Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

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The most influential leaders of the Canadian & International ICT industry will gather in Toronto from June 1-3 at The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit.

Alone, any of our keynote speakers would be well worth listening to. The Canadian Telecom Summit brings over a dozen keynote address – and more than 50 panelists – over 3 unmatched days of presentations, discussions, sharing ideas, forming new relationships, renewing existing ones and even deal making.

Now in its 14th year, The Canadian Telecom Summit has grown to become Canada’s most important annual telecommunications & IT event, attracting hundreds of attendees from around the world each year. No other event presents a complete picture of current and expected trends & developments. No other event matches The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit for the depth and breadth of topics covered and issues debated.

Come see why The Canadian Telecom Summit has become THE must-attend conference. With more opportunities than ever to learn, network and do business, if you are involved with or impacted by Canadian telecommunications, broadcasting or information technology, you need to be at The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit.

Join your colleagues, competitors and customers for 3 days of spirited discussion and networking. Be sure to take a look at the full conference brochure.

Save $250 by registering before May 1. Register today for The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit.

Moving too slow on public safety communications

I recall that years ago, I was getting trained in systems engineering, learning how to define requirements. The leader of the training session said that most people define their requirements in terms of a solution that they already have in mind. It is a lot harder to get people to think in terms of their actual requirements.

As an example, he said that people go into a hardware store saying that they need screws, when that is actually just one possible solution for their problem: putting two pieces of wood together. There are lots of ways to put two pieces of wood together: glue, nails, screws, dovetail joints, weird Ikea cam-lock screws and dowels, etc. By defining requirements too narrowly, such as defining requirements only in terms of familiar solutions, people may be needlessly constraining the possible solutions.

That brings me to Canada’s Public Safety Broadband Network.

Public safety organizations in Canada don’t have communications systems that inter-operate. As a result, during emergencies, communications capabilities can interfere with inter-agency coordination as we have unfortunately witnessed.

Three years ago, Industry Canada reserved 20 MHz of the 700 MHz band for the development of a Public Safety Broadband Network. The first 10 MHz was allocated in February 2012:

A public safety broadband network in the 700 MHz band could facilitate a coordinated response among various Canadian public safety agencies when responding to emergency situations. In addition, harmonizing the use of the PSBB block with the United States would enable economies of scale for equipment and allow for cross-border interoperability between public safety agencies in the United States and Canada. Furthermore, the majority of the Canadian stakeholders supported designating the PSBB block for public safety broadband use. Therefore, Industry Canada has decided to designate the bands 763-768 MHz and 793-798 MHz (PSBB block) for public safety broadband use.

The Federal Budget last night signalled that the government intends to designate the remaining 10 MHz (the 758-763 MHz and 788-793 MHz bands) in the D block for Public Safety, to provide a total of 20MHz of prime 700 MHz spectrum. To put the value of the Public Safety bands in perspective, in the auction, 68 MHz of spectrum raised more than $5.3B.

This is all very good news. We have a multi-billion dollar allocation of spectrum for Public Safety. But frankly, spectrum doesn’t do anything to get agencies communicating with each other. Indeed, on its own, without substantial capital reserves, spectrum is worthless. It takes billions of real dollars to build a national network. Last year, it was reported that Quebecor had spent $800M just building in the province of Quebec. In 2013, the Financial Post reported that Moody’s had estimated that Verizon would need to spend $3B to build a network in Canada.

When the commercial carriers acquired 700 MHz spectrum in February 2014, it didn’t take long for them to start making use of their valuable new asset: two months later, Rogers announced that customers were already able to use it.

Where do we stand with the Public Safety band? More than 3 years after the first 10 MHz was allocated, last night’s budget announced that $3M – that is million, not billion – will be allocated over two years, beginning in 2016: “to take initial steps to establish the network.”

No funding for this current budget year. Just a promise that, more than 4 years after the spectrum was first allocated, the government will provide funds to take initial steps.

Industry Canada has allocated spectrum that will continue to sit idle for the foreseeable future, given that two years worth of “initial steps” funding won’t begin until the 2016-2017 budget year.

The Public Safety community needs improved, secure, robust inter-agency communications with broadband capabilities. No question about that.

In an internet era, it seems strange to have public safety communications improvements moving at such a glacial speed. Our first responders deserve better tools, serious funding – and a systems engineering approach to solving the delivery of inter-operable communications.

Connecting the unconnected

Over the weekend, I read about a couple initiatives that could help expand digital connectivity for low income Canadians.

A New York Times article, “Fighting Homelessness, One Smartphone at a Time“, talks about a program that is distributing 1000 Nexus 5 smartphones donated by Google to homeless people in San Jose. “People don’t put out ‘for rent’ signs anymore, so the Internet is the best way. You can’t even go get a paper application for a lot of things. You can’t get a job unless you get online. Before I got a free phone, it was like you’re almost nonexistent.”

And an unrelated article from last summer on the Wikimedia Blog surfaced in my Twitter feed “Wikipedia Zero and Net Neutrality: Protecting the Internet as a Public Space.” That article talks bout an initiative by South African cell phone providers to provide access to Wikipedia free of charge, under the umbrella of a Wikimedia Foundation program known as Wikipedia Zero.

Wikipedia Zero launched in 2012 to bring free access to Wikipedia on mobile phones. Today, Wikipedia Zero is available to an estimated 350 million people in 29 countries; it serves more than 65 million pageviews for free, every month.

According to Wikimedia’s description, implementing Wikipedia Zero is simple:

The operator “zero-rates” access to Wikimedia sites in their billing system, so their subscribers will not incur data charges while accessing Wikipedia and the sister projects on the mobile web or apps. Wikimedia recognizes the user is on that operator’s network and serves a banner on the top of the page indicating free data courtesy of their mobile operator, which reinforces a positive brand experience for the operator. When the user leaves the Wikimedia sites, they see a warning message and are asked to confirm, so there is no confusion or risk of surprise charges.

These are initiatives that could be adopted by any or all of Canada’s wireless companies, although there is a regulatory risk that could put a chill on zero-rated applications.

The CRTC’s Mobile TV decision included a section on prospective undue preference that could discourage carriers from advantaging “Wikipedia” over any other potential information service. When the CRTC “acknowledge[d] that no complaints or interventions were filed by competing service providers”, one might wonder if an unintended consequence could be that the commission created a hurdle for services that target disadvantaged communities.

Will Digital Canada 150 begin to examine solutions to address the challenge of low income adoption of information technologies? As Canada moves toward an election this year, which political parties’ platforms will discuss digital inclusiveness?

In the absence of government leadership, perhaps Canada’s communications industry can make a difference on its own, one smartphone or one website at a time.

Update: [April 20, 12:30 pm]
Greg O’Brien pointed out a recent opinion piece in the Detroit Free Press written by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. In it, she writes:

Students who lack broadband access at home are unable to complete basic schoolwork. They have trouble keeping up in the classroom. More than that, they are holding our educational efforts back.

The homework gap is the cruelest part of the digital divide. But we can take steps now to tackle it — steps that will help students get their schoolwork done, help expand access to the Internet, and help grow our digital economy.

As I wrote earlier this year, it is politically attractive to continue (and expand) the subsidy systems we have in Canada, which have been based on geography. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to subsidize rural and remote regions without regard to financial needs.

On the other hand, low income Canadians, who tend to be concentrated in urban areas across the country, have no programs to help them pay for service. Prices that seem affordable to most Canadians, may be out of reach for those who are living from week-to-week, let alone month-to-month. All of us may complain about the price of service – who wouldn’t like lower bills for everything – but more than 80% of us have computers at home connected to the internet. As I have written many times, there are too many low income households that don’t have a computer, let alone a broadband connection.

Canada needs to make changes to its approach if we want to bridge the gap between those who can and those who cannot afford to participate in a digital economy.

Finnish line

I have written a few times about my time working at Bell Labs nearly 30 years ago.

When I was at Bell Labs, I worked on the AT&T Communications services side of the company; a good friend of mine developed photonics on the hardware side. I had a classmate from school who did pure mathematical research. He really didn’t know a thing about the telecom industry, but he did the kind of work that led to better ways to solve computational problems, leading to faster computer processes. In the old days, Bell Labs did research and it did development. These were two different needs, with different metrics for measuring returns.

I wrote about the need to examine ways to expand basic research: “So much industrial R&D is focused on development rather than research.”

The Bell Labs complex was one of the last projects by Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen, who had designed the St. Louis Gateway Arch and the main terminal at Washington Dulles airport, among his major works.

In one of my first blog posts, I wrote about Bell Labs’ Holmdel, NJ office building being put up for sale. That was where I worked when my son was born. The water tower was designed to look like a transistor, one of the inventions to come out of their labs. The building itself was one of the world’s first to be clad in glass. When it was built in the early 1960’s, it is as if the architect anticipated the communications industry transitioning from copper to glass.

And now, the Finnish telecom company Nokia is acquiring Alcatel-Lucent, the current parent of Bell Labs. Bell Labs vacated Saarinen’s building in 2006; the Finnish connection will be restored as Bell Labs finds a home inside Nokia.

NOKIA_colorNokia North America chief Ricky Corker will be the June 1 closing speaker at the end of the first day of The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit, and Nokia will be hosting this year’s cocktail reception. Be sure to register before May 1 to save $250.

Cyber seniors: dealing with age in the digital age

The March 2015 issue of NTEN Change, the journal of the Non-profit Technology Network, includes a story about a Canadian documentary: Cyber-Seniors. The interview with filmmakers Saffron Cassaday and Brenda Rusnak is worth a few minutes of time to read.

In fact, the entire March issue is devoted to the theme of “Digital Inclusion and Technical Divides: What’s Next?”

How do we deal with stimulating the demand side of digital adoption? To date, most government initiatives have stimulated supply, without looking at the how we increase digital literacy and targeted programs to improve access to devices.

Cyber-Seniors” is a humorous and heartwarming documentary that adds to the important conversation about the generation gap.

Digital inclusion is always a topic of discussion at The Canadian Telecom Summit. The 2015 Canadian Telecom Summit is less than 8 weeks away: June 1-3, 2015 in Toronto. Register before May 1 to save. Complete conference brochure can be viewed or downloaded here.