Reflections on ‘Navigating Convergence II’

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Going through my feed reader, Mark Goldberg had pointed out that the CRTC has released a 2011 edition of the ‘Charting Canadian Communications Change and Regulatory Implications: Navigating Convergence II’ [PDF / HTML]. I’m making my way through the document and thought I’d note a couple quick observations.

According to Media Technology Monitor (MTM), 27 percent of Anglophones and 14 percent of Francophones in Canada own smartphones, up from 6 percent and 4 percent, respectively, in 2007. (pg. 14-15)

What accounts for such a growing discrepency between Anglo- and Francophone adoption of smartphones? Even amongst feature phones there seems to be quite a divide in usage patterns. One table (Figure 7, Cellphone activities of Canadian cellphone owners 18+) indicates that approximately 65% of Anglophones texted in 2010 while only around 45% of Francophones did.

Similar to usage patterns found for wired broadband access, Cisco found that the top 1 percent of mobile data subscribers generated 20 percent of mobile data traffic in 2010, down from 30 percent the year before. The top 10 percent of mobile data subscribers generated 60 percent of mobile data traffic. [pg. 25, emphasis added.]

With such a drop in the top usage group but still overwhelming slanted towards power users, we’ve probably moved from innovators to early adopters on the technology adoption lifecycle for mobile data.

In addition to a digital divide between urban and rural and large and small communities, there is also a socio-economic divide. The gap between low-income and high-income households in terms of subscription rates for broadband services is more than 40 percent, as shown in Figure 17. (pg. 30)

Not much commentary, other then policies are needed to help close that gap to improve socio-economic outcomes for people and Canada. That seems like a lot of wasted opportunity.

Figure 19 on page 37, ‘TV viewing platform usage, Canadians 18+, 2008 – 2010’ shows another statistic in the difference of content consumption between Anglophones and Francophones. Between 2008 and 2010, an increasing number of Anglophones do not watch TV on any platform while this group shrank amongst Francophones. While the numbers are probably too small (and not clearly broken out) to make strong claims, the theme of (perhaps unsurprisingly) differing ICT use and consumption between Canada’s two traditional cultural groupings is one that stands out throughout this report.

The section on online audio/radio formed a small part of the report (primarily pg. 46-47) but did note that a different copyright regime was perhaps having more impact on the development of new Internet-based “pure-play” services. This was somewhat relevant to me for the fact that I’m currently reading the report while listening to Rdio. My music listening is purely digital these days, though primarily in the form of ripped CDs and downloads. I haven’t used a lot of streaming services but I’m starting to experiment with them as my musical interests haven’t been serviced by terrestrial stations in nearly a decade.

Finally, consideration may be given to non-regulatory developments that could be effectively leveraged to support the Commission’s objectives, such as the rise of social media. For example, the effective use of social media tools could provide low- cost ways to promote domestic content. (pg. 61)

Moving from the distribution to content side of things certainly reminds me that it’s the networks that interest me, not so much what people access over those networks. That said, the report is on convergence and I do think it’s important that the the government (and its regulator) have some focus on Canadian content. There’s a lot of discussion around potential funding challenges, since the traditional regime uses revenues from broadcasters to support a variety of initiatives to produce local and national Canadian content. While I’m clearly a big fan of social media, I’m not sure that it can offset traditional marketing — and more importantly, production — costs.

The report has a section on ‘Service complexity and informed choices’ (Section 4.1, pg. 63-64) where it notes some of the challenges that selecting appropriate service packages can have, especially for non-technical consumers. “Due to such complexity, consumers can be challenged to make informed choices.” It goes on to make the claim below, “Even if consumers purchase appropriate Internet packages, they may be unaware of the actual speeds delivered.”

I think, unfortunately, this is too generous assessment of the Canadian public’s current digital literacy and consumer awareness of Internet services. The FCC did a survey in 2010 where they, “asked simply if people knew the advertised speed of their home internet connection, with 80 percent saying they did not.” Consumers need to take some personal responsibility for informing themselves about their purchasing decisions but I have greater sympathy for people after Alexis Madrigal recently reported, “90 percent of people in [Google’s] studies don’t know how to use CTRL/Command + F to find a word in a document or web page!” While both studies are regarding the US Internet population, it is probably safe to say that our nations have similar levels of digital literacy and Internet awareness. Clearly the US (and Canada) needs to be doing a better job at providing these skills to our citizens and labour forces.

Overall, the report provides a snapshot of the current Canadian Internet landscape and a starting point for all stakeholders (business, government, citizens and consumers) can look for ways to help Canada and Canadians be better able to thrive in our digital future. There’s not a lot of concrete policy direction, for that we’ll probably need to wait for the Digital Economy Strategy to finally be released.