Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Back to school specials

It is that time of year again.

Staples got in trouble a few years ago when it ran ‘back-to-school commercials with Andy Williams’ version of the Christmas season song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” as the background music.

It isn’t just stationers who love the season; all kinds of stores appear to be running specials that target the student market. Just last night, I saw ads offering to deliver mattresses to almost any college campus community.

It is a big season for the communications sector as well. Students are getting internet packages and new mobile phone plans and there are lots of deals to be had from the carriers and independent retailers. It is a good time for everyone to shop around. Many of the deals will provide value to any family, especially those who haven’t looked at updating their communications services in a while.

Parents and students alike should take the opportunity to see what deals are available for wireless and wireline services: voice, data and TV. Most of the plans are available to anyone – you don’t have to be a student to save.

If you have young ones getting their first connections, look for tips to keep them safe online. A few years ago, I wrote 10 tips for back-to-school online safety, with a checklist from the TELUS Wise program. That is a good place to start.

Still, it is important to remember that there are still lots of families that can’t afford to get their kids online at prices that most of us consider acceptable. The national Connecting Families program, with its $10 per month broadband service for low income households with school children (announced at The 2018 Canadian Telecom Summit in June) has not yet been rolled out by all of the participating service providers. This will hopefully be fixed later this fall. Many low income families in TELUS and Rogers territories have access to programs previously announced by those companies, but unfortunately, some kids will be starting school in September unequipped to deal with a digital homework gap.

Personally, I have always hated the end of summer. As a kid, I loved summer vacation and the feeling is even stronger today when I have been able to share so much of my summertime with little visitors. Back to school means they head back home to start their own school year. Thankfully, communications technology makes it so much easier to stay in touch, with daily trans-oceanic video chats to bridge the distance.

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer. I am going to be focused on close encounters of a non-electronic kind, enjoying every minute before my visitors fly home to head back to school. For me, these last two weeks are certain to be more special than any of the savings being offered.

Participating in a responsible way

The CRTC’s rules of practice and procedure include a process for awarding costs to public interest groups in order to encourage participation in its various public proceedings. The cost awards can sometimes be quite substantial; there are examples of awards frequently in the order of tens of thousands of dollars and sometimes even higher.

According to the CRTC, “The Commission considers that costs awards are intended to encourage the participation of individuals and groups who represent subscriber interests, rather than private interests.”

Further, “when assessing costs applications, the Commission considers whether a costs applicant has participated in the proceeding in a responsible way and contributed to a better understanding of the matters considered by the Commission.”

A recent article by David C. Lowery on The Trichordist blog raises questions about whether Open Media is indeed a grass-roots consumer focused organization or representing private interests as a “Google funded astroturf group“?

In a recent article on, Open Media encourages readers to use an online tool to call ISED Minister Bains with the goal that “his office will be flooded” with thousands of calls. Is this consistent with participating in a proceeding in a responsible way?

Last year, an Open Media advocacy training presentation on how to frame issues stated “Morals, values, and identity will always defeat facts, reason, logic, and self-interest”.

Is this consistent with contributing to a better understanding of issues?

Quite a week for broadband expansion

It has been a busy week for broadband expansion in rural and remote regions of Canada.

On Monday, as I wrote earlier this week, Teksavvy announced its plans to build fibre to 38,000 homes and businesses in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent in Southwestern Ontario.

Later that same day, Telesat announced the successful launch of Telstar 19 VANTAGE, a high throughput satellite (HTS) that will provide Northwestel with the HTS spot beam capacity needed to improve broadband connectivity for all 25 communities in Nunavut.

Earlier today, SaskTel annpounced that it has expanded internet service to the resort community of Waskesiu Lake.

And closing off the day, ISED and Xplornet announced a $36M project to provide up to 100Mbps wireless broadband service to 35,000 homes in 21 communities in Eastern Ontario. The planned build out is reported to include 480km of new fibre optic facilities, as backbone connections to towers that will be “using 3500 MHz spectrum to bring 5G-ready Internet technology, with download speeds of up to 100 Mbps.”

From north to south, using fibre, wireless and satellite, it has been an interesting week for investment in broadband service expansion in rural and remote communities in Canada. Delivering broadband services in Canada’s diverse geography requires a variety of technology and economic solutions. The four major projects announced this week demonstrate some of the creative ways service providers are getting more Canadians connected.

Competition for rural broadband

In March 2017, TekSavvy and Entegrus Transmission (part of the Chatham and St. Thomas, Ontario based electric utility) presented a report to the Chatham-Kent Municipal Council recommending a fibre-based broadband project for the Chatham-Kent region of Southwestern Ontario. A month later, Chatham-Kent’s Council passed a motion to endorse and support a proposal by Teksavvy and Entegrus for Connect to Innovate funding from the federal government. Funding for this project has not been approved yet.

In a related but different project, TekSavvy announced plans earlier today to invest up to $26M to “connect more than 38,000 residences and businesses in the region, starting in Chatham with plans to expand to Blenheim, Ridgetown, Tilbury, and Wallaceburg.” According to TekSavvy, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent intends to invest $6.5 million to facilitate an open-access fibre backbone connecting the communities. This represents about 20% of the $32.5M total project.

Exactly two months ago, Bell and the municipality announced plans to roll out fibre to 38,000 premises, “starting in Chatham and expanding to Blenheim, Ridgetown, Tilbury and Wallaceburg.” In Bell’s press release, the project was described as fully funded by Bell, without taxpayer contributions to the capital cost.

A number of thoughts come to mind.

I found it interesting that the two press releases use almost identical language and list the planned roll-out in the same order. In the TekSavvy release, the Chief Administrative Officer for the Municipality is said to be “heartened that this local company is working with the Municipality in its goal to bring advanced communications services to the community.” The same person is quoted in the Bell press release, saying “the Chatham project is the first phase of bringing Bell’s advanced communications services to the region.”

If broadband adoption rates are in the order of 85% in the area, and Teksavvy captures 50% of the market, then the Municipality contribution works out to a subsidy of just over $400 per Teksavvy subscriber.

The regional municipality has succeeded in recruiting competitive provision of broadband in its collection of smaller towns. What isn’t clear is why taxpayers are funding one of the competing networks and whether this changes the economics of building in some of the lighter density areas within these communities.

Being a mensch

Be a “mensch.”

A very basic instruction to our kids. It means being a decent human being. A person of integrity and honor.

My brother and I were talking about some characteristics of menschlichtkeit. Treating everyone with respect is a big one. I recall going to a dinner for a job interview about 30 years ago and as we were being escorted to our table, a napkin fell from the tray of a busboy who was clearing dishes. I picked up the napkin and handed it to the service staff member. Many years later, I was told that this simple act won me the job before the actual interview ever took place.

How do you treat everyday people, the waiters and busboys, the flight attendants, the cleaning crews, strangers you have never met? Are you a “mensch” or do you reserve your acts of common decency just for your friends or those who can immediately impact your career?

Why is this so foreign to engagements on social media?

Complete strangers, who I envision are writing from their parents’ basement while hiding behind mythological-based pseudonyms, feel compelled to issue coprolalic comments as a response to posts with which they disagree. We led a generation to believe that the internet meant a democratization of interaction with everyone; some trolls help demonstrate the corollary: while they may have ability to have their message broadcast, people still retain the ability to ignore them. If people want to bleat obscene and derogatory epithets with anonymity, I am happy to aid in preserving the obscurity they desire and so richly deserve.

I have often referred back to a post I wrote nearly a dozen years ago called “4 degrees of impersonal communications.” It continues to baffle me that people generally take more care in communications when the conversation can most easily be private and candid, such as in face-to-face conversations, compared to the anti-social language and tone so commonly found in online fora.

As an exercise, look at the replies to almost every tweet from FCC Chair Ajit Pai (such as his announcement on the proposed Sinclair/Tribune transaction) to see the level of abuse he routinely attracts. Sifting through noise must be exhausting.

I am happy to engage, debate issues, share my experience, provide guidance. But there are limits to what I will tolerate in my 4 degrees.

Summer time has given me an opportunity to spend more time away from the computer screen, unwind and reflect.

Last fall, I wrote advice to my kids to “find a career doing something you love doing; aim to be the best at what you do; find people who share your values to do it with; and, remember that family should always come first.”

Among those values I hope they share with their friends and co-workers is to always be a “mensch.”

I wish I could find more tools to impart that simple rule to others.

For now, this post will have to do.