Month: May 2023

Thoughtful policy

Maybe I am the naive one for expecting delegates at national political convention to produce thoughtful policy resolutions.

Shame on me.

At the recent Liberal Party convention, there were 24 policy proposals that earned majority delegate support as an “official party policy”.

One of these, ranked tenth in priority, was entitled “Combatting Disinformation in Canada”. The policy requests “the Government explore options to hold on-line information services accountable for the veracity of material published on their platforms and to limit publication only to material whose sources can be traced.” Because it directly impacts press freedoms, the media had a field day with this one. A Globe and Mail editorial called it “nothing short of dreadful and dangerous”.

The resolution passed without debate. No one stood up to challenge it. And while the Prime Minister told journalists that the government “had no intention of acting on the party’s policy”, let’s remember that this same government is pushing through a suite of legislation to control internet content, generally treating committee review of the bills with hostility.

As the Globe editorial wrote, “the resolution reflects how the Liberal base, at least, thinks that control should be increased”.

This wasn’t the only resolution that should have attracted greater review. Number 17 caught my eye, entitled “Fairer Access to Telecommunications Infrastructure”. The leadoff recital begins “Whereas a 2017 OECD report found…”. And, that may be all you need to know about that first recital.

Should we actually care what a six year old OECD report reported? A 2017 OECD report, any 2017 OECD report, is based on data from 2016 or earlier. It is 2023. If there are no newer reports that support your resolution – the first recital of your resolution – that may be an important indicator. Contradictions in that policy resolution might bring comic relief to your day. For example, the policy calls for nationalization of telecom infrastructure in part of the resolution, while seeking more international carriers in the second part. What a welcome to doing business in Canada!

I am not just picking on the Liberal Party. Three years ago, I noted that more thoughful policy would be helpful for all of the political parties. At the time, the Conservatives had produced a telecom policy paper that read more like a rough draft of a first year college term paper, a hodgepodge of random thoughts.

Our parliamentary committees seem broken. Is there a sufficient depth of understanding of issues to help produce more thoughtful policy?

Last week, University of Calgary economist Dr. Jeffrey Church and NERA’s Managing Director Dr. Christian Dippon penned a detailed critique of the “junk science” approach to analysis of international price comparisons, published in the Financial Post. The article is a deeper analysis, but it is worth investing time and brain-power to read.

Notably, the authors write that “The quality of network service, availability of family plans, consumer preferences, income, availability and terms of handset provision, alternatives to wireless services, costs of provision, and the institutional / regulatory / legal environment all differ across countries.” These factors are all missing from more simplistic analysis of price comparisons, leading to a flawed conclusion that higher prices in Canada are to be blamed on market competitiveness. “The FCC assessment [pdf, 2.8MB] of effective competition in wireless services contrasted starkly with the emphasis on flawed international price comparisons by the CRTC and the Competition Bureau.”

Junk science market analysis contributes to the flawed resolution passed by the Liberal party at its convention. Such policies, based on overly simplistic price analysis, can lead to increased costs for Canadian carriers, ultimately raising prices for consumers and potentially harming the business case for investment in network upgrades.

What is the best way to facilitate development of more thoughtful policy?

3800 MHz auction preview

On July 25, just two months from now, applications and pre-auction deposits are due for Canada’s 3800 MHz spectrum auction. The list of applicants (and beneficial ownership and associated entities information) should be published by the end of July, and the finalized list of approved bidders will be released by mid-August. The auction is slated to begin October 24.

The 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz spectrum bands are often characterized as “Goldilocks spectrum”, offering a balance between capacity and coverage. The propagation characteristics of such midband spectrum allow signals to travel for miles and penetrate buildings, while transmitting significant amounts of data. Lower band spectrum provides coverage of large areas but lacks the data transmission capacity; higher band spectrum carries high capacity, but cannot provide significant coverage.

Last year, in the complementary 3500 MHz auction, Canadian carriers spent a record C$8.91B, C$2.26 per MHzPop, roughly ten times the C$0.23 bid in the UK auction for 3500 MHz spectrum and double the C$1.23 bid in the US for 3700 MHz spectrum.

The total amount of opening bids for one unencumbered block of 10 MHz across Canada would be $46.83M in the upcoming 3800 MHz spectrum auction. In the previous 3500 MHz auction, the comparable opening bid amount was slightly lower ($46.7 million).

In the wake of the record spending in the 3500 MHz auction, I wrote that spectrum scarcity and the auction structure were being blamed for driving up the costs of mobile service in Canada. A significant proportion of the 3500 MHz spectrum, up to 50 MHz, was reserved for bidding by carriers other than Bell, Rogers and TELUS.

By contrast, there will be no set-aside in the upcoming 3800 MHz spectrum auction. Instead, there will be a “cross-band spectrum cap”, limiting companies to a total of 100 MHz in combined 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz spectrum. The net effect of the cap is that 150 MHz of the total will be available for regional carriers and wireless internet service providers (WISPs).

National Bank Financial’s recent preview of the 3800 MHz spectrum auction says “We don’t think aggregate spending will reach or exceed the level of the 3500 MHz auction given more available supply and less inherent demand due to the 100 MHz cross-band limit.” The 3800 MHz auction has 250 MHz available (3650 MHz – 3900 MHz), compared to an average of 110 MHz of spectrum in the 3500 MHz auction, of which 50 MHz was set-aside for regional service providers. National Bank notes that some observers have suggested auction spending as low as $2B or as high as $11B. “We think the 3800 MHz auction could see spending in the range of $4B to $6B or perhaps even more narrowly within a zone of $4.5B to $5.5B as reflected in the medium scenario”.

An interesting factor that could impact bidding levels is whether carriers will be seeking contiguity in spectrum holdings between the 3500 MHz band and the new 3800 MHz spectrum. In many of Canada’s major cities, TELUS holds 3500 MHz spectrum licenses at the upper end of the band, which would be contiguous with the lower portions of the 3800 MHz band.

As National Bank notes,

Ideally, carriers will acquire 3800 MHz spectrum close to their 3500 MHz licences, but this isn’t a given and we’re talking about a 450 MHz range across the 3500 MHz and 3800 MHz bands. The relevance here is that spectrum contiguity helps reduce equipment spending and allow for related power efficiencies, especially when radios work within a 200 MHz band range after which more radios and carrier aggregation are required. Bell is positioned at the low end of the 3500 MHz band, with TELUS at the high end. As such, all the Big 3, in theory, would want to acquire spectrum at the lower end of the 3800 MHz band, but TELUS, in particular, may push hardest here to capitalize on contiguity.

The auction will be conducted at the Tier 4 level, meaning there are 172 localized service areas up for grabs. However, keep in mind that roughly 40% of Canada’s total population from the 2016 census (35,150,713) lives in just 3 of those 172 service areas: Toronto (license area 4-077) has a population of 7,030,750, representing 1 in 5 Canadians; with a population of 4,352,037, the Montreal license area (4-051) represents about twelve and a half percent of Canadians; and, Vancouver (4-152) has a population of 2,731,567 (just under 8%).

Deployment conditions for the 3 major cities are a little tighter than the requirements for the next 21 service areas, which are also more stringent than the remaining 148 Tier 4 service areas. Compliance with the deployment conditions are a requirement for any renewals. In addition, the government plans to monitor compliance with deployment conditions at various intermediate dates.

Where, at any point in the licence term, the licensee is not in compliance with its deployment conditions, ISED may invoke various compliance and enforcement measures. These measures may include warnings, administrative monetary penalties, legal action, licence amendments, suspensions, or other measures. In certain cases of non-compliance, ISED may determine that the most appropriate course of action is to revoke the licence.

The mid-band spectrum auction will be raising billions of dollars for the federal treasury, representing billions of dollars of additional investment by facilities-based service providers to enhance the quality and coverage of their wireless networks.

We’ll be watching this file over the coming months.

Ethical AI governance

On June 5, the International Telecommunications Society will host its next webinar, “Ethical AI Governance: Are Companies and Governments Ready for the AI Revolution?”

The webinar is topical as many jurisdictions around the world explore legislation to control the deployment of artificial intelligence. The Government of Canada recently released “The Artificial Intelligence and Data Act (AIDA) – Companion document” about which Barry Sookman has written.

For the past few years, I have been keeping current on issues relevant to telecommunications professions by virtual attendance at these ITS webinars. This webinar will be hosted by the Ivey Business School at Western University, and will feature international experts on AI governance, including Dr. Richard Benjamins (Chief AI & Data Strategist at Telefonica), Professor Rachel Dunscombe (chief industry advisor at the Dedalus Group), Mr. Cameron Schuler (Chief Commercialization Officer & Vice President of Industry Innovation at the Vector Institute) and Dr. Paul Timmers (research associate at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Internet Institute).

The webinar abstract reads:

Rapid advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) underscore the need for ethical and responsible AI governance to ensure humanity’s best interests. This webinar brings together four international experts to discuss key aspects of AI governance, including aligning organizational practices with authoritative guidance and addressing the complexities of responsible, ethical, and accountable AI. The speakers will explore crucial questions related to the role of governments and public policies in shaping AI’s future, driving AI adoption across industries, and maintaining transparency and accountability. This event presents a unique opportunity for government and corporate decision-makers to engage in informed discussions on AI regulation and governance, contributing to the development of a robust and ethical AI landscape.

Take an hour on June 5 at 10 am (Eastern) to learn more about Ethical AI governance. Registration is free.

I hope to see you online.

A digital bill of rights

As Canada continues to push forward on its Digital Charter, I noticed an interesting thread looking at Florida’s proposed “digital bill of rights”.

Ben Sperry, of the International Center for Law & Economics, writes:

While it bills itself a “Digital Bill of Rights,” the Florida Senate Bill 262 could actually harm consumers and businesses online by substantially raising the costs of targeted advertising.

For consumers, this would mean less “free” stuff online, as publishers switch from advertising-based to subscription-based models. For businesses, it would mean having less ability to target advertisements to consumers who actually want their products, resulting in less revenue.

Unintended consequences.

In Canada, we have countless examples of overly simplistic analysis of digital issues that fail to consider the logical responses (and counter-responses) of the marketplace to new legislation and regulations.

  • Exhibit 1: CRTC regulations that effectively capped the amortization period for devices at 2 years. The Commission and consumer groups were warned that this would lead to higher monthly prices (how could it not?) but pressed ahead anyway. There were other options that could have permitted portability, but preserved the ability to pay for pricy smartphones over a longer period.
  • Exhibit 2: CRTC banning Videotron’s Unlimited Music and Bell Mobile TV. These innovative services were competitive differentiators, offering new choices to consumers. Rather than letting the market place respond with either lower prices or competitive differentiators, the CRTC just said “no”.

It is worth noting that Canada has not yet tabled draft legislation that targets online harms and hate, which has been the subject of numerous posts on these pages (such as here, here, here, here, and here).

Last month, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner lost a high profile case against Facebook parent Meta arising from the Cambridge Analytica “incident”. In its review of the Federal Court’s decision, McCarthy’s law firm writes that the dismissal is “a monumental victory for Meta”, providing “important lessons for businesses about Canadian privacy law”. The note says, “The federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (“PIPEDA”) strikes a balance between individual and organizational interests, and should therefore be interpreted in a flexible, pragmatic, and common-sense way. This means that courts must consider not only the individual’s privacy interests, but also the organization’s legitimate interests in collecting, using, and disclosing personal information for commercial purposes.”

As Canada moves forward with examination of its Digital Charter, it will be critical to maintain this balance of interests. Policy would be more robustly crafted if it anticipates how different actors might respond to legislative and regulatory initiatives.

Will parliamentary review of Canada’s digital bill of rights anticipate potential consumer and commercial consequences arising from the legislation?

Unlocking the benefits of 5G networks

The expansion of Canada’s 5G networks represents a significant advancement in technology, unlocking transformation and opportunities in virtually every sector of the economy. Canada, like many other countries, has been anticipating the arrival of 5G, the fifth generation of wireless technology as it revolutionizes the way we communicate, work, and live.

It is reasonable to explore why 5G is being termed a generational evolution. Since Canadians already had access to some of the world’s fastest 4G networks, it is difficult for many consumers to understand the need for the investments necessary for 5G. In part, this may be because we are still in the early stages of 5G deployment; the benefits of 5G extend beyond traditional mobile consumer use cases.

So it is fair to ask, what are the benefits of 5G networks for Canada? How will 5G help to unlock a brighter future?

Earlier generations of networks focused primarily on data transmission with faster throughput serving as the main benefit of new each generation. While faster speeds are an important part of 5G, 5G delivers additional performance improvements that will support innovative use cases across all sectors of the economy, resulting in greater productivity, safety, and sustainability. In these ways, 5G will be a catalyst for economic growth and social development in Canada.

Faster Speeds and Lower Latency

Among the most significant advantages of 5G networks is the remarkable data transmission speed and ultra-low latency (the time for data to travel between devices). With speeds up to 20 times faster than 4G, 5G networks enable lightning-fast downloads, seamless streaming, and real-time multi-media communication. This means that Canadians will be able to download large files, stream high-quality videos, and participate in high-definition video conferences without experiencing lags or delays.

Low latency 5G networks enable remote surgeries and telemedicine, where doctors can perform surgeries or provide medical consultations in real-time using robotic devices, without the need to be physically present. This is already revolutionizing healthcare access in Canada to improve patient outcomes.

For first responders, the performance characteristics of 5G networks enable superior levels of real-time sharing of data intensive emergency communications.

Enhanced Connectivity and Internet of Things (IoT)

An immediate benefit of 5G networks is enhanced connectivity, including the ability to support a massive number of devices. 5G is designed to connect not only smartphones and tablets but also address the vast number of IoT devices, such as smart home appliances, cameras and sensors, connected vehicles, industrial sensors, and wearable devices. These power a hyper-connected world, where devices communicate with each other seamlessly (machine-to-machine), driving increased automation, efficiency, and productivity in various sectors.

In agriculture, 5G-enabled sensors are already monitoring soil conditions, weather patterns, and crop health in real-time, allowing farmers to make data-driven decisions to optimize their crop yields. For transportation, 5G networks can enable connected and autonomous vehicles to communicate with each other and with traffic infrastructure, leading to safer and more efficient transportation systems. 5G is supporting a wide range of smart city applications, such as smart grids, intelligent traffic management, and public safety systems, improving the quality of life for communities.

Economic Growth and Innovation

The deployment of 5G networks in Canada is expected to drive economic growth and spur innovation, estimated to contribute an additional $40 billion in GDP to Canada’s economy by 2026. This is creating new business opportunities, fostering entrepreneurship, and generating jobs in various sectors beyond telecommunications, such as manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and entertainment.

High-speed and low-latency capabilities of 5G networks enable the development of new technologies and services that were previously not possible. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) experiences are being delivered seamlessly over 5G networks, revolutionizing the gaming, entertainment, and tourism industries. Smart cities and smart grids powered by 5G will enhance energy management, reducing costs, and improving sustainability, leading to economic and environmental benefits.

Moreover, 5G networks will act as a catalyst for innovation in sectors such as autonomous vehicles, smart manufacturing, and remote robotics, driving the development of new products, services, and business models. Startups and entrepreneurs have access to faster and more reliable connectivity, enabling them to scale their businesses and drive economic growth.

Improved Public Services and Public Safety

5G networks are also expected to transform public services and public safety in Canada. Governments and public agencies can implement innovative solutions to enhance public services and safety. For public transportation, 5G enables real-time monitoring of buses and trains, leading to improved scheduling, reduced wait times, and enhanced passenger safety. In emergency services, 5G networks can support real-time communication and coordination among first responders, enabling faster response times and better emergency management.

Furthermore, 5G networks are already enhancing public safety through monitoring of public spaces, detecting potential threats, and responding to emergencies. 5G connected cameras can provide real-time video feeds to law enforcement, allowing the monitoring of high-risk areas and faster response to incidents. This can significantly improve public safety, security and emergency response.

Digital Inclusion and Equality

An important benefit of 5G is the potential to bridge the digital divide, promoting digital inclusion and equality. 5G can provide reliable high-speed connectivity to remote and underserved areas, where deployment of traditional wired infrastructure may not be economically feasible. This can help connect rural and remote communities, among other underserved populations.

Moreover, 5G networks can empower marginalized communities and promote equality by providing equal access to information, resources, and opportunities. Telehealth services powered by 5G can bring quality healthcare to remote communities, reducing healthcare disparities. Remote learning enabled by 5G can provide equal educational opportunities to students in rural areas. 5G-powered e-commerce and digital marketplaces can create economic opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs in underserved communities.

Environmental Sustainability

5G networks also have the potential to contribute to environmental sustainability efforts. Increased efficiency and automation enabled by 5G result in reduced energy consumption, improved resource management, and minimized environmental impact. A key component of the 5G specification is more efficient power consumption by the network and by connected devices. Indeed, it is expected that some wireless modems may be able to operate on battery power for up to 10 years.

A 5G-powered smart factory can optimize production processes, reduce waste, and lower carbon emissions. Connected and autonomous vehicles powered by 5G can lead to more efficient traffic management, reduced congestion, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, 5G networks can enable remote monitoring and management of environmental resources, such as water and energy, leading to more sustainable use and conservation. 5G-powered sensors can monitor water quality in real-time, enabling early detection of pollution and facilitating prompt action to protect water resources. 5G is also supporting precision agriculture, where sensors and drones powered by 5G can optimize the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and water, leading to reduced environmental impact.

Challenges and Considerations

While the benefits of 5G networks in Canada are promising, there are also challenges and considerations that must be addressed. Some of the challenges include the capital required for infrastructure deployment, and concerns about data privacy and security.

The deployment of 5G infrastructure requires significant investment in building new networks and upgrading existing infrastructure, which can be costly. This may pose challenges for smaller communities and remote areas with limited resources, and may require innovative approaches and partnerships to ensure equitable access to 5G technology.

Data privacy and security are also important considerations with 5G networks. The vast amount of data generated by IoT devices connected to 5G networks raises concerns about the collection, storage, and use of personal and sensitive data. Some industrial devices may not have been designed for connectivity over open networks and need special attention for security and operational integrity. It is essential to have robust data privacy and security measures in place to protect against potential cyber threats, breaches, and misuse of data. Ensuring that appropriate regulations and standards are in place to safeguard user privacy and security will be crucial in the deployment of 5G networks in Canada.

Leaders should also consider the potential impact of 5G on the workforce. While 5G technology will create new jobs and economic opportunities, it may also disrupt certain industries and roles. Preparing the workforce for the changes brought about by 5G, such as reskilling programs, will be important to ensure a smooth transition.


5G networks hold significant promise for Canada, offering numerous benefits in various sectors, including healthcare, transportation, smart cities, industry automation, and more. The high-speed, low-latency, and massive connectivity enabled by 5G have the potential to drive innovation, economic growth, and societal transformation.

For the healthcare sector, 5G can revolutionize telemedicine, remote patient monitoring, and emergency services, leading to improved patient care, reduced healthcare costs, and enhanced public health outcomes. 5G is enabling connected and autonomous vehicles, smart traffic management, and public safety measures, leading to safer and more efficient transportation systems. Our cities are building smart grids, smart buildings, and more efficient urban management, leading to sustainable and more livable cities. In industries, 5G can enable advanced automation, predictive maintenance, and remote operations, leading to increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved sustainability.

Moreover, 5G networks have the potential to bridge the digital divide, promote digital inclusion and equality, and contribute to environmental sustainability efforts. However, it is important to address challenges and considerations such as cost of infrastructure deployment, data privacy and security, and workforce impacts. Carriers are continuing to deploy 5G access to more Canadians, in large and small communities, in urban and rural markets.

5G networks have the potential to transform various aspects of Canadian society, economy, and environment. Stakeholders, including government, industry, academia, and communities, must work together to ensure the responsible and inclusive deployment of 5G networks in Canada, harnessing its benefits while addressing its challenges. With careful planning, smart, light-touch regulation, and private-public collaboration, 5G is bringing significant positive changes to Canada, creating a more connected, innovative, and sustainable future.

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