Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

Bold, visionary, decisive & inclusive

Connecting Canadians was the name of a $305M federal government program in 2014 that promised to “provide 98 percent of Canadian households in rural and remote regions of Canada with greater access to broadband Internet”.

At the time, Industry Minister James Moore said:

As we move toward Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017, our government is proud to launch a new program that will connect 280,000 Canadian households to high-speed Internet. Connecting Canadians is about ensuring that Canadians, whether they live in urban centres or remote regions of the country, have access to the latest wireless technologies and high-speed networks at the most affordable prices possible.

Despite this bold statement, there really was nothing in the “new program” that did anything to ensure Canadians in urban centres would “have access to the latest wireless technologies and high-speed networks at the most affordable prices possible.”

Like federal and provincial government programs that preceded Connecting Canadians and those that have followed it, funding has been provided to extend networks to rural and remote areas. This is an important role for the federal government, but it is not enough to achieve the objective of ensuring that all Canadians have affordable access to the latest wireless technologies and high-speed networks.

Greg O’Brien wrote an important commentary yesterday on, “$200 million for 5G. Still zero million for those who can’t afford any G.”

How many don’t have milk in their fridge – or don’t have a fridge, let alone a smart one? How many people who live in Canadian cities and don’t worry about parking their self-driving cars because they can’t afford one – and who will never read the news about 5G – or much of any news – because they can’t afford internet access?

And then that made us wonder why three different governments can each find $67 million to help fund something that doesn’t really need additional public help – but none of them can figure out a way to build a program to get broadband access and devices to those who can’t afford them.

I have been writing about this theme for much too long, as I describe in “An affordable broadband strategy.”

For a decade, I have suggested that an affordable broadband strategy may need more in the way of government leadership and not as much in the way of funding. We need more research to better understand the digital divide. That may merit creating and coordinating a broadband research agenda to better understand the factors that are keeping 1 in 6 Canadian households from subscribing to a broadband connection.

As I wrote last year, the March 2017 Federal budget held out promise that the government was finally starting to look at “who” needed broadband assistance, not just “where”. A year later, we have not yet seen the outcome that work.

The WEF suggests “encouraging experimentation with flexible approaches and removing regulatory or other obstacles may be an effective way forward, in addition to revising tax policies and providing direct subsidies.”

Over the past 2 years, some ‘obstacles’ have been imposed in Canada that could conflict with an environment that should encourage such experimentation, as described in “Connecting the unconnected.” for example, the World Economic Forum writes “Some have questioned zero-rated services on the belief that such services run counter to net neutrality. Others point out that some access is better than no access at all, even if users cannot choose which apps and services are ‘free’.”

Are regulatory decisions being guided by clear and transparent policy directions?

The Executive Summary of the report from The National Broadband Task Force (established in January 2001) stated “The principal mandate of the Task Force was to map out a strategy for achieving the Government of Canada’s goal of ensuring that broadband services are available to businesses and residents in every Canadian community by 2004.” The report holds up well considering it was completed more than a decade and a half ago.

I have written before that Canada is long overdue for a review of digital policy matters. Recall that the Telecom Policy Review panel called for a fresh look every 5 years. The report from the Telecom Policy Review Panel was released 5 years after the report from the National Broadband Task Force. That was 2006.

In the recent budget, I didn’t notice funding for a review panel.

Earlier this week, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains observed “Technology is changing the way we live, work and engage with one another, and we are in a global innovation race. To prepare for the future, we must be bold, visionary and decisive.”

We also need to be inclusive. One in six Canadian households still don’t have a connected computer.

To win the ‘global innovation race’ we need to ensure that all Canadians have an opportunity to participate.

The promise of satellite communications

Earlier this week, FCC Chair Ajit Pai spoke [pdf, 66KB] at the annual dinner for the Satellite Industry Association. Included in his remarks was a statement supporting the projected tripling in size of the space industry, taken from a recent Morgan Stanley report. The “largest opportunity comes from providing Internet access to under- and unserved parts of the world”.

The FCC Chair spoke of the significant opportunities arising from the latest generation of satellites, saying that we are at “an inflection point for satellite broadband”:

Breakthroughs are already happening.

Just two weeks ago, Viasat began offering 100 Mbps broadband service in the United States with unlimited data. This was made possible by high-throughput satellites that use spot-beam technology and frequency re-use to dramatically increase capacity. Other companies have applications before the FCC for similar high-throughput satellite service.

He also indicated that re-usable rockets are reducing the cost of launching a large satellite “from $200 million to $60 million and could go much lower.” As a result, a lot more satellites are on the physical and planning horizons. Constellations of non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites, using Low-Earth, Medium-Earth, and Highly Elliptical Earth Orbits offer the potential for faster, lower latency internet services.

Samer Bishay of Iristel and Allison Lenehan of Xplornet will be speaking at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit. Both of these industry leaders are working on solutions to deliver high throughput broadband services in rural and remote areas of the country, and each have included satellite technologies as part of their portfolio of technology solutions.

The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit is taking place June 4-6, in Toronto. Have you registered yet?

Understanding the digital divide

An interesting new report examining the “Digital Divide in the U.S.” [pdf, 4.1MB] was released late last week by the Purdue Center for Regional Development.

The report found:

  • Job and establishment growth between 2010 and 2015 was substantially lower in counties with the highest digital divide
  • Digital economy industries and associated jobs increased overall across all areas, including counties with the highest digital divide
  • Digital economy establishments — of which 57 percent were nonemployers — increased in the nation and across all digital divide categories. In fact, the largest percent change in digital economy establishments between 2010 and 2015 took place in counties with the highest digital divide

It was this last unexpected finding that caught my eye since it seems counter-intuitive: the greatest increase in digital economy establishments took place in counties with the greatest digital divide. The report observed that most of these “digital economy establishments” had no employees, “the majority of digital economy establishments are entrepreneurs.”

These local entrepreneurs may be strategically leveraging digital platforms for their businesses minimizing costs, increasing efficiency, and reaching new markets. This apparently allows them to “break free” of the otherwise limited labor force and market in their more than likely small communities.

The report also observed that the digital divide is not just a divide between rural and urban areas. “The digital divide is between those that have access, can afford, and apply knowledge to leverage the technology to improve their quality of life versus those that do not have access, cannot afford, or lack knowledge.”

So far, Canada has focused government programs on the geographic digital divide, without federal programs to deal with socio-economic factors that limit digital adoption in urban centres. In January, I wrote “An affordable broadband strategy“, asking if Canada should establish its own Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to help guide a holistic approach to increase broadband adoption in urban and rural households.

Through the years, I have suggested the need for more research, such as “Do we know what we don’t know?” and “Building a broadband research agenda.” The Purdue report observes that understanding and measuring a problem is a crucial first step for public policy makers before we discuss potential solutions. The development of a Digital Divide Index, such as that described in its report, provides an interesting approach.

As the Purdue report concludes, “A coordinated, robust effort should be made to improve broadband infrastructure throughout the country that are on the wrong side of the divide while at the same time increasing digital literacy and know-how among residents, elected officials, and businesses.”

Bridging the digital divide isn’t just about rural infrastructure. Should Canada expand research to improve our understanding of other contributing factors that limit digital adoption?

The emergency broadcast network

When I was growing up, we used to see regular tests of the emergency broadcast system being conducted on American TV stations.

We were told “This has been a test of the emergency broadcasting system. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with federal, state and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news, or instructions. This station serves (the name of operational area). This concludes the test of the Emergency Broadcast System.”

Nine years ago, the CRTC had Pelmorex create the National Alert Aggregation & Dissemination [NAAD] System by mid-2010 to serve as the core of Canada’s National Public Alerting System (NPAS). At the time, participation by broadcasters was on a voluntary basis. In 2014, recognizing a lack of voluntary participation, the CRTC required just about all broadcasters and TV distributors to participate in the NPAS. The costs of operating the NAAD System are borne by TV subscribers and will continue to be part of the fees from mandatory distribution of The Weather Channel.

However, with reduced reliance on traditional broadcast programming and increased adoption of advanced mobile devices, the CRTC launched a process to develop a wireless national public alerting system. Later this week, the CRTC is expected to clear the final gate prior to its launch, by approving an industry consensus report for an awareness and education campaign.

The system itself was approved 11 months ago [CRTC 2017-91]. At the time, the CRTC set a 12-month implementation schedule, but referred a number of issues to the Canadian Interconnection Steering Committee {CISC) for resolution. As a result, wireless service providers were told they would “not be required to begin distribution of emergency alert messages until the Commission receives CISC’s final reports and issues a decision on those matters.”

The last outstanding issue to be resolved is public awareness and education for the alerting system. In its decision last year, the CRTC asked CISC to examine:

  1. A WPA awareness and education campaign should be a coordinated effort between SOREM [Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management Federal/Provincial/Territorial Public Alerting Working Group], federal, provincial, and territorial EMOs [emergency management officials], WSPs [wireless service providers], the NAAD [National Alert Aggregation & Dissemination] System administrator, and the Commission. However, the Commission did not receive fulsome responses regarding certain elements of an awareness campaign, such as the content of the campaign, the timeline, delivery mechanisms, and funding. Considerable coordination among all stakeholders will be required and, therefore, the Commission is of the view that CISC would be the most appropriate forum to address this issue.
  2. Accordingly, the Commission requests that CISC report back to the Commission, with a progress report by 5 July 2017, and a final report by 3 October 2017, with recommendations on a WPA awareness and education campaign. The reports should include the following information:
    • who should be responsible for the campaign;
    • what material the campaign should include;
    • how the campaign should be funded;
    • how the campaign should be delivered; and
    • when the campaign should start.
  3. The Commission encourages EMOs and SOREM to participate in the CISC process.
  4. Given that the obligation to distribute alerts only applies to LTE networks, the Commission directs WSPs, as part of the campaign, to notify their subscribers with non-LTE-compatible handsets that they will be unable to receive emergency alert messages on their mobile devices.

Wireless alerts can be an effective way to communicate with citizens. The FCC recently reported that its system has been been used over 33,000 times since 2012, including 4 times in response to wildfires in Northern California, 16 times during the wildfires around Los Angeles and in areas affected by hurricanes last year, including 21 alerts sent in Puerto Rico alone. But wireless alerts caused a panic in Hawaii less than two months ago when human error during a drill resulted in a message being broadcast warning of an incoming ballistic missile. An FCC investigation found “A combination of human error and inadequate safeguards contributed to the transmission of this false alert.”

In his statement about the Preliminary Report on Hawaii False Emergency Alert, FCC Chair Ajit Pai said “The public needs to be able to trust that when the government issues an emergency alert, it is indeed a credible alert. Otherwise, people won’t take alerts seriously and respond appropriately when a real emergency strikes and lives are on the line.”

The telecommunications industry can implement the capability for messages to be broadcast to enabled devices, but emergency management officials will need to create and maintain confidence in the system. As the CRTC wrote, “Alerts on mobile devices will warn Canadians about dangers to life and property in a timely manner so that they can take appropriate action.”

Canadians need to learn how to recognize alerts in order to respond to warnings. Too many tests, or use of the system for trivial events can result in a form of alert fatigue, rendering the system useless.

Watch for the ads and for the first test of the emergency cell broadcast system. In case of a real emergency, your device will provide you with official information, news, or instructions. I’ll miss the preface of the old US broadcasters’ attention signal.

[Update: March 8] The CRTC gave its approval to the awareness and education plan in a Decision today, clearing the way for Canada’s Wireless Public Alert systems to begin operations April 6.

We have added a new panel to the agenda for The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit, exploring “The Evolution of Emergency Communications: NG-911, Wireless Public Alerts.” Visit the conference website to check the full agenda.

The Canadian Telecom Summit will take place June 4-6, 2018 in Toronto. Have you registered yet?

Last days for early bird savings

From June 4-6, the leadership of Canada’s telecom, broadcast & IT industries will be in Toronto for The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit. Join your peers, suppliers, policy makers, regulators, customers and competitors in attending the industry’s most important gathering.

Now in its 17th year, The Canadian Telecom Summit has become the place for Canada’s ICT leaders to meet, interact and do business. As in past years, this year’s event will feature high-octane interaction, top-level keynote speakers and thought-provoking panel discussions.

Innovation and Disruption in ICT: reinventing and securing our business and personal lives
How does Canada stake out a world-leading position in an increasingly digital world? What kinds of communications infrastructure is needed to provide Canadians with a platform to excel?
What kind of policy framework will encourage investment and foster the development of innovative new applications and technologies to deploy in Canada and offer around the world?

The Canadian Telecom Summit has something for everyone! Hear from senior executives from across the industry. Meet with your suppliers, customers and peers for 3 full days of thought provoking interaction.

Reserve your place today
Save more than $200 by registering by February 28. Book your place today!

Special Networking Event
All participants are invited to join us for our annual cocktail reception Monday evening, June 4, sponsored this year by Cogeco.

Continuing Professional Development
Lawyers: The time spent attending substantive sessions at The Canadian Telecom Summit can be claimed as “Substantive Hours” toward the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Continuing Professional Development (CPD) requirements.