Sasktel’s Great Bait & Switch

Last year, I terminated my mobile phone contract with Rogers, and signed a three-year contract with Sasktel Mobility. I chose Sasktel at the time for two reasons. First, their coverage area within Saskatchewan is much better than Rogers’ (although now it is comparable to Bell or Telus). Second – and this was the most important reason - Sasktel offered a $40 unlimited Canadian texting & data plan (the data portion of my average $80/month bill). Seeing that I am a heavy data user and that I travel frequently across Canada, this was by far, for me, the best mobile data deal in Canada. However, that all changed when Sasktel drastically changed the terms of this contract through the institution of what they term a “fair usage policy”.

I do not believe that I received official word from Sasktel about this change, although I may have (perhaps a text or a letter?). But, I noticed a subtle change in their advertising on billboards and other signage. Sasktel began to advertise their “unlimited in Saskatchewan data plan”. I found this odd, as it seemed to describe the same plan that I had, except the company had never before described the unlimited data plan as being limited within Saskatchewan. So, curious, I stopped in at a kiosk and was informed that my plan had indeed changed. Instead of the unlimited Canadian data plan that I had signed, instead, I found myself stuck with an unlimited Saskatchewan-only data plan with only 200 MBs of Canadian data!  There is now a $.10/MB fee charge on any data over 200MB. To put this into perspective, a 1GB overage (which I could easily accrue) will now cost me an additional $100/month on top of the $40 I pay for the standard data portion of my bill. To take this further through a somewhat extreme but plausible example, if I use what Sasktel originally termed as ‘unlimited data’ (softcap of 10GB, connection slowed thereafter) outside of Saskatchewan, it means that this plan would cost $1000 more per month than stated in the original contract.

So, I took to Twitter and expressed my outrage at these changes, and after a short dialogue with the @sasktel Twitter account, I received an email from Sasktel. You can read the entire message here if you are interested, but I have only included the portion related to the “fair usage” policy.

The purpose of the Fair Usage Policy is to ensure that all customers have equitable access to wireless services. It also ensures that SaskTel can continue to offer competitive rates. We did revise our out-of-province roaming in February 2011 by imposing a limit of 200 Mb of data outside Saskatchewan per month within all plans, after which customers may pay additional charges of 10 cents per megabyte and data speeds may be reduced for the remainder of the month (to 256 kbps which is equivalent to SaskTel’s High Speed Light DSL Internet service and is capable of streaming standard definition video).

From time to time the Fair Usage Policy is revised to meet changing circumstances in the industry such as the incredible increase in demand for wireless data. All providers are experiencing these issues.

I applaud Sasktel’s public relations team for coming up with this “Fair Usage” policy, and for a second there, I actually felt guilty that by signing up for an unlimited data plan and then by actually using it as it were … ummmm … unlimited, that I have been contributing to the high cost of mobility coverage in our nation. It seems that this is my fault, and Sasktel is only providing me with an ethical framework linked directly to a strict financial penalty – just in case I get out of line.

Or, I could read this differently. Maybe Sasktel simply underestimated its growth and success in this market, and therefore, was negligent in understanding the real costs of its services? Maybe Sasktel’s infrastructure has not grown as quickly as its success in attracting new subscribers? Or perhaps, Sasktel just doesn’t see a serious obligation to honour commitments to its subscribers, those that signed up for contracts under very strict terms. I see shades of all of these possibilities in my communication with Sasktel, and you may as well. If any of these points are in fact accurate, is this a company that you’d want to do business with?

What should Sasktel do to make this right? It’s simple. Honour your existing contracts through grandfathering the original terms. If you don’t want to provide unlimited Canadian data to your subscribers in the future, that’s fine, but provide the services that you have committed to in contracts such as mine. I used to have the best data plan in Canada. I now have the worst data plan in all of Canada, and I am tied to a company that I no longer trust.

I know that many of you reading this don’t live in Saskatchewan, and directly, this issue may not be of concern to you. But perhaps by sharing this in some way, I can help get this issue resolved for many of us, and it may prompt other mobile providers to be more serious about the commitments they make to subscribers. Thanks in advance.

Considering CC-NonCommercial?

About a year ago, I posted a short video on Flickr of my daughter that captured her first moments riding a bicycle without training wheels. When I post images or video to Flickr, I usually assign a Creative Commons license, specifically a Non-Commercial, Attribution, Share-Alike (NC-ATT-SA). When I share moments like this online, I do so for a number of reasons. First, there’s the obvious reason that I like making moments like this accessible to my close friends and family. Second, while I could password protect such videos to share with only a small group, I also like to share such moments with many of my trusted friends from around the world (of which there are too many to list). And third, I believe that in carefully discriminating what to post online and what to avoid, I may, in some ways, demonstrate and model responsible citizenship and personal identity management for my children. Now, not everyone feels as comfortable in posting such photographs and videos online as I do. But in the spirit of Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, I ask you not to necessarily buy what I do, but if anything, buy why I do it.

So, several months after posting the video of my daughter, I received a Facebook message from a representative of regarding licensing the video clip. At first, I thought this was going to be some sort of Nigerian 419 scam, but after I performed some careful research about the individual and the company, I ended up licensing the clip to the agency for a new Nokia commercial.

Now, with all the thousands of clips and images I have shared, this is the first time I have ever been paid for something. It may never happen again nor has money ever been a consideration. But, I can think of hundreds of instances where my work, my images, or my videos have shown up elsewhere for educational purposes. For instance, Raj Boora just notified me today that one of my images showed up in this education-related post. While the attribution format could have been a bit more direct (as noted by D’Arcy Norman), I am happy to see my photos being used to help express such ideas.

I guess I should get to the point. I have heard the argument from many people over the years that they didn’t feel right just ‘giving away’ all of their ‘stuff’. For me, I am happy to give away my work, especially if it is found useful, and ideally, if others add to the work or improve it. But if that is not enough for those who refuse to consider Creative Commons licenses, perhaps they should also know that with this CC-NC licensed clip, my daughter now has a very healthy start to her College fund.

Support Net Neutrality in Canada: Take Action!

I have posted about Net Neutrality in Canada before, but the issue has still not been resolved, and is currently in the hands of the CRTC. I received this message from the SaveOurNet Facebook group today with details of an upcoming decision.

In the coming days the federal communications regulator will issue a landmark ruling that has huge implications for Canadians’ access to the Internet. The CRTC decision will determine whether Bell and other big telecoms can continue to “throttle” Internet service.

Please take a few seconds to tell the CRTC to stop Internet throttling. Your voice could be the deciding factor!

Take Action here:

The commissioners have already twice delayed releasing their ruling, suggesting that they are struggling to make a decision. We need to make it very clear to the CRTC which side the Canadian public is on.

Until recently, Canada’s Internet was an open network – a level playing field for free speech and innovation. All that is now threatened by a handful of corporations that want to control a “gatekeeper network” in which they decide what content and services get the fastest access to our homes.

These companies have been caught:

• throttling or slowing Internet traffic to businesses and consumers;
• blocking access to websites that criticized them;
• crippling consumer devices and applications.

The upcoming CRTC decision will have major and long-lasting implications for our Internet. Our online level playing field of innovation and free speech hangs in the balance.

Please Take Action and invite your fellow Canadians to do the same!

Start here:

I Can Has Neutral Internets

Please, do something. Do NOT take take our current level of freedom and access for granted.

Photo Credit: SMN

Video Contest: Bill C61 in 61 Seconds

From Michael Geist and FairCopyright4Canada:

Canadian Industry Minister Jim Prentice introduced Bill C-61, which many have dubbed the Canadian DMCA, in June 2008. There was an immediate outcry from thousands of Canadians concerned that the bill would render illegal every day activities and harm both consumers and businesses.

The C-61 in 61 Seconds video competition is one way that you can speak out. Just post your video as a response to this video. We will post the best videos on the FairCopyright4Canada channel. Deadline for submission is September 1st. A great panel of judges that includes the Barenaked Ladies Steven Page and Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian will select the best of the best. The winners will be announced on September 15th.

To make sure that your voice for fair copyright in Canada is heard, be sure to write to your MP, the Minister, and join the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group today.

What Can Education Learn From Zappos?

I just read a story about the business practices of Zappos, an online shoe retailer. The company seems incredibly focused on customer relationships through the hiring and nurturing of engaged employees. The following paragraph reports a very interesting and unique approach to their initial training and hiring process.

It’s a hard job, answering phones and talking to customers for hours at a time. So when Zappos hires new employees, it provides a four-week training period that immerses them in the company’s strategy, culture, and obsession with customers. People get paid their full salary during this period.

After a week or so in this immersive experience, though, it’s time for what Zappos calls “The Offer.” The fast-growing company, which works hard to recruit people to join, says to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!

While this is interesting in itself, I am also drawn to the larger policies and philosophies apparent in the management of this company. Take some time to listen to the following video, an interview with Bill Taylor who has recently studied the company. In your mind, try to replace customers/employees with students/teachers. There is something powerful that education can learn within this framework.

Patent for a Pig

It has been a bit slow here lately as I have been getting started on a few research projects, going to conferences, and teaching a new undergraduate course this Spring.

I watched this short documentary on Monsanto’s pursuit of breeding patents/DNA patterns found in pigs. Of course, Monsanto has been infamous for patents relate to genetic modifications to wheat, but I have not closely followed this trend toward livestock.

See also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Threats Against User-Generated Content

Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails recently posted his thoughts on his plan for a user-generated content site where fans would be encouraged to remix and mash-up NIN content. Due to a lawsuit by Universal Studios (NIN music copyright holder) against Youtube and MySpace, the plans for this site have been cancelled.

On Saturday morning I became aware of a legal hitch in our plans. My former record company and current owner of all these master files, Universal, is currently involved in a lawsuit with other media titans Google (YouTube) and News Corp (MySpace). Universal is contending that these sites do not have what is referred to as “safe harbor” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and therefore are in copyright violation because users have uploaded music and video content that is owned by Universal. Universal feels that if they host our remix site, they will be opening themselves up to the accusation that they are sponsoring the same technical violation of copyright they are suing these companies for. Their premise is that if any fan decides to remix one of my masters with material Universal doesn’t own – a “mash-up”, a sample, whatever – and upload it to the site, there is no safe harbor under the DMCA (according to Universal) and they will be doing exactly what MySpace and YouTube are doing. This behavior may get hauled out in court and impact their lawsuit. Because of this they no longer will host our remix site, and are insisting that Nine Inch Nails host it. In exchange for this they will continue to let me upload my Universal masters and make them available to fans, BUT shift the liability of hosting them to me. Part of the arrangement is having user licenses that the fans sign (not unlike those on MySpace or You Tube) saying they will not use unauthorized materials. If they WERE to do such a thing, everybody sues everybody and the world abruptly ends.

Reznor then points to an article at Ars Technica describing a similar suit between Viacom and Youtube. This excerpt stresses how important these law suits are and the implications on user-generated content.

The DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions aren’t just important to video sharing sites; they’re important to almost every sector of Internet-based business.
“Nearly every major Internet company depends on the very same legal foundation that YouTube is built on,” said von Lohmann. “A legal defeat for YouTube could result in fundamental changes to its business, potentially even making it commercially impossible to embrace user-generated content without first ‘clearing’ every video. In other words, a decisive victory for Viacom could potentially turn the Internet into TV, a place where nothing gets on the air until a cadre of lawyers signs off,” he said. “More importantly, a victory for Viacom could potentially have enormous implications for Yahoo, eBay, Amazon, MySpace, and many other Internet companies, because they all rely on the same DMCA Safe Harbors to protect many facets of their businesses, as well. The stakes are high all around.”

MySpace & Google Form Partnernship

Further to the OpenSocial announcement I mentioned yesterday, it seems that Google and Myspace have formed a partnership through this venture.

Although Microsoft Corp. beat Google in the bidding for a minority stake in MySpace rival Facebook, Google “may have just come out of nowhere and checkmated Facebook in the social networking power struggle,” blogged Michael Arrington, who operates the technology blog TechCrunch. Microsoft announced last week that it was investing $240 million in Facebook as part of a strategic alliance.

Maybe I’m a conspiracy theorist, but it seems a bit unlikely that Google “may have just come out of nowhere”. Perhaps Google got M$ to overbid a Facebook partnership, expected the result and had this deal in the back pocket all along. Hmmmmm. No matter how you look at it, it’s just another reason not to mess with Google.

eBay To Purchase Skype For 2.6 Billion (USD)

BBC news reports that rumours have been confirmed in that eBay is set to purchase Internet telephony leader Skype. eBay plans to pay half in cash, half in stock, and create “an unparalleled e-commerce and communications engine.”

So why would the world’s largest eCommerce site want to get into VoIP? Well, in part, “using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, computer users can talk to each other via a headset or microphone and speakers.” And of course, to purchase a market leader in a greatly emerging business sector may not be such a bad idea either.

Could Googling Become Illegal In Canada?

There was an interesting article by Jack Kapica of the Globe & Mail yesterday which discusses the possibility of Internet search and archiving being an illegal activity which infringes against an ammendment to the Canadian Copyright Act (Bill C-60).

Section 40.3 (1) of the bill states that “the owner of copyright in a work or other subject-matter is not entitled to any remedy other than an injunction against a provider of information location tools who infringes that copyright by making or caching a reproduction of the work or other subject matter.”

That section, he says, implies that “information location tools” would infringe copyright if they archive any material that is copyright, not just material that is itself infringing.

The bill defines information location tools as “any instrument through which one can locate information that is available by means of the Internet or any other digital network.”

So in other words, Google or other search engines or archive services (e.g., the Internet Archive Wayback Machine) may be in infringement of copyright law due to the way they cache and archive copyrighted material. However, the author also notes that as Bill C60 is at the first stage of reading in parliament there is time to “fix” or remove the provision.

However, in today’s related news, it looks like the WayBack Machine, a service of the non-profit Internet Archive is being sued under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

It’s an amazing time to be alive as we are really experiencing a unique time in history as we have been given a wonderful, liberating tool for sharing information across cultures and geographic boundaries, but at the same time, witnessing the immense greed of certain corporate entities as they influence our legislative bodies.