Mediacheck

A North America with No Roaming Charges

It's possible, as Canada and US inch towards a shared communications market.

By Michael Geist 9 Jul 2013 | TheTyee.ca

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at mgeist@uottawa.ca or online at www.michaelgeist.ca.

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Verizon entering Canada's market could mean no more roaming fees, different TV options, and... free hockey? Phone photo via Shutterstock.

Reports that U.S. telecom giant Verizon may be preparing to enter the Canadian market has sparked considerable speculation on the likely impact of a company with a market cap greater than Bell, Rogers, and Telus combined. While much of the discussion has centred on wireless pricing, the more significant development may be the shift toward a single North American communications market.

Canada and the U.S. share much of the same communications infrastructure -- the same North American numbering plan (calling codes), closely aligned spectrum policies, and easy access to broadcast signals along the border -- yet for decades the two systems have been separated through regulation. Foreign ownership restrictions, Canadian content requirements, and simultaneous substitution policies (which lead to the annual complaints about missing U.S. commercials during the Super Bowl) have all ensured that the two markets remain distinct.

In recent years, new technologies have slowly chipped away at the communications divide. For example, there may be modest differences between U.S. and Canadian satellite radio services with several Canadian-specific channels, but the vast majority of available programming and devices are the same.

Internet-based video services represent another significant blurring of the Canada -- U.S. line. With two million Canadian Netflix subscribers, those hoping for a Canadian competitor to Netflix are missing the reality that the Canadian Netflix is Netflix. There are some differences in available content, but that too is diminishing, particularly as Netflix invests in its own original programming.

A new Verizon horizon

The prospect of a Verizon entry into Canada would put a single communications market into overdrive. On the telecom side, Verizon could use its Canadian network to change the approach to roaming in North America altogether, since it would be uniquely positioned to offer a single U.S. and Canadian network.

The company could move to eliminate roaming fees for U.S. and Canadian customers, while offering cost-competitive U.S. and Canadian roaming together for international providers establishing wholesale roaming agreements. Such a plan would obviously be attractive to the corporate sector as well as regular cross-border travellers, leading to the gradual elimination of roaming and long distance charges for calls throughout North America.

On the broadcasting side, Verizon holds exclusive U.S. rights to both the National Football League and the National Hockey League. Those rights are currently held by BCE in Canada, but a Verizon entry into Canada could shake things up. Verizon could presumably complicate the BCE rights by offering free access to NFL and NHL games to Canadian customers when they travel to the U.S. More interestingly, it could make a play for joint U.S. - Canada rights in the future, moving closer to an elimination of the geographic divide on content rights.

Verizon could also pursue changes to broadcast distribution regulations, which are viewed as a major hurdle for foreign entrants since non-Canadian companies are unable to offer competitive bundles that feature wireless and television services. Given the government’s obvious support for a strong foreign wireless entrant, Verizon would be well positioned to promote the removal of the current restrictions.

A common comms market

Later this year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will examine the regulatory framework for television services. CRTC chair Jean-Pierre Blais has acknowledged that it is time to ask whether the assumptions that lie behind Canadian regulatory policies still hold true.

With satellite radio and Internet video already close to a single market, regulatory reform to longstanding policies such as simultaneous substitution a possibility, and the geographic lines on telecom, content, and broadcast distribution all increasingly blurred, the big question may be whether Canada is closing in on a common North American communications market.

I don't like Christmas.

I'm sorry. But I don't.

Actually, that's the thing. I'm not sorry.

I've not liked Christmas for years. I have my reasons. No big deal, really. Nothing to do with some horrible childhood trauma or any other kind of abnormal social conditioning. I just don't like it. And, no, I have no desire to get over it. In fact, I've got nothing to "get over."

In fact, it's you who should get over it. You who look at me, when I state my opinion of the holidays, with your furrowed brows and your slightly misty, slightly pitying eyes. You who push your carols and movies, your cards and schmaltz.

Pushers, all of you. You might mean well but there's no getting around you people.

Before you throw a "Scrooge" at my "bah humbug," let me try to explain.

Take my hand and come with me to a world that looks something like our own but with more horses and hay and festive over-alls.

I promise to bring you back in time for Christmas Day unchanged... or will I...

Merry Country Music Day!

Imagine a world where once a year there's a “Country Music Day.” And it's huge. For six weeks ahead of time, everywhere you go -- from schools to airports to from stores to libraries -- you see Country Music! displays and Country Music! sales. Country Music! plays in every store, and every radio station plays at least some Country Music! In fact, some radio stations play NOTHING BUT Country Music!

Think about that for a second: Dwight Yokam on heavy rotation. Garth Brooks, Shania Twain. Over. And Over. And Over... Not just their popular stuff but the B-sides and rarities. Not just alt country, not just old country. But new country, too! So much airtime to fill and, well, who doesn't like Country Music?!

You can't get away from it.

People ask “Are you getting excited about Country Music Day?” or “What are your plans for Country Music Day?” or “Are you visiting your family for Country Music Day?”

Should you indicate you don’t like Country Music or you don’t celebrate Country Music Day, people are shocked or uncomfortable. You might hear a whispered murmur, something like:

"Ben, well, Ben, he doesn't like Country Music Day. Won't say why... Doesn't like to talk about it..."

Some people pity you and sneak you little country music CDs or cookies shaped like Country Music instruments to help cheer you up and overcome your issues (as though providing samples of the music you don’t prefer is going to make it change). If you gently decline, some are downright offended.

"Well, that's not very Country of you," they might say sternly with a look of concern that says "T'ain't right, son. Just t'ain't right."

Happy Western Music Holiday!

Then there is the good-intention set.

These folks try to accommodate you by changing the name of Country Music Day events to “Western Music Day” events, or even just “Music Day,” where everybody listens to, well, Country Music, decorates everything with Country Music images, puts on a cowboy hat and dresses in their best Country Music clothes and sings Country Music Carols.

I guess it's the thought that counts. That's what they say a gift gone wrong, right?

A Cowboy Carol

Still others chide you about being “A Real Cowboy Cletus” on Country Music Day, because “…he used to be against Country Music, don’t you know, but his horse grew two sizes that day.” And everyone watches that classic old cartoon about how Cletus tried to steal Country Music Day from the folks of Western Town before realizing the error of his ways.

Dare to defend yourself by pointing out that their argument hangs on a make-believe Country Music Day character and, well, that just makes you all the more a Cowboy Cletus.

“You’re an ornery one, Cowboy Cletus…”

Best to just chuckle, make a gun-gesture with your hands and say with a wink and a smile, “Got me! Pow-pow!”

And whatever you do, don’t admit to enjoying a particular country music song, or the way Country Music musicians wear their tight jeans because then you’ve admitted to the world that Country Music is totally wonderful and you are just being a Cowboy Cletus when you decide not to love all of it.

Country Music Day alone? Gasp!

And don't you dare spend Country Music Day alone on the range because, well (spits into spittoon), that's just a sign you are a right damaged soul in desperate need of compassion, healing, and an invitation to strap on the feedbag:

“Please come and share dinner at my place with 12 people you don’t know. There’ll be lots of good-old country cookin’!”

At dinner you might try to articulate to others why you feel the way you do about Country Music Day but why spoil their fun? So instead you listen to people as they complain about expensive Country Music Day travelling, crowded Country Music Day shopping, obligatory Country Music Day parties, excessive Country Music Day cooking, awkward Country Music Day family gatherings, and wasteful Country Music Day gifting.

You dare to suggest to a few that they have the choice not to celebrate everything about Country Music Day, but it’s met with a stunned, quizzical stare, like you said the sky isn’t blue, or that children shouldn’t receive education.

And then there's the obligatory Company Country Music Day party. But who knows? Maybe, since there's no getting away from the company holiday planners' lasso, you might catch the eye of somebody else who doesn’t like Country Music Day. He might be wearing a festive sheriff's badge and choking down an obligatory Country-Chicken-Egg-Nog or standing under the chicken feet. You'll know him by that combination of hopelessness and capitulation in his eyes, and you both nod and smile knowingly. A fellow non-traveller amongst the leather vests and plaid shirts.

Merry Country Music Day

Here's the thing.

Lots of people like country music. Me, I’m not a big fan. And it’s not a big deal; just a choice I’ve made for a variety of personal reasons. The fact that I don’t like country music doesn’t mean I’m against country music and think nobody should enjoy it… all I ask is that I not be judged as a damaged, pitiful soul because I don't like it.

And so it is with me and Christmas.

So, please, enjoy your Christmas. I’m really very happy you are happy. And I hope you have the same wish of happiness for me.  [Tyee]

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