Friday, November 18, 2016

A global software users' co-op could #BuyTwitter

Nathan Schneider's September 29 article in The Guardian has sparked an enthusiastic movement to change Twitter from a corporation into a co-op; or if not Twitter itself, then "co-owning a major platform utility" – see campaign page. Campaign supporters are concerned that Twitter's perennial lack of profitability and declining stock price may lead to it being acquired, followed by cost cutting and revenue boosting measures that could undermine its considerable public benefits.

I'd like to share some ideas with the #BuyTwitter movement. I'm a semi-retired financial economist working on democratic reform of corporations, governments and co-ops (linkedin.com/in/marklatham).

Below is an outline for building a global software users' co-op that can finance its own growth, to the point where it can either buy Twitter or fund a substitute and attract enough users. The strategy has 5 key components:
1. Ownership structure: Retail consumers' co-op.

2. Bundling of users: Use large group purchases to get better deals. All co-op members can use all software licenses purchased.

3. Bundling of software: Each member pays the same low fixed monthly user fee, e.g. $5. Co-op buys rights to use various software that members value: low-priced or freemium software/services like password manager, anti-virus; info like ConsumerReports.org; discounts etc.

4. Buy from market-share challengers, not leaders. Challengers will charge bundled users much less than market-share leaders would.

5. Members vote to allocate pooled funds among competing software channels. This system has been developed and tested for providing coverage of student union elections at the University of British Columbia.
Details are in the paper Global Software Users' Co-op at votermedia.org/publications.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Why I'm Voting NO on Coast Capital Savings Proposal to Go National

Coast Capital Savings is proposing to become a federal credit union. We members can vote from today through November 28, on paper ballots we receive in the mail, or by logging in at coastcapitalsavings.com/OnlineBanking.

I'm voting NO because the board's past behaviour gives me no confidence that they are acting in members' best interests. For example:

- Overpaying itself with members' funds – see:
coastcapitalcompensationwatch.com/facts

- Confusing members with one-sided campaigns against members' resolutions – see:
votermedia.blogspot.ca/2014/03/vote-for-member-democracy-coastcapital.html

The dangers of going national are well described at: 
governancewatch.ca/ThreatsToCoastCapitalsMembers.html


Thursday, September 22, 2016

CIRA Board Election: Who I'm voting for & why

Voting just started today in the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) board election. I currently plan to vote for these candidates:
Members' Slate:
- Frank Michlick

Nomination Committee Slate:
- Lee Dale
- Rowena Liang
- my third choice not decided yet
All candidates' info is linked from this CIRA page. Voting ends next Thursday (Sept 29) at noon Pacific time. I will update this post if I change my choices. If you're a CIRA member, you should receive an email from CIRA today with a link to their voting page.

As when I posted on last year's election: "My research is not very deep, but there seems to be a lack of candidate assessments available online, so I'm trying to help fill that gap."

This year, my voting is based mainly on the online Campaign Forum, where some important issues were debated. I think accountability of the board to the membership and to the Canadian internet community is crucial, so I paid close attention to these two threads:

- CIRA as a Membership Based Organization

- Changing CIRA's Board Selection Process

I welcome your comments, advice, info etc!




Wednesday, September 21, 2016

CIRA Election Forum

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is holding its annual board election. In the election campaign's online forum, there's an interesting thread on CIRA as a Membership Based Organization. Yesterday I posted a comment there; I'm reposting it below (with better links) followed by some further thoughts. So although the election forum will be closed to comments after tomorrow noon (Eastern Time) when voting starts, we can continue discussing here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

How Canada Can Support Serious Journalism

Today I submitted this 3-page comment letter [updated version 2016-10-04] with a policy proposal to let Canadian voters allocate public funding to competing journalist teams. This would support more public interest journalism such as election coverage and watching out for corruption in government. I recommend testing it in municipal politics before implementing it nationally. Canada's federal government has commissioned a study and report on this topic from the Public Policy Forum.

Quote:
It's not that people don't understand the need for [public interest journalism]. We just need an incentive-compatible way to pay for it.

Relevant links:

Friday, September 18, 2015

Revise the BC Credit Union Act to Reclaim Member Democracy

British Columbia's Credit Union Incorporation Act gets reviewed every 10 years, along with the Financial Institutions Act. That time has come, so the review process was launched on June 2, 2015.

It's an important opportunity to improve credit union governance. On this blog I have advocated for reviving democratic member control, to reduce the risks and costs of self-serving behaviour by insiders -- credit union boards and their payees (senior staff, consultants etc) -- with Coast Capital and Vancity as specific examples.

So I've submitted this comment letter on the legislative review. My main recommendation is to require each credit union to host a year-round online member forum to facilitate member sharing of information -- mainly to reduce board control of voter info during director elections. See also this comment letter by Bruce Batchelor, who advocates a wider range of democratic reforms.

As I highlighted in my similar comment letter to FICOM in 2013:
It is natural for directors and their payees to say: "To improve governance, we should give more power to directors." But instead, we should strengthen our democratic checks and balances. Self-serving behaviour is natural for humans, as it is for foxes, so I mean no offence to either when I say: Please don't let the foxes design the hen house.
Fortunately, this time the deputy minister has warned that they "may" publish comment submissions on the Ministry of Finance website. That would be a great way of exposing insiders' recommendations to the sunlight of public scrutiny.

Watch out for comments that advocate weakening credit union members' right to submit resolutions to a vote. There's a striking contrast between the BC Credit Union Act (Section 77) and the BC Co-op Act. The CU Act guarantees that with 300 member signatures, a resolution must be submitted to a vote of all members even if the board opposes it. The Co-op Act has no such guarantee.

Then contrast what has happened with members' resolutions at Coast Capital CU versus at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). When Coast Capital members found out that their board had raised its own pay to more than double the Vancity CU board's pay, they put a resolution on the ballot and passed it by a 79% majority, against the board's advice to vote no. At MEC however, the board persuaded members to approve a rules change "modernization" that included (if you click through to read the details) letting the board reject any member resolution for any reason. The existing CU Act prevents boards from pulling that one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#CIRAelection: Why I'm voting for Moll, Geist, Sandiford and maybe Finckelstein

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is holding its annual board election. I'm voting for these candidates:
Members' Slate:
- Marita Moll

Nomination Committee Slate:
- Michael Geist
- Bill Sandiford
- Konrad von Finckelstein (maybe?)
If you're a CIRA member, you can vote Sept 16 - 23 (deadline: noon Pacific time Sept 23). You'll need your Voter ID and PIN from the email CIRA sent you today (Sept 16). Anyone with a .ca domain can join CIRA for free at cira.ca/membership and vote next year.

How I choose who to vote for:

My research is not very deep, but there seems to be a lack of candidate assessments available online, so I'm trying to help fill that gap.

I try to guess which candidates are more likely to advocate in the broad public interest, rather than for the interests of industry or themselves or their friends. I also look for some knowledge of internet issues, including privacy, technology, security, economics, business, politics etc.

My sources include the candidates' statements and résumés (linked from cira.ca/election), the election campaign forum, perspectives from OpenMedia.ca (internet public interest advocacy organization), a former CIRA board member, and various others.

I'm uncertain about my third choice on the nom-com slate. Konrad von Finckelstein is former chair of the CRTC, so has a wealth of relevant experience. Could he be too much of an insider? Hard to guess. Here are two perspectives on him, pro and con:

Pro -- openmedia.ca/node/3548

Con -- rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/openmediaca/2014/07/has-crtc-really-changed-will-they-listen-to-canadians-or-telecom-

What do you think? Comments welcomed! 

How to improve CIRA's election process:

There is not enough voter engagement, nor enough sources of insightful assessments of the candidates. I have recommended various improvements to CIRA, so instead of repeating them I'll link to them:

1. The latter half of this blog post.

2. The paper We Want Our Co-ops Back.