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Choking online media growth in Canada

January 29, 2011

So let’s review what I did yesterday:

  1. Read about how video and social networks are helping to re-shape the Middle East
  2. Worked a bit on a start-up I’m advising called Shiny Art, which rents video art over the Internet
  3. Watched the amazing UGC documentary Life in a Day on YouTube
  4. Read Canada regulators are allowing ISPs to impose ridiculously low bandwidth caps on consumers and charge extortionary prices on those who exceed those caps

The first three activities rely on (or at least are vastly improved by) high bandwidth availability. You need bandwidth to connect people, to share images and video, to communicate world-changing ideas, and create economic growth by (hopefully) getting a new business off the ground.

Every day witness the trend of how social and video based applications are changing the world, but by allowing artificially low bandwidth caps to come into effect, Canada is essentially saying it is not interested in communicating ideas, fostering new media and business models, or growing its own online media industry.

For an hour and a half yesterday, I watched YouTube’s elegant documentary about that looked at life on a single day on Earth. The documentary was shot  entirely by everyday  people from around the world. Could such an initiative ever be successful in Canada?

It is laughable for Canada to say it wants to grow online media, and then allow caps bandwidth caps that choke off that very growth. Low bandwidth caps and online media are mutually exclusive ideas, they cannot occupy the same space at the same time. The economics are really simple, if you make bandwidth expensive, bandwidth-hungry applications (read: online media) will not take root.

Case in point: as mentioned, I’m advising a company that I think has a pretty neat idea, let customers transform their HDTVs into canvases for contemporary art by providing video art rental over the Internet. Last weekend, when I explained the concept to a relative in Canada, he said it would be too expensive for some consumers. At first I didn’t understand what he meant but now I get it. If you only have access to 25GB/ month (or about 12 hours of viewing) would you spend that valuable bandwidth experimenting on a media service you know little about?

Canada has for years fretted about how to build a cultural industry and in the digital age, it is harder to imagine a policy more damaging to that goal. Bandwidth caps basically say that if you have an idea to build or offer an online media service, do it someplace else, Canada isn’t interested.

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