News / Blog

Mass Surveillance – The Day We Fight Back

Hey, Let’s All Get Together to End Mass Surveillance

Being able to conduct our private online affairs privately is important.

If you don’t need any further convincing, jump down to find out why online privacy matters to us, what we’re doing to help protect it and how you can help.

Perhaps our opening statement seems weird and anachronistic, seeing as we live in a world where people are increasing both the amount of information they share, and the speed at which they share it.

Here’s why we think online privacy is important.

Privacy gives us the space as individuals to find and define our sense of self, and for organizations and companies to innovate and experiment.

Mass surveillance strips us all of the opportunity to choose what information we share, when, where and with whom. The choice between what’s public and what’s private is now in the hands of those that control the data.

Over the past eight months, the details of various national mass surveillance programs have been brought to light. We find the broad and unmitigated power that’s being entrusted to bodies like the National Security Agency (NSA) truly frightening.

We are pretty upset about it. We think you should be pretty upset about it too.

These mass surveillance programs undermine trust in our governments and in the corporations that provide access to and services on the Internet. Most importantly, it undermines trust in the Internet itself. It is the Internet that brings us together and allows us to share in each other’s experiences.

Why it matters to us

For OpenSRS: There is a crisis of faith in the organizations that govern the Internet. That, consequently, undermines how our business operates. The policies and procedures that are part of running the Internet infrastructure businesses depend on requires global trust in the organizations that develop and enforce them. Perhaps these organizations, like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), are too closely connected to the US government, but can they become more global without benefitting those that would seek to control, censor and undermine the Internet?

For Ting: We’ve tried very hard to build a unique service. We’re open and transparent in our pricing and in how we interact with our customers. After years of gouging and poor customer service, it’s no wonder that there is a general lack of trust in mobile service providers. Now, though, it’s also clear that some companies have been providing warrantless, wholesale data access to surveillance programs. Customers are now concerned that we’re providing their phone records and meta-data to these programs without notification or due process. Though we haven’t received any law enforcement requests for user information, these concerns are understandable.

What we’re doing about it

We’re trying to raise awareness through this post and by participating in The Day We Fight Back. We’re also raising money for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

  • Hover will be donating $1 for every domain transferred to Hover on February 11.
  • Ting will be donating $1 up to $10,000 for everyone that shares this post from the Ting blog using the sharing tools there.

What You can do About It:

Here’s the great bit. Just over a year ago, citizens joined together online to defeat some rather heinous digital communications legislation. We know that individual voices matter, and we’ve seen the change they can bring.

If you’re American: Use the banner at the bottom of this post to contact your legislator and let them know that mass surveillance is unacceptable.

If you’re Canadian: Sign the petition hosted by OpenMedia. Or you can find and contact your member of parliament. Now is an excellent time to ask for increased oversight of the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).

Global citizens: Visit The Day We Fight Back and tweet, Facebook, or G+ your support for ending programs of mass surveillance.



10th Anniversary Telecommunications Forum, February 24-25, 2014 in Ottawa, Canada

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Tucows CEO Elliot Noss has been invited to speak at the 10th Anniversary Telecommunications Forum on February 24-25, 2014 in Ottawa. He’ll be delivering a lunchtime keynote presentation on February 25 titled, “The Dire State of Networks in Canada, and How We Can Take Advantage of It.”

His presentation is likely to get the attention of a few carriers, some policy makers and industry players and a whole lot of potential customers.

We’ve had great success in the US market with Ting, and we’d love to help push for change in the Canadian market as well.

We’ve secured a 10% discount off the regular conference fee. Use discount code #19382 when you register.

Visit http://www.insightinfo.com/tele/ for more information and to register for the event.

Take Action for Fairer and Better Laws Governing the Internet

This week, we’re asking for you help to sound the alarm over a proposal currently making its way through the US House Judiciary Committee that would expand and harshen certain parts of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

There is a possibility that the proposed changes to the CFAA could come up for a vote as early as this week, according to Demand Progress.

The amendments proposed would allow for the CFAA to be interpreted so broadly that all sorts of mundane Internet use could be criminalized, even going as far as to criminalize breaking a website’s fine print terms of service agreement. Something as simple as creating a Facebook page for your cat, or adding a couple of inches to your height in your online profile for an Internet dating service could expose you to prosecution for a federal crime under the CFAA.

Justice for Aaron Swartz

You’ll note a “Justice for Aaron” badge or banner on many Tucows sites this week that alerts visitors to the need for action, directing them to a site set up to explain the situation and asking them to contact their elected lawmakers.

Aaron Swartz was an Internet activist who was prosecuted under the CFAA in 2011 for downloading academic journals from a system called JSTOR. Earlier this year, Aaron committed suicide due, in part, to the pressure of a potential jail sentence of up to 35 years and a fine of a $1 million that he faced as a result of the heavy-handed prosecution.

Aaron was very involved in fighting against things like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and was instrumental in the creation of web standards and protocols like RSS and Markdown in addition to his activist work.

In memory of Aaron, US lawmakers have joined together to proposed a series of amendments to the CFAA called, “Aaron’s Law.” These changes would tighten the Act and would ensure that no one else would face the kind of persecution that Aaron Swartz faced thanks to the CFAA.

Take action

We ask that you take a look at the Justice for Aaron website and get involved. That could mean contacting your elected representatives if you live in the US, or simply raising awareness by putting the badge on your website or Facebook profile this week. Join sites like BoingBoing, Reddit, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Tucows in this effort.

If you want to learn more about Aaron Swartz, Aaron’s Law or the CFAA, you can visit some of the links below.

Verisign and the US Department of Commerce – Our Take

This morning, it was announced that Verisign and the US Department of Commerce had come to an agreement that allows Verisign to continue to operate the .com domain for another six years.

What was missing from that contract was the hot topic of conversation this morning – Verisign no longer has the right to four price increases of 7% over the term of the agreement. In other words, .com domains will likely remain prices at $7.85 until November, 2018 when the new agreement comes up for renewal again.

Verisign does have the right to increase prices if they can prove “extraordinary” expense resulting from and attack or threat of attack on the security or stability of the DNS. Any price increase would require Verisign to prove that the increase served the public interest before the Department of Commerce would approve.

Verisign could also seek a price increase if it could prove that market conditions no longer warranted the new restrictions that are put in place with this agreement. Again, that would require Department of Commerce approval.

Tucows’ Take

Elliot Noss, Tucows President and CEO, says that the new agreement between the Department of Commerce and Verisign “rights a wrong in the last contract.”

Tucows has been very outspoken about .com pricing, and we were clear at the time of the last renewal that we did not believe Verisign should have been given the right to price increases.

It’s good news for registrants and the Internet as a whole.

Elliot also suggests that the new contract could even turn out to be good for Verisign going forward. The previous contract provided them with an opportunity to raise prices. As a public company with a fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder value, Elliot notes that investors, who often think in the short term, would put immense pressure on Verisign to exercise those price increases.

He goes on to suggest that having the option to raise prices four times in the next six years may have turned into a competitive disadvantage for Verisign given the new gTLDs coming online within the next 12 to 18 months.

By not having price increases available to them as a way to grow revenues, Verisign is will be driven to more efficiency and innovation. Certainly, the conference call Verisign hosted this morning featured a lot of talk of innovation, patents, and the addition of new value-added and revenue generating services like Distributed Denial of Service attack protection.

One thing is for sure, and perhaps this is the most important part of the contract extension announcement: Verisign continuing to be the operator of the .com extension for the next six years is great news for everyone. Verisign has proven itself to be an exceptionally good operator of the root. From a technology and service perspective, .com is clearly in good hands.

You can read the US Department of Commerce statement here.

OpenSRS Announces Industry Best Wholesale Pricing on Extended Validation SSL

- Also adds new Subject Alternative Name (SAN) SSL certificates -

TORONTO, September 20, 2012 – Tucows Inc. (NYSE AMEX:TCX) (TSX:TC), a global provider of domain names and other Internet services, today announced significantly reduced pricing for resellers on Extended Validation (EV) SSL certificates through its OpenSRS wholesale Internet services division.

OpenSRS resellers will immediately benefit from the lowest published wholesale list prices on Symantec Secure Site Pro with EV, GeoTrust True BusinessID with EV, Thawte SSL Web Server with EV, Trustwave Extended Validation SSL with EV, and Comodo EV SSL certificates.

“We’re taking this leadership role on Extended Validation SSL pricing because we strongly believe the advantages of EV should be accessible to a wider range of potential users,” said Dave Woroch, EVP Sales, OpenSRS. “Our resellers will now be able to offer the benefits of EV SSL to more of their small- and mid-sized business customers and, in turn, consumers will benefit from the increased protection that EV SSL provides.”

In addition to lower EV SSL pricing, OpenSRS also announced the addition of new Subject Alternative Name (SAN) SSL certificates from Symantec, GeoTrust and Thawte. These products are often used to secure Unified Communications (UC) servers including Microsoft Exchange and allow for multiple domain names to be added to a single SSL certificate.

The addition of SAN certificates further ensures that OpenSRS resellers are able to provide the appropriate SSL certificate for their customers no matter the brand, type, price point or level of protection required.

A full product and price list is available at http://opensrs.com/ssl

About Tucows

Tucows is a global Internet services company. OpenSRS (http://opensrs.com) manages over twelve million domain names and millions of value-added services through a reseller network of over 12,000 web hosts and ISPs. Hover (http://hover.com) is the easiest way for individuals and small businesses to manage their domain names and email addresses. Ting.com (https://ting.com) is a mobile phone service provider dedicated to bringing clarity and control to US mobile phone users. YummyNames (http://yummynames.com) owns and operates premium domain names that generate revenue through advertising or resale. More information can be found on Tucows’ corporate website (http://tucows.com).

i2Coalition Officially Formed

Today, September 17, 2012, marks the official formation of the Internet Infrastructure Coalition or i2Coalition, a group dedicated to supporting private investment to drive the “nuts and bolts” of the Internet for continued growth. i2Coaltion includes more than 40 industry leading infrastructure providers and tech firms.

Tucows is proud to be one of the founding members in the i2Coalition.

The idea for the i2Coalition came about in 2011, when many of the founding members joined together during the winning campaigns educating the public and elective officials about the intrusive Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The i2Coaltion will continue the mission to advocate for public policy goals essential for Internet infrastructure growth. As part of the launch, i2Coalition co-founder and Board Chair Christian Dawson outlines the group’s public policy priorities and mission in the following video:

The i2Coalition supports the needs of the Internet infrastructure industry to develop market-based standards to drive innovation, which is crucial for continued growth. It intends to be a unified voice for public policy advocacy and education for the industry.

If you or your company shares that vision and serve the Internet infrastructure industry, please consider joining the i2Coalition by visiting the i2Coalition membership page to learn more.

CISPA and protecting your personal online freedom

During the SOPA / PIPA debacle, Internet denizens came out in droves to beat the bills back and protect our collective online rights. We, as in the Internet at large, said that the battle was won but the war would continue. The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act is the latest attempt at an affront to your online freedom.

CISPA hits the senate floor for voting in early June having already passed the US House of Representatives. If passed by the Senate, the last hope to get CISPA sent back to the proverbial drawing board would be a White House veto.

If passed, CISPA would provide broad authority to government organizations to collect and pass information between agencies. “Cyber threat information,” as the bill puts it. Ostensibly, CISPA is intended as a response to cyber security threats from hackers, terrorists or criminals. CISPA would give broad allowances for government agencies to pass our private information and communications between themselves. Currently, doing so leaves said agencies open to lawsuits from private citizens. Perhaps more disturbing, it allows (or could force) private organizations to pass information to government agencies under the same provisions.

The language in CISPA is in some cases so vague that it would be too easy to put to ill use. The powers afforded are too broad and would allow the government and private corporations like Facebook, Google et. al. to pass private information freely, with impunity. All under the guise of protecting against a “cyber threat.” The language explaining what exactly constitutes a cyber threat is also too broadly and loosely defined (see page 15 of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) and potentially sacrifices too many of our personal freedoms.

Our issues with CISPA are many. As concerned Internet citizens, we worry about what it would mean for personal online privacy—both yours and our own. As an Internet company that takes your privacy very (very) seriously, we worry about our ability to protect your online privacy, for our part, will be severely compromised.

If you feel, as we do, that CISPA is an ill conceived and too loosely defined a bill, please make your voices heard.

At Tucows, we feel that the Internet—whether accessed on your computer, on your smartphone or via any other vehicle—is vitally important. CISPA is a very serious threat to the freedom and privacy we take for granted online.

Freedom to Connect

If you are at all interested in issues like Internet openness and net neutrality, then you’ll want to check out F2C: Freedom to Connect. It’s a fantastic two-day conference devoted to preserving and celebrating the essential properties of the Internet, coming up on May 21 and 22nd, in Washington, DC.

Read on to learn how to win a free pass to F2C or get a discount on your registration!

This year’s F2C conference features a very strong lineup of presenters and panelists. F2C: Freedom to Connect logoConfirmed keynote speakers include Vint Cerf, Michael Copps, Cory Doctorow, Benoît Felten, Rebecca MacKinnon, Eben Moglen, Mike Marcus and Aaron Swartz.

Here’s a good explanation of what F2C is all about:

The Internet is a success today because it is stupid, abundant and simple. In other words, its neutrality, its openness to rapidly developing technologies and its layered architecture are the reasons it has succeeded where others (e.g., ISDN, Interactive TV) failed.

The Internet’s issues are under-represented in Washington DC policy circles. F2C: Freedom to Connect is designed to advocate for innovation, for creativity, for expression, for little-d democracy. The Freedom to Connect is about an Internet that supports human freedoms and personal security. These values, held by many of us whose consciousness has been shaped by the Internet, are not common on K Street or Capitol Hill or at the FCC.

F2C: Freedom to Connect is about having access to the Internet as infrastructure. Infrastructures belong to — and enrich — the whole society in which they exist. They gain value — in a wide variety of ways, some of which are difficult to anticipate — when more members of society have access to them. F2C: Freedom to Connect especially honors those who build communications infrastructure for the Internet in their own communities, often overcoming resistance from incumbent cable and telephone companies to do so.

The phrase Freedom to Connect is now official US foreign policy, thanks to Secretary of State Clinton’s Remarks on Internet Freedom in 2010. She said that Freedom to Connect is, “the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace.” Her speech presaged the Internet-fueled assemblies from Alexandria, Egypt to Zuccotti Park.

Win a Free Pass, or Get 33% Off Registration

F2C meshes very nicely with our corporate ideals about how the Internet should work and how it needs to be protected and nurtured. Our mobile service Ting is a proud sponsor of the event and we have a couple of discount options for those of you who are looking to attend.

  • First up, we have a free pass to give away to one person. We simply ask that you email us and give us a short explanation on why you think you should attend. Act fast – we’ll have a look at the emails and choose a winner on April 11th.
  • For those who don’t get the free pass, we also have a discount code that you can use to get 33% off the registration fee. When you register, use promo code “TING33″.

The cost for the conference is $349 until April 16, after which the cost goes up a bit. That discount code will work until April 30.

For more information, and to register, visit the F2C: Freedom to Connect website.

The Internet is Sentient

Prologue

There is a battle going on between the Internet and those who are threatened by the Internet’s values. This includes anyone protecting old business models; incumbent telcos and cablecos, and rights collectives representing old distribution models for intellectual property. Most importantly, the greatest threat is to the power of the nation-state itself.

This struggle is marked by the Internet achieving sentience. I use sentience here to describe the deep symbiosis of the network and the people that use it and the huge quantity of emergent properties that result. The whole is vastly greater than the sum of the parts.

Introduction/tl:dr

The Internet has achieved sentience. It is some different version of Kurzweil’s singularity, but it exists today. The Internet is self-improving, it propagates its unique values and, most importantly, it has now matured to the point where it is able to protect itself from any threat.

This sentience is a fusion of network and people. Recognizing its existence is central to understanding how society will evolve with and through it and to making this symbiosis as healthy as it can be. For many, this sentience is understood on an implied level. This will be better if made express.

It constantly improves

From its inception the Internet has been on a path of continual self-improvement. We can see this in everything from the way that content delivery became more efficient (compression, local caches, CDNs) to the way languages have become more efficient (C++ to Java to Perl to Python to Ruby to JavaScript) to the way that social has become more efficient (the progression from ICQ to Facebook/Twitter and beyond).

Every element of the Internet eventually gets improved upon with huge network effects, and those network effects are just accelerating. Not only is the Internet improving with the number of people connected, it is improving the very people connected to it.

It propagates its values

The Internet has often been described as valueless. It is not. In fact strong values have emerged. The Internet stands for openness, connectedness, sharing and fairness. It facilitates these things and propagates them. Think of the generally increasing difficulty that corruption and unfairness are having, from dictators to unfriendly business practices.

The Arab Spring and Verizon removing an unfair $2 surcharge are equally good examples. A groundswell starts and does not come from any one voice, but seems to come from the collective consciousness. It seems to come from everywhere at the same time.

It responds to threats

The Internet itself now clearly responds to things that threaten it. The response is multi-faceted, coming from many different places and in many different ways.

We see responses to legislative threats like SOPA and ACTA where people all over the world have responded to specific national legislation in a way never before seen.

We see this when we see Anonymous and others attacking various parties and entities that threaten the Internet and its values, almost like mutated white blood cells in the Internet’s bloodstream. And of course there is no specific person or thing that is Anonymous. Watching those threatened take a traditional approach to stopping it approaches farce.

We see this when we see plans arise for alternatives to the present Internet in response to threats from those who fear it. As the SOPA debate kicked into high gear a Reddit discussion on “Plan B” kicked off and has not slowed down despite the immediate threat passing. This was not even close to the only dialogue of its kind. The collective consciousness of the Internet understands the threat as continual and existential and in no way limited to SOPA, PIPA or ACTA. Those threatened, on the other hand, think they have a “PR problem” and that somehow Google and Silicon Valley have fooled people.

Finally, the Internet responding to threats to its existence is happening at an increasing rate. Draw a line through Citizen Lab, EFF and others in the late 90’s, TOR and others in the late 00’s and the responses that we have seen in the last months. This trend will accelerate.

What are the implications of sentience

When we interact with the Internet, whether it is in platform design, marketing or our own personal use of social media we need to keep the concept of sentience in mind. It can change the way we approach these tasks.

When we interact with the Internet we need to not only to expect it to change and evolve but we need to actively think about our own participation in this evolution. We are each a tiny part of the sentience of the Internet.

Perhaps most importantly for this post and for the broad theme of conflict between value systems, any attempt to legislate, regulate or otherwise control the Internet ignores sentience at its peril.

Conclusion

The genie of the Internet is out of the bottle. From now on, its sentience will protect its independence, whether one likes it or not. If those threatened try and squeeze too tightly the Internet will simply get up and walk away. The nation-state can no longer control the Internet but it can do significant damage to it, and in doing so to itself.

The hope is that acknowledging and discussing the Internet as sentient will allow us to approach its relationship with the nation-state, and other interests who feel threatened by it, in a way that more smoothly eases us into the future.

Why We Don’t Like SOPA

The proposed SOPA (and equally odious “Protect IP Act“) legislation is fundamentally flawed in how it works and the damage it is likely to do to the Internet, which has been the greatest platform for innovation the world has ever seen. For that reason we will be joining the blackout organized by our friends at Reddit by blacking out the Tucows Software Download site on January 18th from 8am to 8pm EST (1300-0100 UTC).

The Internet is a global creature. A “Made in the USA” solution will no more work to stop the problems talked of than would one made in any other single nation state. Worse, the US has been at the forefront of ensuring that the Internet has remained free and a platform for innovation for the last fifteen years. With SOPA, or ProtectIP, that leadership will effectively end and Syria, China, Iran and others will not only use the US as a role model, they will also use these actions as further evidence of US control of the Internet and justification for trying to turn it over to the UN/ITU. This is best described by Susan Crawford.

Worse, the legislation itself is fundamentally corrupt. It is bought and paid for by big media, trying vainly to protect anachronistic business models. This has been demonstrated clearly in all of the hearings and the very conduct of the debate. Listening to how deeply uninformed those being asked to legislate this issue are has been nothing short of scary. Watching how support and opposition has lined up has been disheartening. This is the worst example of the kind of fundamental corruption that is at the heart of the US political system currently and is well defined by Professor Larry Lessig. If you have ten minutes please watch this video on the subject. If you have an hour please watch this one.

The Internet is not a corpus, it is not a thing. It is a series of protocols, which are really agreements on how computers will behave when connected to the Internet. Treating the Internet like a thing to be legislated and controlled is as ill conceived as treating “Intellectual Property” like physical property and leads to even greater perversions. If governments squeeze too tightly, the Internet as we know it will simply get up and walk away. It will fracture and split with a “clean” Internet and a much larger Darknet. than there is today, but not one used mainly for file sharing. Instead the Darknet will become the real Internet. Brands will sell things and Media will offer content on the “Cleannet”, but the Darknet will be where ideas are shared, plans are made, memes are propagated and where most of the cool people, including most of our children, will be.

Prohibitions have never worked to change behaviours. They simply make people who fear things feel good and create a new mini-industry for fear mongers to make money off of. They do not change behaviours.

If you wish to get involved we suggest you visit Stop American Censorship, BlackoutSOPA.org and that you follow @tucows on Twitter where we’re we’ll be tweeting regularly about the movement to stop SOPA.

 

Tucows Announces Commencement of Dutch Auction Tender Offer to Repurchase up to 6.5 Million Common Shares

TORONTO, Dec. 20, 2011 – Tucows Inc. (NYSE AMEX:TCX), (TSX:TC) a global provider of domain names, email and other Internet services, announced today that it is commencing its modified “Dutch auction” tender offer to repurchase up to 6,500,000 shares of its common stock, representing approximately 12.2% of Tucows’ outstanding shares, as previously announced on December 15, 2011. The closing price of Tucows common stock on the NYSE Amex on December 19, 2011 was $0.75.
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Tucows Supports StopBadware.org

Tucows is proud to be a StopBadware partner. StopBadware is an organization that strives to make the Web safer through the prevention, mitigation, and remediation of badware websites.

StopBadware’s goals are right in line with our corporate vision which states that “Tucows seeks to provide simple, useful services that help people unlock the power of the Internet.” The removal and prevention of badware is key in making the Internet more effective for all users.

Badware is defined as software that fundamentally disregards a user’s choice about how his or her computer or network connection will be used. Some examples include things like browser toolbars that users are tricked into installing that steal personal information or malware like viruses that takeover a user’s computer to send spam or spread more badware to other unsuspecting users.

We obviously think badware is bad and has no place on the Internet and we support StopBadware in there efforts to help stop it.

Visit StopBadware.org to learn more.

TRUSTe and Tucows Partner to Deliver Privacy Policy and Certification Services to Small Businesses

The TRUSTe Privacy Seal Is Now Available Through the OpenSRS Reseller Network, Making It Easy for Small Businesses to Provide Online Privacy Assurances to Customers

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Sep 28, 2011 — TRUSTe, the leading online privacy solutions provider, and Tucows Inc. , a global provider of domain names, email and other Internet services, today announced a partnership to distribute TRUSTe privacy policy and certification services to more than 12,000 web hosts, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and other resellers worldwide through Tucows’ wholesale Internet services group OpenSRS. The partnership with TRUSTe gives the OpenSRS network of resellers the ability to provide even more value to their small business customers through affordable privacy solutions and access to the TRUSTe Privacy Seal, recognized by 82% of people online and considered the de facto standard for online privacy.
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Vote in the 2011 CIRA Elections

The Internet belongs to all of us and impacts every aspect of our lives. CIRA’s election process provides Canadians and .CA Members an opportunity to take a leadership role in the development of the Internet of the future to ensure it continues to be an open and accessible public resource.

As a CIRA Member, this is your opportunity to vote for the individuals who will take part in developing strategies and policies for Canada’s Internet– your Internet.

Why is voting important in the 2011 CIRA Elections?

By voting, you are choosing Canada’s Internet leaders and helping to build CIRA into a leading-edge organization that strives for excellence as a registry and supports Canadians and .CA Members in building their online presence in the global digital economy.

Not sure who to vote for?

While the decision is ultimately yours to make, we endorse the candidates listed below. As a board member, I am confident that each have the skills and experience necessary to assist the board with its important work this coming term and have already demonstrated a strong commitment to Canada’s Internet community.

Member Nominated Candidates

Nominating Committee Candidates

Vote in three easy steps:

  1. Access the 2011 Election website.
  2. Confirm your identity – Complete the Member or Member Representative declaration (depending on your membership status), then submit.
  3. Select up to four Candidates– Once the declaration is submitted, select up to THREE Candidates from the Nomination Committee slate and ONE Candidate from the Members’ slate, then submit. Volià!

If you have any questions about the election process or the qualifications to vote, drop us a line in the comments.

Introducing Ting

Earlier today we took the wraps off a new project we’ve been working on for a while now. It’s a new mobile phone service launching in the US later this year called Ting. You can learn more about at ting.com.

Spectrum as Plentiful as We Let it Be

This is a letter we sent to the Manager, Mobile Technology and Services, Industry Canada today and I wanted to share it with you:

We are submitting these comments on behalf of Tucows Inc. Tucows is a Canadian company that has been around since the dawn of the Internet. We were part of the early days of Internet access when Canada had a position of leadership. We have watched with sadness as Canada has gone from an Internet access leader to an Internet access laggard according to objective observers (Berkman Center releases final broadband study, World Top Continents’ Download Speed). As governments at all levels across Canada agonize over our lack of innovation and productivity gains, it is clear that fantastic Internet access – fast, symmetrical, affordable – is perhaps the greatest platform for innovation that any government can provide.

We appreciate the opportunity to share our thoughts on spectrum allocation in particular. We feel that spectrum allocation policies provide one of the best opportunities to rectify the poor Internet access situation that currently exists in Canada. We also note that spectrum policy is based on artificial notions of scarcity. Much like current Intellectual property policy, notions of scarcity were important ideas in the industrial age.

The Internet has truly changed things. The Internet allows us to think in terms of abundance, not scarcity.

The notion of Spectrum as a scarce resource is based on very old science. This is understandable, but changeable. We also recognize that spectrum allocation has become an important source of revenue for governments and that any serious changes to allocation policy need to encompass this point. In this submission we do not propose to address the issue of government revenue, but we do plan to as the dialogue progresses. Our goal here is to introduce the idea of spectrum as a plentiful resource. Specifically:

  • Spectrum is plentiful, not scarce;
  • Interference is a function of the receivers, not an inherent property of wireless transmission; and
  • With smart radios and well-defined equipment specifications we could take much greater advantage of the Spectrum we have.

Following the above would allow Canada to take significant strides in addressing its Internet access issues AND to establish itself as a world leader in telecommunications policy.

As with our submissions to the copyright consultation process in the summer of 2009, we have employed the pen of David Weinberger in an effort to create a submission that is readable and hopefully accessible by an audience wider than most policy submissions are able to reach.

Spectrum as Plentiful as We Let it Be

When I was a lad, our family doctor was a young man named Dr. Murtceps. He took good care of us, and I have stuck with him for over fifty years. The last time I saw him, he shocked me by telling me that he was leaving his practice in order to pursue an important discovery he’d made in physics: over the decades he’s noticed that his loyal patients who have grown old with him are increasingly having trouble with their vision. He leaned in and said with a firm voice that seemed a hedge against the alarm he felt, “I am very much afraid the evidence points in only one direction. There is simply no other explanation.” I waited. “Photons are failing.”

I have to admit I laughed at first. “Doc, you’re joking, right?” I said. “There’s no problem with light. The problem is with our eyes.” He looked at me uncomprehendingly. I struggled for an analogy, but the one I found apparently just made matters worse: “Next thing you’ll be telling me that radio interference is a property of spectrum, and not just a problem with bad receivers.”

Dr. Murtceps wasn’t joking. Neither was I. (And I, unlike Dr. Murtceps, am not entirely made up.)

Unfortunately, our misdiagnosis of the situation with spectrum is analogous to Dr. Murtceps’ taking the weakness of our eyes as evidence of a limitation of photons. The price for being wrong about spectrum, however, is not even slightly laughable. By continuing to treat interference as a physical limitation of the medium itself, we will drastically restrict the usability of spectrum at what could be the highest opportunity cost in history.

Here’s a simple experiment. Plug in an expensive radio next to a cheap one. Play with the radio dial of the cheap one until you find a station with a signal made cruddy by interference. Now tune the expensive radio to the same station. It is likely to have a much clearer signal than the cheap one. Where did the interference go? Nowhere, because interference is not a thing or a property of radio waves. Interference is receiver failure. As far as I can gather – I am not a physicist – radio waves don’t really bounce off one another and knock each other out of shape. They may degrade over distance, and physical objects in their path may diminish their strength, but when one radio wave meets another radio wave, they pass right through each other.

The static and fuzz we hear when we talk about interference is caused by the inability of the receiver to distinguish one signal from another. The system we’ve designed solves that problem by assigning broad continuous swaths of spectrum to designated broadcasters. Fine, but that solves the “interference” problem by limiting the amount of available spectrum: We take the continuum of frequencies and divide them into a relative handful of ranges of frequencies (= “bands”).

At one point, that was a reasonable approach. Unfortunately, that point was in the 1930s. Eighty years ago it made sense to regulate who could broadcast at particular frequencies, and to make the assigned swath of frequencies quite broad: if all you have is a blunderbuss, then you do best if you make your target the size of the broad side of a barn.

There are two important good consequences of our current practice of auctioning off slices of spectrum: First, the government raises lots of money from businesses that then make yet more money from the transaction. Win-win is a good thing. Second, we get a system that works.

The problem is that we’ve defined “works” disastrously narrowly. The current system works in that it enables a handful of large corporations to provide quite reliable one-way broadcasts. We are now, however, witnessing a worldwide redefining of “works,” so that a system that does not allow maximum multi-way communication and maximum innovation is broken.

The first half of that criterion— maximum multi-way communication— addresses the cultural, social, and political benefits. Call it free speech, call it open culture, call it open group formation, call it a renaissance, we all nevertheless know it’s just waiting to happen.

The second half— maximum innovation— addresses the economic reasons why we should care so deeply about getting the Internet’s broadband infrastructure right. It’s where growth is going to come from, and it has the potential to be the greatest market-based generator of wealth since we invented open marketplaces.

So, how do we make this new definition of “works” real? Fortunately, what has been keeping us from opening vast new quantities of bandwidth is primarily our old habit of assuming that we have to divvy up the continuum of usable frequencies into thick, scarce bands. Notice that the fundamental verb that gets applied to “spectrum” under the old assumptions is “divide.” Dividing is a verb of scarcity.

We could instead assume abundance. Today’s receivers and transmitters are smarter than they were when you had to turn a dial to tune in a station. They can do what we do when we drive a car on a highway: change lanes to avoid over-crowding and thereby maximize throughput. In this case, the lanes are frequencies. If the frequency the receiver and transmitter are using is getting crowded, they can send a signal and hop over to a different one. This type of intelligent, dynamic spectrum management wrings far more capacity out of the airwaves than doing the equivalent of assigning each car its own fixed lane.

Assuming abundance can create abundance because information is not like a car. Over the years we have figured out ways to compress information, to combine multiple signals into a single “lane,” and even to create what David P. Reed (one of the architects of the Internet) calls “cooperation gain”: an improvement in information capacity as more nodes join, say, a multi-hop mesh network.

It’s vital that we drop our assumption that information needs a dedicated, unvarying channel. When broadcasters need to get assigned a “lane” by a centralized authority, it’s expensive and slow to become a broadcaster. Where frequencies have been opened up to all comers in a free market, enormous innovation has occurred already. Imagine if the public airwaves were in fact open to the entire public, with their management handled in real time by the technology itself, rather than by a government office. It would be like the Internet, and we know the result: There are currently 200 million registered domains, and we have just run through 4.3 billion Internet addresses. That happened for two reasons. First, the Internet enables anyone to jump in, without first having to apply for permission, pay a fee, or hope to be assigned a route; the Net gives participating computers addresses, and negotiates the routes between them dynamically. Second, we are a damn innovative species just waiting for the chance.

But, we are being held back by an old way of managing a resource that works by turning it into something scarce. Spectrum is bounteous if we want it to be. It will be a tragedy for which we will not be soon forgiven if we continue to slice this shared abundance to ribbons that we then sell off for short-term gain.

Open up the spectrum and we will figure out what to do with it. Trust us. We’ve just spent the past fifteen years proving that we’re more innovative than even the craziest of us imagined.

Thank You.
Elliot Noss
CEO
Tucows Inc.

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