News flash: Canadian broadband great, says paper owned by ISP

I thought there was something off in the story in the Globe and Mail (a division of CTV Globemedia, owned in part by the same company that owns Sympatico) by Leonard Waverman and Kalyan Dasgupta about how Canadian broadband access isn’t as terrible relative to the rest of the world as OECD data and a recent U.S. Federal Communications Commission report makes it seem. (Yochai Benkler, the report’s author, rebutted some of the criticisms four months ago.)

I’ve been looking at the same data they criticize. Yesterday, I finished a rough draft of my case study on the Mexican implementation of the WIPO Internet treaties. When I asked Mexican copyright experts (lawyers, government, industry folks) why the treaties had not yet been implemented fully, everyone pointed to low Internet penetration rates as being one of the main causes. Unauthorized downloads aren’t much of a problem when people aren’t online. It’s only been in the last couple of years, as Mexican Internet penetration rates have started to rise that groups like the International Intellectual Property Association (IIPA), a U.S.-based lobby group, have really begun to push for measures to combat unauthorized downloading (compare the language on “Internet piracy” in their 2009 and 2010 Mexico-related Special 301 filings with those of previous years).
Anyway. One of their first criticisms is that the data conflate household and business access, and when you include business broadband access, Canada fares much better, since proportionately more Canadians are employed by big businesses than elsewhere in the world.

I was pretty sure that the data I looked at didn’t do that. And, unfortunately for their argument, the OECD data actually don’t make such an elementary mistake. As Benkler and an eagle-eyed Globe commentator points out that the OECD actually does report a broadband access rate by household. And by that measure, as our intrepid commentator (Atreya) remarks, Canada is 7th and the U.S. 17th out of the 30 OECD countries (Mexico is in 29th place, just ahead of Turkey).

Last time I checked, ranking 7th in anything isn’t enough to let you brag that you’re leading the pack. Atreya also makes some good points about measuring download speeds, which I’ll leave to the experts to quibble about.

I’d add only two things.

1. Conflict of interest. Given that the Globe and Mail is owned in part by Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE), which also controls Bell Canada, which runs Sympatico, one of Canada’s two main Internet Service Providers, it’s shocking that this story ran without any kind of warning about the Globe’s conflict of interest. Absolutely shameful.
2. Where are the links? Since I’ve started writing this blog, I’ve been noticing how Canadian newspapers like the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star often don’t link to the reports and articles they cite. Even with columnists and reporters I trust, I want to verify what they’re talking about for myself. We’re far past the time when a newspaper could confer authority and legitimacy over everything in its pages by its name alone.
And when someone like me is able to find, in five minutes, a link to a four-month-old posting in which the author of the offending report rebuts the allegations put forward in this article (h/t Geist) and yet is not mentioned at all by the authors, it does nothing for the paper’s credibility. And, no, calling it an opinion piece doesn’t exempt the paper, editors and publishers from their journalistic responsibilities.
Note to publishers: these days, not linking to the documents you’re writing about is like writing an academic paper without providing footnotes.
It’s almost as if these companies don’t want to survive the transition to digitally delivered news.

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1 Response to News flash: Canadian broadband great, says paper owned by ISP

  1. It seems to me that newspapers generally don't link to create links that will cause readers to navigate away from their web site. This is a strategy that may fail, as readers may prefer deep-link information sources that allow them to go right to the source and interact more fully with the stories being reported.

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