Who’s in net?

It’s a little bit like the lyrics to the current Katy Perry song: You’re hot, then you’re cold, You’re yes then you’re no, You’re in then you’re out, You’re up then you’re down.

We are referring here to the CRTC and the issue of internet speed for small service providers who buy pipe from large players like Bell, Telus and Rogers.

A few weeks ago, the federal telecom and broadcast regulator said that it would not intervene in allegations that certain companies moved some data at slower speeds than others. It did, however, agree to hold hearings into the regulation of the internet next summer.

Now, however, it has issued a new decision that orders Big Telco to offer the same net speeds to small wholesale customers that they sell to their own retail customers In doing that, the CRTC rejects the argument that having to do that will discourage investment in new, higher-speed infrastructure.

That argument tends to get trotted out whenever a new source of competition surfaces for incumbent market players – it was last heard in the bitter squabble over who should be allowed to bid in the last auction of wireless spectrum. (The government ultimately allowed special terms for new entrants to help them enter the market.)

Before it gets too much further down this road, the CRTC doesn’t ask too many questions for which it doesn’t already have answers. This is a very swampy area of policy with an exceptionally high emotional quotient. There is a significant contingent of people who passionately believe the internet represents a form of pure, unsullied access to communication for all. And they are pitted against those who believe it’s just another business.

In other words, it’s a looming smackdown between unicorns and butterflies, bears and bulls.

Smart Cookie 101

When a friend told me that 2009 was the year she was determined to get a handle on her finances, I sympathized.

I, too, am trying to save more and spend my money more wisely.

At a potluck dinner I hosted at my apartment last night, the same friend asked if I got around to reading The Smart Cookies’ Guide to Making More Dough, a book about five young Canadian women who banded together and swapped strategies in an effort to erase their debt and obtain their financial goals. The Smart Cookies have appeared on Oprah, have a television show and released a book. My copy was collecting dusk on my bookshelf.

I was embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t read the book.

The conversation with my six girlfriends quickly turned to money as we discussed the Smart Cookies and skimmed the book jacket.

And then I realized that all of us are at a point in our lives where we could benefit from some Smart Cookie advice.

A few years into our careers and on starting salaries, there usually isn’t much left over at the end of the month.

One friend just bought a condo and is saving for a wedding next fall. Another is about to live on her own and will have to shoulder all of the rent after living with a roommate. Yet another is weighing the pros and cons The of renting versus buying, while one more already owns but is dreading the $6,000 she needs to shell out for a new boiler.

We all agreed that we should start our own money group. I guess my first step is to crack the book.

Watch out for year-end fund distributions

With the stocks trading at multi-year lows, somebody must be thinking of getting back in. But, if you’re going the fund route rather than buying individual stocks, you may want to hold off just a bit longer.

Fund companies will be making their year-end distributions over the next couple of weeks. And, if you’re not careful, you could get stung with an unexpected tax bill by buying in too soon.

Remember, mutual funds are pass-through entities. Even though the fund’s value has likely declined this year, it may have realized capital gains on longer-term holdings it sold over the course of the year. If so, the fund company is required to pay those gains out to unitholders before the end of the year, who must then report them as income.

And it doesn’t matter whether you’ve owned units of the fund for just a few days – you’re still looking at the same tax burden.

While the tax you pay now will either offset the tax you owe when you sell your units w4l3XzY3 at a (ahem) gain in the future, paying taxes sooner rather than later is a bad idea.

In a recent report, Dave Paterson, an independent fund analyst at Toronto-based Paterson & Associates, highlights CI Emerging Markets, AGF Canadian Balanced, and Trimark Canadian as just a few of the funds where unitholders face significant payouts.

The largest, he estimates, is CI Global Opportunities, where the capital gains payout will likely be a whopping 27% of the fund’s net asset value.