a resource as running water and electricity to New York’s communities and is absolutely critical to the future of our economy, education, and safety.

In 2015, Governor Cuomo made the largest and most ambitious state broadband investment in the nation, $500 million, to achieve statewide broadband access by 2018. 

The New NY Broadband Program sets as its goal access to speeds of 100 Mbps for all New Yorkers, with 25 Mbps acceptable in the most remote and rural areas. The cost must not exceed $60 and there is a general prohibition of data caps. This goal exceeds requirements of the FCC’s Connect America Fund program and requires that projects be completed on a more accelerated timeline.

Today, the governor announced the state grant winners to split $209.7 million in the third and final round of awards to offer 122,285 additional homes, businesses, and institutions broadband internet service.

“These latest awards through Round III of the New NY Broadband Program will close the final gap and bring high-speed broadband to all New Yorkers in every corner of the state,” the governor’s office claimed.

Except it won’t.

Tucked in among the grant award winners is a $14,889,249 grant to Hughes Network Systems, LLC, targeting 72,163 rural New Yorkers, more than half of the total number of customers to be reached in the third round. Hughes operates the HughesNet satellite internet service, a technology derisively known as “satellite fraudband” for routinely failing to meet its advertised speed claims. It’s also known as “last resort internet” because it is slow, expensive, and heavily data capped.

Complaints about HughesNet are common on websites like Consumer Affairs:

“Extreme false advertising. Over the first 30 days with HughesNet Gen5, I averaged 3 Mbps download when advertised 25 Mbps. I canceled when they couldn’t answer why I used 20 GB of data in less than 24 hours. I am a 55 year old average internet user. No streaming. No music. No videos (YouTube). DO NOT GET THIS SERVICE EVEN IF NO OTHERS ARE AVAILABLE.” — Dennis, Tazewell, Tenn. (1/25/2018)

HughesNet claims high speed internet in our region. Clearly not available here, 3 service calls, with exchange of equipment, 50 calls – recorded leaves us no choice, we demand that this contract be null/void without stealing $399 cancellation. A despicable Company, uninformed customer service, average speeds with a video; upload speed 0.62 Mbps, the download speed is 1.28 Mbps. Help!!!” — Jeffrey, Kerhonkson, NY (1/21/2018)

“Promised speeds of no less than 25 Mbps. Actual speed received was 5-9 Mbps. Unable to stream anything. Computer programs did not operate and did not update as required. We have cancelled HughesNet at great cost to us. Worst internet service ever.” — Jennifer, Hartsville, SC (1/12/2018)

Pat (last name withheld) lives 1.3 miles from the nearest Charter Communications customer in Niagara County, near Niagara Falls and is very disappointed with recent developments. Charter has quoted an installation fee of $50,000 to extend their cable service and Verizon has refused to provide DSL service, leaving Pat resorting to using an AT&T mobile data plan, which is expensive and gets throttled after using more than ~22 GB a month.

“This was a scam from Jump Street,” Pat said. “Phase 3 has 70,000 out of 120,000 homes getting satellite internet, a technology that was already available. It also gives $70 million to Verizon who declined funds in first place. Five years and $675 million later and still no internet for my kids.”

“This is a huge disappointment for us,” Pat added. “We were counting on this happening. Told numerous times it would. Now we have to debate moving, we can’t continue not having internet. My oldest son just graduated high school never having internet at home.”

“I have written and spoke with New York Broadband Program Office and it was clear to me from the beginning they didn’t understand the problems they faced, namely infrastructure costs,” said Pat. “They didn’t want to hear it. They wrongly assumed that telecoms would bid and everyone would have internet. I knew when announcements were delayed that the bids for last mile didn’t come in. Tragic really. I think they made a mistake accepting that money from the FCC. Satellite was never on the table until that happened.”

Stop the Cap! readers have told us satellite internet is the worst possible option for internet access, and many have reported better results relying on their mobile phone’s data plan. But New York’s solution for more than 70,000 of its rural citizens — many that believed the governor’s commitment of 100% coverage — is to saddle them with satellite internet access starting at $49.99 a month for a paltry 10 GB of usage per month. The top plan on offer costs $99.99 a month and is capped at 50 GB a month before a speed throttle kicks in and reduces speeds to dial-up levels. A 24-month contract is required with a very steep early cancellation penalty.

Another surprising winner is Verizon Communications, a company that originally refused to participate in rural broadband expansion efforts. Verizon will accept more than $70 million to expand its broadband service to 15,515 homes, businesses, and institutions in the Capital Region, central New York, the North Country, and Southern Tier. At press time, it is not known if Verizon will bring FiOS or DSL to these customers.

Because New York State relied on private companies to bid to cover unserved residents, it seems clear HughesNet is the default choice for those New Yorkers stranded without a telecom company bidder. Although that will allow Gov. Cuomo to claim his program reaches 99.99% of New Yorkers, the rural broadband problem remains unresolved for those who were depending the most on New York to help bring broadband to rural farms, homes in the smallest communities, and those simply unlucky enough to live in small neighborhoods deemed unprofitable to serve.

AT&T Scam of the Week: Advocating for Fake Net Neutrality

After spending millions to kill net neutrality, AT&T today called on Congress to pass a new national law protecting AT&T’s idea of a free and open internet by regulating internet websites like Facebook, Google, and Amazon.

Full page newspaper ads taken out in several nationally known newspapers proclaimed AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson’s support for the first “Internet Bill of Rights,” conceived by some of the same lawyers and lobbyists AT&T paid to destroy the FCC’s net neutrality rules put into effect during the Obama Administration.

“Congressional action is needed to establish an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ that applies to all internet companies and guarantees neutrality, transparency, openness, non-discrimination and privacy protection for all internet users,” Stephenson wrote in the ad.

AT&T’s proposal would attempt to include content regulation of websites under the guise of fairness, claiming that while internet service providers are expected to treat all content fairly, large websites like Google and Facebook currently do not. Critics of AT&T’s proposal call that a distraction that has nothing to do with ISPs seeking the right to establish paid internet fast lanes and favoring partnered websites with exemptions from data caps or speed throttles.

AT&T doesn’t inform readers of its own complicity in the “confusion” over net neutrality policies that have faced constant legal and political challenges from AT&T and other telecom companies. The telecom industry has furiously lobbied Congress and regulators to keep net neutrality from taking effect. Once it did, AT&T took the FCC to court to overturn the rules.

AT&T wants their own law for their own version of net neutrality.

AT&T’s campaign comes with some urgency as the company works to block states from enacting their own net neutrality laws to replace the rules abandoned by the Republican majority controlling the FCC. Despite assurances from FCC chairman Ajit Pai that the Commission would sue to pre-empt any state law that would re-establish net neutrality, AT&T and other large cable and phone companies prefer the regulatory certainty available from the quick passage of a federal law that would establish AT&T’s definition of net neutrality indefinitely. AT&T is also trying to rush passage with support from Republican congressional majorities and President Trump before the midterm elections threaten a Democratic takeover of the House, Senate, or both.

AT&T attempted to assuage customers of its good intentions by claiming it doesn’t block websites.

“We don’t censor online content. And we don’t throttle, discriminate, or degrade network performance based on content, period,” AT&T wrote (emphasis ours). But that claim opens the door to important loopholes:

  1. Speed throttles, data caps, and zero rating do not impact network performance. They impact your ability to equally access internet content, something AT&T does not promise here.
  2. AT&T only claims it won’t interfere with websites based on their content, but that was never the premise ISPs have used to demand additional payments from content creators. It isn’t the content ISPs are concerned with — it is the traffic those websites generate and, in the eyes of many net neutrality supporters, whether those websites compete with an ISPs own offerings. AT&T could have said it doesn’t throttle, discriminate, or degrade websites, period. But it didn’t.

AT&T alarmingly suggests that without predictable rules, next generation applications like virtual reality, telemedicine, and the Internet of Things will be threatened. Except that is not the message AT&T gives shareholders, arguing AT&T has robust capacity both now and into the future for next generation applications. AT&T has long promoted how lucrative it expects the Internet of Things marketplace will be.

Allowing the telecom industry to write its own “Internet Bill of Rights” met with harsh criticism from the consumer groups AT&T claims it wants to enlist in its efforts.

“Zero real net neutrality supporters are fooled by this,” wrote Fight for the Future executive director Evan Greer. “We had an Internet Bill of Rights. It was called Title II and AT&T’s army of lobbyists did everything in their power to burn it down.”

“AT&T’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. “Its phony bill of rights argument makes no sense based on the law, the policies, or the politics in play. AT&T’s head fake towards one-size-fits-all rules for all websites and content providers should fool no one. As soon as AT&T wants to stop lobbying against net neutrality, broadband privacy, and the other rights it has worked to kill at the Trump FCC and in this Congress, maybe people will stop laughing at desperate tactics like this. For now, all we can do is point out the company’s audacity in pretending that this hyper-partisan Congress can step in to fill the void of the net neutrality repeal by writing a new law tailor-made for AT&T.”

Here Comes the First FAKE Net Neutrality Bill, Courtesy of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-AT&T)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee, but mostly AT&T and Comcast)

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, who claims to represent the interests of voters in Tennessee but generally prefers the views (and campaign contributions) from AT&T and Comcast, is the first Republican to propose a bait-and-switch “net neutrality” broadband bill she claims will protect a free and open internet, but will actually prohibit net neutrality as America has known it over the last two years.

“No blocking. No throttling. The Open Internet Preservation Act will ensure the internet is a free and open space,” Blackburn tweeted to her followers shortly after giving an exclusive interview introducing her bill to Breitbart News. An early copy was also furnished to TechFreedom, an industry-funded front group that has opposed net neutrality. “This legislation is simple, it provides light-touch regulation so companies can invest and innovate, and make sure our internet is up to 21st century standards.”

Congresswoman Blackburn hopes you will take her word on that and not bother to actually read and understand what her bill actually does to the concept of a free and open internet.

We did read the bill and are prepared to help you understand it.

No overt censorship but plenty of “reasonable network management”

Blackburn’s bill non-controversially forbids the censorship of “lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.” Virtually every ISP in the country has already volunteered they have no intention of censoring legal content on the internet. But Blackburn’s bill includes a safety clause that allows ISPs to avoid accusations of tinkering with traffic — “reasonable network management,” which in this case is vaguely defined in the bill as “a practice that has a primarily technical network management justification.” Blackburn also defines a network management practice “reasonable” if “it is primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband internet access service.”

Despite that word salad, there is nothing in her bill that clearly defines what is “legitimate” and what is not. Comcast, for example, has its own view about how it manages and prices traffic on its broadband service. Stream XFINITY content and it does not count against your Comcast cap. Stream Hulu and it does. Comcast claims that is fair if one considers the ‘particular network architecture’ that delivers Comcast’s own content is allegedly different from the public internet. Blackburn’s bill would treat data caps, zero rating, and Comcast’s version of “fairness” as all perfectly legal.

Large telecommunications companies have insisted there is no need to pass laws or enact regulations governing internet censorship because they would never contemplate blocking legal content,  making the need for legislation unnecessary. But they are strongly likely to favor her bill, creating a direct contradiction to their repeated insistence net neutrality was “a solution in search of a problem.” There is a reason for the sudden support among many Republicans for Blackburn’s concept of net neutrality — blocking regulatory agencies from oversight of internet service provider interference and abuse.

The “Specialized Services” Hindenburg-sized loophole

Blackburn’s bill covers all the bases for the telecom industry she routinely supports.

Most importantly, her bill creates an enormous loophole allowing internet service providers to offer “specialized services” to the public any way they choose, as long as they do not “threaten the meaningful availability of broadband internet access service or [offer services] that have been devised or promoted in a manner designed to evade the purposes of this section.”

Blackburn defines a “specialized service” as “services other than broadband internet access service that are offered over the same network as, and that may share network capacity with, broadband internet access service.’’

That effectively means any website, streaming service, cloud storage or app could qualify as a “specialized service.” Blackburn’s bill would allow an ISP to establish paid prioritization (fast lanes) for selected content, usage cap non-preferred content, or steer web users to preferred websites and services. It effectively makes all internet content open to ISP manipulation. Just to be certain ISPs are protected from net neutrality rules for next generation applications and services, her bill also permanently forbids regulatory agencies from expanding the definition of net neutrality.

Obliterating the concept of states’ rights

Republicans are usually strong proponents of limiting the power of the federal government, especially when it comes to preempting state laws, but that concept is turned on its head when Big Telecom campaign contributions are at stake. Blackburn completely abandons any pretense of a state being able to write its own laws governing internet openness by specifically banning that option:

“No State or political subdivision of a State shall adopt, maintain, enforce, or impose or continue in effect any law, rule, regulation, duty, requirement, standard, or other provision having the force and effect of law relating to or with respect to internet openness obligations for provision of broadband internet access service.”

Permanently assuring ISPs easy court victories if net neutrality violations are uncovered

Blackburn’s bill ignores several years of court rulings on net neutrality cases that have called out the flaw of the FCC’s earlier dependence on defining the internet as an “information service” subject to oversight under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecom Act. The courts have ruled this foundation is inadequate to enforce net neutrality. The foundation that has proved adequate and has so-far survived court challenge exists in Title II of the Communications Act, made applicable when the internet was redefined as a common carrier “telecommunications service.” Rep. Blackburn’s bill would return net neutrality enforcement to the same flawed authority courts have already ruled does not apply, neutering net neutrality in the courts.

Critics contend Rep. Blackburn’s real motive is to permanently end oversight of large cable and phone companies and prevent federal agencies from coming to the rescue of content providers and consumers.

“Blackburn’s legislation fails at the very thing it claims to accomplish. It prohibits a few open-internet violations, but opens the door to rampant abuse through paid-prioritization schemes that split the internet into fast lanes for the richest companies and slow lanes for everyone else,” said Craig Aaron, Free Press Action Fund President and CEO. “This bill’s true goal is to let a few unregulated monopolies and duopolies stifle competition and control the future of communications.”

“Congress must reject last week’s FCC ruling and restore Title II authority at the agency,” Aaron added. “The 2015 rules worked extraordinarily well from the get-go, with investment and innovation flourishing across the sector. That’s because they gave the FCC the authority to prevent paid prioritization and other forms of discrimination, while promoting competition, open markets, universal service and equal access.”

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