Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Keeping out of the way

“The past was never as good as some people would have you believe. And the present is never as bad.”

That quote was in an article I read this week by Roy Peter Clark about US politics. But the quote jumped into my mind as I read an opinion piece in yesterday’s Globe and Mail that mistakenly claims “Canada is reverting to its pre-1992 telecom conditions“. The piece was co-authored by telecom entrepreneur Michael Kedar and Stéphane Gagnon, a professor of business technology management at the University of Quebec in Outaouais.

The article claims that “The evolution from 100-per-cent monopoly to today’s regime benefited Canadians tremendously. It brought the cost of that $1 call to a few pennies, owing to the entry of competitive companies such as CallNet, Unitel, Clearnet, Microcell and others. Most of those competitors are long gone, though, purchased by the dominant players. And the benefits of equal-access competition, introduced in 1992, have been eroded to the point where they are nearly gone, too.”

I remember the days before the CRTC’s landmark decision in 1992 very well. I was part of the lead off panel that testified in the oral hearing in that proceeding. Many people don’t realize that we had to prove the case for competition to the CRTC. In fact, I still have my briefing book on the shelves in my office – one of the tabs in that binder highlights why we used the term “equal ease of access”, not “equal access”. The CRTC used our terminology in their decision.

The benefits of equal ease of access have eroded mainly because the marginal price of a minute of long distance voice communications has fallen so precipitously close to zero. I speak to my overseas family on a daily basis, still marveling at the ability to be using a mobile phone traveling 100 kmph on a highway, traversing overseas lines and speaking to my daughter riding on a high speed train home from work – and there are no charges per minute.

Who needs equal ease of access when so many calls are now effectively free with your monthly plan?

While Kedar and Gagnon claim that most of the competitors were purchased by “the dominant players”, they neglect to mention that many were acquired out of bankruptcy or on the verge of financial disaster.

We shook up the telecom market back in the early nineties – what business school profs might say was an early instance of disruption in the technology arena.

There were a lot of failed business models. A number of companies took advantage of arbitrage opportunities and made a lot of money in the early days, but struggled as the bigger players adjusted. When retail prices fall toward zero, profitable arbitrage opportunities are tough to find.

The survivors are those companies that have anticipated and driven changes in the marketplace, investing in new technologies, to develop innovative new products and services.

Kedar and Gagnon say “Today, more than 90 per cent of the spectrum and revenues are held by the three former monopolies – Bell, TELUS and Rogers.” The authors claim “They were the only players with a 100-year head start in the infrastructure deployments necessary for building wireless networks.”


In what field did Rogers have a 100-year head start? Apparently the authors forgot that Rogers was actually one of the competitors, a key investor in the group that led the battle to create Canada’s competitive telecommunications landscape that started in 1992. It didn’t have a head start.

Kedar and Gagnon say “Ubiquitous interoperability and high quality of service are essential, and are not to be entrusted to private monopoly providers.”

What monopoly?

One might ask what were the factors that led these companies to compete against each other? Why did these companies succeed in expanding their geographic scope to operate nationally while other telephone and cable companies kept to their original territories? Bell, TELUS and Rogers were not the only companies of their kind in 1992. Why Rogers and not Videotron or Shaw? Why Bell and TELUS and not MTS or SaskTel?

In any case, it is completely inaccurate to refer to Bell, TELUS and Rogers as “private monopoly providers”. Even the application of the term “incumbents” is an artifact of linguistic gymnastics by the government in defining who qualifies as a “new entrant” bidding for spectrum set-asides.

Pre-1992, there was the phone company, a single company in each area. In many parts of the world, that telephone monopoly was in the hands of a government agency, often part of the post office (the PTT – postal, telephone and telegraph). Those of us who ever dealt with a PTT do not remember them fondly and they were generally not noted as models of customer service excellence. Would Kedar and Gagnon prefer a return to the days of state-owned government monopolies?

The past was never as good as some people would have you believe. And the present is never as bad.

In my briefing book, the word “choice” is highlighted over and over again. One of the messages that we were trying to deliver was that competition in long distance would lead to improved consumer choice.

None of us had any idea of the number and kinds of choices that consumers would enjoy 25 years later. Speaking through instant messaging applications? Watching football games on a mobile phone?

We didn’t know that cable companies would offer voice calling, that wireline communications would no longer be an automatic choice for households. That phone companies would stop installing copper lines.

Kedar and Gagnon say “It is elected government, devoted to the public interest, that is entrusted with ensuring equal and fair access to promote innovative participation by all.”

What we actually need is a government that promotes investment by the private sector. We need government to promote measures that enable and encourages the private sector to experiment with different models, some of which will succeed and some will fail, but all will continue to deliver more choices to consumers.

The past was never as good as some people would have you believe. And the present is never as bad.

I continue to look optimistically to the future. As I have written before [such as here and here], the future will be brighter for Canadian innovation if the government would try harder to get out of the way.

Speaking in unison

My consulting business and my conference company are considered to be small businesses.

In a small business, the owner is the CEO, but also the IT help desk – a job that consumed my time over the past few days after my computer died on Thursday morning. We make coffee, change the toilet paper roll, deal with accounts payable and receivables. You get the picture.

There is no communications specialist at many small businesses who is looking for more efficient ways to support the needs of the business. So frequently, small businesses continue with the same solutions they have always had, month after month, year after year. We always had a landline phone and its phone number is printed on our business cards and advertising collateral. And we have a mobile phone for each person. Landline phones seemed to have more features that suited the business so we forward calls to our mobile phones when we are away.

Now, Rogers has launched Unison, a mobile solution (built on Broadsoft’s unified communications platform) that allows small businesses to cut their monthly phone bill by disconnecting from the wireline network. Rogers says that a solution for larger businesses and the public sector will be available later this year.

Rogers Unison offers small businesses a simple web portal to change or modify features such as:

  • Look professional with ‘Auto Attendant’: A fully automated answering system greets customers and directs calls to the appropriate live person based on a directory of options.
  • Never miss a call with ‘Hunt Groups’: With Hunt Groups, incoming calls are routed from team member to team member until a live voice answers. This ensures a small businesses’ customer is never left on hold and can always reach someone live.
  • Create local identities with ‘Dual Persona’: Now customers can keep their existing local phone number and also use it on their mobile device. They can also appear to have a local presence in multiple regions by adding and routing ‘local’ numbers from multiple regions to their mobile device.

Larger businesses have been investing in IP voice solutions that provide elements of mobility – allowing people to work from home (or on the road) by just logging into their office voice and data systems from remote locations. Migrating to true mobility by putting business features onto mobile phones is a logical progression.

When I worked for Bell Labs 30 years ago, we were developing features for the toll-free networks to help airlines increase the percentage of calls that their agents could answer. A busy signal or lengthy time on hold could result in a customer calling a competitor. Think of a customer trying to reach a plumber with an emergency repair needed; you would search for someone who works in your area and start dialing until you get through to someone who answers the phone.

Canadian businesses increasingly rely on mobile devices to conduct business and they need access to more solutions like Rogers Unison that give them the breadth of services traditionally only available on office desk phones. It’s good to see Rogers offer a solution that brings all the features of landline phones to mobile devices. It seems to me that these kinds of capabilities can provide an opportunity for significant productivity gains and deliver savings at the same time.

Adopting technology to manage your health

While 89% of Canadians believe digital health technology will lead to better care, at least 85% report missing out on technology that would help them take more control of their personal health. That is one of the findings of the TELUS Health Digital Life survey, released yesterday.

Canadians ranked personal banking (75 per cent), social media (51 per cent) and shopping (50 per cent) among the most important things they do online, while fewer than half of Canadians (48 per cent) ranked access to personal medical records as one of their top online activities.

Only 15 per cent of Canadians reported conducting any kind of health-related activity online. At least half are unaware of electronic services that are available to them through medical offices, health clinics, labs or pharmacies in some parts of the country. Just 14 per cent of Canadians surveyed have viewed lab results online and 61 per cent reported that they didn’t even know that it was possible to do so.

It has been a number of years since I wrote about eHealth initiatives, somewhat surprising since so many members of my family are involved in all segments of the health care sector.

How can we increase adoption of digital technologies among health care providers and users?

Hélène Chartier, Vice-President, Go-to-Market, Strategy & Enablement at TELUS Health says:

We see three main contributing forces that need to work in tandem to accelerate the adoption of Health IT tools: First, the public sector will require strong political will and openness, not only to redefine success but also to collaborate with the private sector. Second, the industry needs to be agile and open to adopting third party innovations quickly and effectively, redefining traditional partnership models and giving way to more “coopetition.” Third, for individuals, patients and consumers, a mix of awareness, education and self-empowerment is required to shift people’s behaviors to focus on proactive healthcare and how they hold our healthcare system and themselves accountable for better outcomes.

The Digital Life survey found 80% of Canadians agree that electronic medical records (EMRs) provide accurate information to doctors about their patients, and 75% believe EMRs help doctors diagnose patients more effectively and more efficiently. Seventy-one percent feel that EMRs allow for safe and secure sharing of medical information between patients, pharmacists, other doctors and specialists. More than 4 out of 5 respondents agreed health information should be shared digitally between doctors and pharmacists, and three quarters agree that electronic prescriptions would help reduce medical errors.

Regional results are available for Western Canada and Quebec. According to the CRTC’s 2015 Communications Monitoring Report, Quebec has lower than average adoption of internet, yet the Digital Life study shows Quebec has Canada’s most active users of digital health technology.

At 90%, Canadians in Western Canada are just behind Ontario (92%), in believing digital health technology will lead to better care, while in Quebec, 85% share that optimism. Still 21% of Quebecers reported some kind of online health-related activity, 50% better than the national average of just 15%. Nearly four times as many Canadians believe in the value of digital health technology as the number that actually make use of them.

When we look at increasing Canadians’ adoption of digital health technologies, it may be worth exploring what factors are driving higher rates of their use in Quebec. There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” that needs to be understood.

Cyber weapons: know your enemy

Last week, LightCyber released its “2016 Cyber Weapons” report, a study that discusses the top tools attackers use once they penetrate a network.

According to the LightCyber study, “it turns out that once attackers gain access to a network, the vast majority of activity makes use of benign processes and tools, not malware.”

The study claims that 99% of post-intrusion cyberattack activities didn’t employ malware, but rather leveraged standard networking, IT admin and other tools on an improvisational basis. While malware may commonly be used to compromise a host initially, once inside a network, the bad guys typically didn’t use malware.

LightCyber says that attackers can “leverage ordinary end-user programs such as web browsers, file transfer clients and native system tools for command and control and data exfiltration activity.” By using these tools, attackers can remain undetected and regain access even if the malware used to initially enter the network is identified and removed.

One section of the report examines “The Sequence of a Targeted Attack.”

  • Initial Intrusion (Exploit and Malware): During this phase, the attacker gains a foothold into the organization. External attackers often use exploits to gain access to private computer systems, and malware to perform opportunistic attacks, disrupt computer operations, or gather sensitive information. This report focuses on malware for this stage, regardless of how the infection happened.
  • Command and Control: The communication between a compromised internal host and an attacker.
  • Reconnaissance: Exploration from a compromised internal host to the organizational network looking for attack vectors and relevant resources for lateral movement.
  • Lateral Movement: Lateral action from a compromised internal host to strengthen the attacker foothold inside the organizational network, to control additional machines, and eventually control strategic assets.
  • Data Exfiltration: Transfer of sensitive information from a compromised internal host to the attacker.

LightCyber says that during the initial stage, the attacker tries to penetrate the target organization’s network by compromising a host. One of the first signs of an intrusion may be an infected client “phoning home” by trying to contact a command and control server. To detect this activity, organizations can profile normal user and device activity, in order to be able to detect when a device repeatedly attempts to access a rare destination. However, LightCyber observes that “command and control activity can be easily disguised since the attacker owns both points of the communications. For example, an attacker can use popular services such as web-based email or social media sites like Twitter or Reddit for command and control.”

As LightCyber concludes, “The most mundane applications, in the wrong hands, can be used for malicious purposes.”

Canada Post and the digital economy

Part of a story in the National Post about the looming disruption to Canada’s postal service caught my eye.

The post office, a crown corporation, … now delivers two out of every three purchases that Canadians make online. Canada Post grew its parcel revenue by 12.5 per cent in the first three months of 2016.

Last week, I wrote that Canada should have “a Chief Digital Economy Officer, charged with looking across all departments and agencies, intervening when policies are at cross-purposes with advancement of an innovation agenda.”

Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) has been pushing businesses to go online and move his Innovation Agenda forward. With 2 out of 3 online purchases being delivered by Canada Post, how will a postal disruption impact adoption of e-commerce by Canadian consumers and businesses?

Has the Innovation Agenda been part of the calculus for the Canada Post negotiating team?