Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Fibre to the rural home

With more than 400 kilometres of fibre optic facilities, Lakeland Networks announced this morning that it is rolling out 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) fibre-based internet service to rural homes and businesses in Muskoka.

The municipally-owned company first launched 1 Gbps service to Muskoka businesses in 2014. Now, with the help of the Federal-Provincial Small Communities Fund, it has gone a step further, connecting residential customers in rural Muskoka with some of the highest Internet speeds available anywhere. Lakeland’s gigabit internet service offers unlimited downloading capabilities for less than $100 per month.

The $8.6 million project to extend Lakeland’s existing fibre network was made possible with $5.7 million from the Small Communities Fund. Since being selected for funding a year ago, Lakeland has managed to roll out another 100 kilometers of fibre optic to areas beyond the relatively major communities of Bracebridge and Huntsville, such as Port Sydney and parts of Utterson.

Lakeland Networks provides high-speed fibre internet, VoIP phone service, point-to-point networking for business Internet, and full service IT, local area network and VLAN extension solutions.

Lakeland Networks is a division of Lakeland Energy, a subsidiary of Lakeland Holding which is owned by 6 local municipalities: Bracebridge, Huntsville, Parry Sound, Burk’s Falls, Sundridge and Magnetawan. I became a director of Lakeland Holding in June of this year.

Lakeland has 400 kms of fibre, but thousands more kilometers need to be covered before gigabit service is available to its entire operating area. How will rural broadband expansion be funded?

A matter of choice

My brother tells me that in law school, his litigation professor told the class that when a client says “it isn’t about the money; it’s about the principle,” that client is lying. It’s about the money.

That is important to keep in mind when so-called consumer groups like Open Media say that “zero-rating” is “unfair, and bad for innovation and free expression online.” Open Media claims the practice “makes websites they don’t like slower”.

No. That simply is not true.

Yet this false information was used to induce signatures on Open Media’s petition, which should raise questions about the validity of its statement that “approximately 39,371” people (of whom we have no idea how many are Canadians) “call upon the Commission to protect their interests through … banning zero-rating”

Zero-rating is a billing option. Nothing more.

Do certain bits of traffic get metered or not?

It has nothing to do with traffic management; it has nothing to do with blocking websites; it has nothing to do with restricting consumer access to internet content.

Yet all of these red flags are falsely being waved by Open Media in its comments to the CRTC regarding the practice:

…seemingly pro-consumer arguments that zero-rating proponents make are wrong, for a number of reasons. Some arguments involve conflating Internet access itself with the content that consumers choose to engage with after obtaining access. This then removes consumers’ freedom of choice and places that choice inappropriately with the ISP at the access level.


Zero rate data must not be acceptable in our country as it gives big telecom power to make websites they don’t like slower and more expensive to access.

Zero-rating isn’t about traffic management or slowing down traffic. It’s all about the money.

Should service providers have the flexibility to offer consumers pricing that differentiates their products?

There is a long history of mobile data services offering zero-rate plans, as I described in a blog post in February:

  • In 2011, WIND Mobile bundled its WINDworld service into many of its dataplans, giving users access to Facebook Zero, news, weather updates & free ringtones;
  • In 2013, Eastlink offered a Social add-on that offered unlimited Facebook, Twitter and BBM for a flat $10 monthly fee;
  • In 2014, in the US, Sprint offered a $12 add-on to provide unlimited access to a customer’s choice of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, or for $22, the customer could have all 4;
  • The Mobilicity website still shows a $5 Light Data plan, giving unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Google+, and LinkedIn, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, ICQ. Includes: Gmail, Hotmail and MS Exchange.

The logic behind Open Media’s position seems to be that the desire to offer zero-rating emanates from data caps; if the CRTC gets rid of data caps, then zero-rating has no meaningful purpose. Open Media actually says “both data caps and zero-rating appear to be symptoms of larger structural problems resulting from the highly concentrated nature of Canada’s telecommunications market, which may need more fundamental policies such as improved wholesale market rules and, ultimately, structural separation to resolve”, but those actions are clearly beyond the scope of the CRTC’s current process.

The CRTC proceeding, Examination of differential pricing practices related to Internet data plans, is being argued under the guise of lofty principles (net neutrality, consumer access to the content of their choice, ISP gatekeepers), but it really comes down to money. We already have regulatory safeguards in place to deal with any interference in all users having open access to the content of their choice.

So we can see the argument is about money. How much do we pay for mobile internet?

Removing data caps is a form of price regulation that limits consumer choice. Some service providers have plans available with unlimited data, others choose to monetize their networks through plans that charge different amounts of use. If all service providers are mandated to eliminate pricing of services based on tiers of usage, it eliminates options for consumers and results in increased prices being paid by people who are on lower tiers. Logically, some will find that the benefit of unlimited data just isn’t worth the increased price, and having no other option, will cancel their data plan altogether.

Flat rating access to certain applications by some service providers gives people additional choices in the market. Removing that choice results in no subscribers benefiting while others pay more or receive less.

Phrased positively, zero-rating delivers benefits to some consumers while it does not harm any others. Why would we want to reduce consumer choice?

Innovation with impact

Inter@ctive 900Yesterday marked 20 years since Research In Motion launched the Inter@active 900 pager, a precursor to what would become the Blackberry smartphone.

The anniversary went by largely unnoticed by the media, which is too bad. It was an important breakthrough for the company; an important step toward making RIM a dominant player in the world of consumer electronics, and for a time, owning the category of smart phones.

I subscribe to the belief that it is important to remember where we came from, learning from past successes (and failures).

We have just started work on developing the program for The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, taking place June 5-7, 2017 in Toronto. Next June will mark 25 years since the CRTC approved liberalization of the telecommunications services market. The theme for 2017 will be “Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future.”

Innovation is such an important part of Canada’s Federal agenda that the Department of Industry has been renamed “Innovation, Science and Economic Development” (ISED). There is a national consultation underway by Minister Navdeep Bains, who has identified six areas for action:

  1. Entrepreneurial and Creative Society—Being innovative becomes a core Canadian value
  2. Global Science Excellence—Canadian science capabilities and research infrastructure become among the best in the world
  3. World-Leading Clusters and Partnerships—Super clusters that are the destination of choice for ideas, talent and capital
  4. Grow Companies and Accelerate Clean Growth—Canadian companies compete to win and create jobs
  5. Compete in a Digital World—Canada is at the forefront of economy-wide digital development and adoption
  6. Ease of Doing Business—Canada is the location of choice for investment and growth

These six areas are captured in the theme for The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit.

I have been fortunate to be around the telecommunications industry for the past 36 years and have actively participated in creating a more competitive sector, making bold investments and helping launch a number of important innovations.

Late last week, a friend and colleague suggested that as a build-up toward next year’s event, I should do a series of tweets that showcase those telecom sector patents and innovations that changed society and the industry. As I started to look at which innovations should be in that series, I ran across the original press release for the RIM Inter@ctive 900 and realized that the 20th anniversary was taking place.

Starting November 1, I’ll highlight innovations that have emerged from the telecom sector. Many of them will likely be from Bell Labs, where I was fortunate to have worked early in my career. As I have written before, Bell Labs in Holmdel was an inspiring place, by design.

When I was being shown around the facility by my first boss, Dick Grantges, he paused as we passed the reflecting ponds at the front of the building. Resting his arms on the banister and gazing out at the geese, he sighed and said that one of the things he liked best about working at Bell Labs is that if you get your best ideas while gazing out the windows, then we’ll pay you to stare at geese.

In those days, Bell Labs at Holmdel was a place that Minister Bains would have sought to emulate. Home to multiple Nobel laureates, the centre was the destination of choice for talent with research capabilities like no other. It shouldn’t be surprising that so many innovations emerged from Bell Labs that transcended the telecom sector.

To tweet an “innovation-a-day” from November 1 to June 2 (the Friday before The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit), I’ll be highlighting about 140 innovations. I came up with 30 over the weekend, and I would welcome your input as I work on the rest. Send me a note or add a comment to this blog post.

Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future. How do we make “being innovative” a core Canadian value? How do we ensure Canada is at the forefront of economy-wide digital development and adoption? How does Canada become the location of choice for investment and growth?

Plan to be at The 2017 Canadian Telecom Summit, June 5-7 in Toronto.

Is it time for Canada?

Brexit. Trump. Terrorism.

As major markets around the world face significant challenges, Rogers President and CEO Guy Laurence puts global issues into context and highlights the opportunity for Canada on the world stage.

That was the promotional pitch for today’s luncheon address at The Canadian Club.

Not the usual theme for a communications sector CEO. As it turns out, the address turned toward opportunities for Canada as we revisit our national cultural policy.

Having lived and worked in the media business in England during the “Cool Britannia” era, he reflected on how the UK had a brand, initially based on its cultural icons (Spice Girls, Oasis, Alexander McQueen, Kate Moss, David Beckham, Naomi Campbell, Hugh Grant, etc.). “All of them international superstars and unmistakably British.”

He then turned to list a number of current Canadian successes:

  • In music:
    • Last winter seven of the top ten songs on the Billboard 100 were Canadian.
    • The most streamed album of 2015 was Beauty Behind the Madness, by The Weeknd.
  • In video:
    • The Ontario film production industry delivered $1.5 billion to the provincial economy with 55 movies were filmed here last year.
    • Vancouver had a record year with 353 film and TV shows.
  • In publishing:
    • Two Canadian authors, Madeline Thien and David Szalay, are among the 6 nominees for this year’s Man Booker prize.
  • In gaming:
    • Over 20,000 people now work in Canada’s gaming industry, making it the third largest in the world.
    • There are now about 470 studios operating in the country, and 85% of them are Canadian owned.

Canada has more than a million jobs in the cultural sector with a quarter of them tied to film and TV production. Rogers says it creates and funds $580 million in Canadian content which makes it one of the more substantial stakeholders in the country.

Some commentators have said stakeholders are uniformly after more money: “The industry, on the other hand, seems content to use the consultation to seek more public funding, suggesting that the technologies may have changed, but using the policy process to lobby for more tax dollars remains the same.”

Rogers’ CEO was clear in countering that point: “there is enough money in the system already. We don’t need more funds– we need to consolidate the alphabet soup of funds so we can reduce complexity and administrative costs.”

His view is that funding should be platform neutral:

We’re asking for content to be funded on a platform neutral basis… for content to be created for all distribution platforms, whether it’s a TV screen, a movie screen, or a smartphone screen. Consumers are going digital. Rogers is going digital. Canada needs to go digital.

Content should end up anywhere and everywhere it makes sense.

And he closed with an upbeat message, stressing the importance of the cultural policy consultation:

Whilst the rest of the world deals with its challenges, there’s never been a better time for Canada to define its standing on the world stage.

And this will mean more jobs, more tourism and more export dollars.

Sometimes, it doesn’t take government money. It needs leadership.

Reflecting Canada’s diverse population

Back in the 1980’s, I recall attending a presentation on Affirmative Action delivered by Mo Iwama, an executive at AT&T Bell Labs who said that increased diversity was not only the right thing to do, it would be good for all of us. He explained that in order to do a good job serving a diverse population, it made sense to have diversity in all parts of the company, from line R&D and engineering through to sales and in all levels of the organization.

More than thirty years ago, the industry was already taking steps to transform itself. At the time, we set up liaison programs with high schools in inner cities to help increase the pool of students who would enter Science, Technology, Engineering and Math programs. It was viewed as a long term investment.

Thirty years later, there is still much more work to be done.

In April, the CRTC Chair admonished a number of companies that put forward witness panels that were composed entirely of men.

  1. Today there was a report issued by Employment and Social Development Canada that found the proportion of women in federally regulated companies has dropped from 46 percent to 41 percent in the past 20 years. And since we’ve started this hearing we’ve faced panels like your own entirely of men. As I say, I’m not picking on you. You’re not alone in this. But, you know, and where there have been women on the panels in these telecom proceedings, they don’t have speaking roles.
  2. Now I gave a short speech last year at the Canadian Women and Communications and Technology gala that, you know, applauds the work of women in that sector. And I noted that in the fall of 2014 we held 3 major hearings. A hundred and twenty-five (125) women appeared at that hearing — in those 3 hearings.
  3. And we calculated that of the 1.8 million words spoken, only 163,000 words were spoken by women sitting at the witness table. Fourteen (14) percent.
  4. And I called on everyone, including the CRTC, but speaking to government, to the industry and even ourselves, that we can do better.
  5. On this panel, all the women appointed by the government as commissioners are here. The CRTC, we strive to make sure that we have staff that — yeah, there’s unfortunately only two — that staff balance — is balanced from a gender perspective.
  6. In any event, I know there are women in your organizations. So I repeat the call. We can do better.

cpac-crtc-20160907-panelSo, it was surprising that the CRTC’s panel for the BDU License Renewal hearing was composed entirely of white men, especially when juxtaposed against the composition of the panels appearing before the CRTC.

The CRTC has a number of vacancies. It is an agency that has a mandate to ensure the broadcasting system “reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas, values and artistic creativity, by displaying Canadian talent in entertainment programming and by offering information and analysis concerning Canada and other countries from a Canadian point of view”.

Given the composition of the Trudeau Cabinet, reflecting ethnic diversity and balanced from a gender perspective, we might expect new appointments to help the Commission be a better reflection of Canada’s rich multi-cultural character. Just last November, the Prime Minister said “Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded—culturally, politically, economically—because of our diversity, not in spite of it.”

Increased diversity at the CRTC isn’t just the right thing to do. It will be good for all of us.