Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

An information technology master plan

IT Business is reporting that the City of Mississauga has approved a new information technology master plan [pdf, 770 KB]. According to the Plan, “The IT Master Plan is a well-informed vision for the adoption of technology that will enable the transformation of the City of Mississauga into an engaged and connected City.”

The Plan is built around four key strategies to provide focus for action plans over the next three to five years, as summarized in the article:

  • Foster open and accessible government. Use technology to enable easy and convenient access to services and information, host an Open Data hackathon in 2016, implement the digital strategy and increase mobile accessibility.
  • Enable decisions through research and analytics. Develop a Big Data framework that enables analytics, dashboards and data visualizations providing timely and relevant management information.
  • Create a connected and engaged workplace. Connect services and collect information through sensors and connected devices by implementing Smart City initiatives that will allow the city to better manage services with visibility on how they are performing and the ability to affect changes on services in real time.
  • Improve services through innovation and partnerships. Provide opportunity and access to technology in the community that spark innovation and partnerships to provide and enhance services.

It is worth taking a look at the work that has been done by Mississauga to set out some ambitious plans. There are a half dozen concrete actions already set out for 2016, as well as other initiatives to improve the delivery of services to the community.

The mere existence of an IT Master Plan makes a statement about the City of Mississauga. What can other municipalities and all levels of government learn?

No such thing as a free lunch

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook announced that has expanded the availability of its Free Basics service throughout India. For the record, I think this is an outstanding project and I applaud the efforts to develop a creative, market approach to increase the levels of adoption of digital connectivity among low income households.

As I have written before, there are some activists that object to selective zero rating of services, under a belief that all applications should be treated alike by all access networks. Either all or nothing for free services.

I can’t figure out the business case that supports that view.

On the other hand, I can fully appreciate the free sample approach for Free Basics. Reports from say that half the people on Free Basics upgrade to a paid full internet service.

50% of people who use Free Basics are paying for data – and access the internet outside of free basic services – within 30 days of coming online for the first time.

It isn’t surprising. “Try it, you’ll like it” was the tag line in early 1970’s advertising for Alka Seltzer. The fact is, it works. That is why there are sample tables at grocery stores.

No, Free Basics isn’t providing access to the entire internet. But, let’s be realistic. It is free. And as the name implies, the service provides some important basics.

Those free samples at the grocery store aren’t supposed to be a full lunch or dinner.

Maybe we need to approach zero-rated services is by remembering that not every service is supposed to take the place of a full internet access service.

I noticed internet packages on a cruiseship line that offer three levels of access: Social ($5 per day) offering access to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and a handful of other messaging sites; Value ($16 epr day) with most of the web but no Skype or streaming services; and, Premium ($25 per day) with the full internet. Should passengers be filing complaints with regulators about network discrimination? Or, do we accept that the cruise line is offering choice. If you want full internet, it costs $25 per day, but if you can get by with parts, here are some lower priced alternatives.

As Zuckerberg says in his annoucenment, the latest expansion of Free Basics is another step toward connecting all of India. I have said it before, but it is worth repeating: banning zero rated services raises prices for some, reduces rates for no one while limiting choice for all.

With respect to retail services that are highly competitive, regulators might want to consider less intervention in order to allow innovative business models to emerge. Heavy handed ex-ante regulations are likely to inhibit innovation and ultimately deliver questionable consumer benefits.

Zero-rating is “pro-competition” and “pro-innovation”

Zero-rating is “pro-competition” and “pro-innovation” according to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler.

In an article under a banner of “Ministry of Innovation / Business of Technology”, Ars Technica reports that Tom Wheeler praised T-Mobile’s program that exempts certain online video services from data caps, under its new Binge On service.

If anyone were to file a complaint against T-Mobile’s video exemption, Wheeler doesn’t seem likely to stop the practice.

“Its clear in the Open Internet Order that we said we are pro-competition and pro-innovation,” Wheeler said today. “Clearly this meets both of those criteria. It’s highly innovative and highly competitive.”

The CRTC is currently holding an inquiry into whether to prohibit Videotron’s “Unlimited Music” offering that exempts data metering of certain music services. In January 2015, the CRTC shut down mobile TV services from Bell and Videotron that offered video programming on the basis of flat rate charges per hour rather than charging for data consumed.

A few years ago, I wrote

It is difficult to understand how consumers can benefit from restrictions in the types of offers available to them.

How can it possibly be in the interest of end-users to have only one price structure in the marketplace?

In another post, “Zero is better than nothing“, I wrote “Consumers can benefit greatly from creative, competitive, targeted pricing plans. Regulators need to be careful imposing restrictions on the evolution of business models.” Those words came out 2 weeks before the CRTC took away choice for Canadian consumers to have mobile TV.

Banning zero rating has the result of raising prices for some consumers and lowering prices for no one.

The FCC is making it clear that it won’t stand in the way of innovative pricing models. A month ago, I asked “Does CRTC policy inhibit investment“?

Will the CRTC continue to deny Canadian service providers the opportunity to offer consumers the choices of services available to Americans?

Hold the dates in 2016

Hold the DatePlanning has begun for The 2016 Canadian Telecom Summit.

Mark the dates in your calendars: The 2016 Canadian Telecom Summit will take place in Toronto on June 6-8, 2016.

The theme for The 2016 Canadian Telecom Summit will be: “Transforming our digital world: The journey to universal connectivity.”

Now is the time to get in touch with us for speaker proposals and sponsorship inquiries.

Registrations are now open – and yes, some people are already registering. Do you have funding left in your 2015 budget?

You can register online and get a receipt right away.

I look forward to seeing you at The 2016 Canadian Telecom Summit, June 6-8, 2016, at the Toronto Congress Centre.

Public safety in the public networks

In April, I expressed concern about the glacial pace of development of Canada’s public safety network.

Canada has allocated 20 MHz of prime 700 MHz spectrum (758-768 MHz and 788-798 MHz) for “public safety broadband use”, but there is no budget allocated for this spectrum to actually be activated. Based on the prices paid in the public 700 MHz auction, we have about $2B worth of spectrum sitting unused.

Why are we building a separate public safety network instead of leveraging the power of commercial networks?

What are the public safety requirements? As described in a 2012 document:

Canadian police, fire, EMS and other emergency management professionals must have access to modern and reliable communications capabilities, including high speed data and video, to communicate with each other across agencies and jurisdictions during day-to-day operations and emergencies. Technological advances mean Canadian agencies will increasingly require access to data and video networks during emergency incidents:

  • Law enforcement agencies need access to streaming video, surveillance networks capable of identifying persons of interest through the use of video analytics, criminal records, automated license plate recognition and biometric technologies including mobile fingerprint and iris identification to prevent and respond to criminal activities;
  • Fire services need access to building blue prints, health-monitoring sensors and GPS tracking systems in order to save lives;
  • Emergency medical services need access to telemedicine, high-resolution video and patient records to reduce the time it takes to deliver medical services at the scene of an incident such as a car crash on a
  • Critical-infrastructure service providers need to coordinate their responses to restore power and telecommunications services during large-scale incidents;
  • The Government of Canada and various other federal agencies need access to data networks during large-scale incidents to coordinate federal assistance with provincial/territorial and local response and recovery operations.

Don’t the first three sound more like requirements for apps, not network requirements? And the last two sound like terms for a service level agreement.

The governance document says “A dedicated national interoperable public safety broadband network would be inherently more reliable, more robust, more functional and more resilient than current public safety communications systems.” I suspect that a public safety broadband network, developed as a virtual application within existing public broadband networks would be even more robust, more reliable, more resilient than a private, dedicated network.

More importantly, the public networks are already built, with hundreds of megahertz of spectrum capacity. Public Safety’s own studies show “the amount of bandwidth required to satisfy the needs of public safety is greater than 20MHz in the near-to-mid-term, and likely to also exceed 20MHz in the long term, despite advances in technology.”

Public networks have steady, continuous, investments being made to upgrade and evolve their capacity. There are hundreds of compatible handsets – including rugged military grade devices.

Is there a more creative solution – a more robust solution – possible by focusing on the applications, while embedding the network requirements within a multi-carrier solution? Wouldn’t this provide instantly available global interoperability with vastly more capacity than we could ever expect to see built by our chronically underfunded public safety agencies?

As I noted in April, it took just two months for Canada’s commercial carriers to start using their 700 MHz spectrum; years later, there is still no funding for public safety to start to think about activating its spectrum.

I wrote in April “The Public Safety community needs improved, secure, robust inter-agency communications with broadband capabilities. No question about that.” A virtual network may be able to deliver all of these requirements better, faster and at a lower cost.

If Public Safety’s studies are saying that it already knows that 20 MHz isn’t enough spectrum, maybe it needs to explore more creative virtual network solutions.