Mark Goldberg

The Canadian Telecom Summit

Fox Group Dispatch

Home remedies

As reported in, TELUS Health has partnered with Tunstall to launch remote patient monitoring, to reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and help patients living with chronic disease.

Tunstall’s ICP Integrated Care Platform allows clinicians to support patients managing chronic conditions while empowering them to stay active in the effective management of their own health and chronic conditions. By enabling them to track and upload their vital signs from the comfort of their own home, the Telus Home Health Monitoring solution powered by ICP will allow virtual care teams to maintain a close watch on biometrics in real-time and intervene before a health issue arises, regardless of where they are located.

E-Health is often cited as a major benefit of rural broadband expansion programs, since people living in more remote areas tend to have greater distances to travel to a hospital as well. How fast a connection is needed? As it turns out, not much speed is needed for these applications. According to TELUS Health, anything faster than a dial-up connection is all that is required for the Home Health Monitoring solution.

Much of the home monitoring is simple biometric data. We do not need remote reading of diagnostic imaging to start getting benefits of e-health care solutions. Improved patient outcomes can be achieved through incremental steps. Building a smart community, by getting a little bit smarter every day.

Controlling the customer experience

In just over two weeks, as of December 1, customers who purchased their phones from a Canadian carrier will have the have them unlocked at no charge, but many consumers likely have no idea that their phones may not be welcome on any network of their choosing.

At least one US carrier is restrictive about the devices it allows to connect to its network. Verizon will “refuse to provision devices it hasn’t tested or certified,” even if the unapproved phones may technically be compatible with Verizon’s LTE network, according to a recent article in PC Mag. Verizon says “customers tend to blame Verizon if their device fails, rather than going to the manufacturer.” So, like a number of other carriers, Verizon conducts network-compatibility testing on all phones it sells.

“If it was never tested on our network, it may not work well. You may make voice calls, but you won’t get the experience you come to expect from Verizon.”

Two months ago, I wrote a piece called “In case of emergency, who do you call?” There have been a few cases of devices being sold in Canada with compatibility issues that impact emergency calling. I asked a number of questions in that article:

  • Did the CRTC even hear evidence about the ability for advanced features to operate correctly on devices moved from one service provider to another?
  • Do consumers know that not all devices work on all networks?
  • Are service providers expected to provide support for devices that have not been purchased from their stores?
  • Has the CRTC created unrealistic user expectations?

I have been using unlocked devices for international travel for a number of years, but compatibility issues arise with advanced features on some carrier networks. It isn’t clear to me that most Canadian consumers are aware of what limitations may arise when bringing their own device. I suspect that we will be seeing a number of complaints arising from reality not matching expectations.

In order to improve their customers’ experiences, will any Canadian carriers follow Verizon’s lead and refuse to provision service on devices that have not been certified for compatibility?

The need for credible consumer voices

I have been overseas for the past week, visiting Israel, one of the world’s most competitive mobile markets. I may share some perspectives on that market in future posts.

While I was gone, the CRTC released the 2017 edition of its Communications Monitoring Report (CMR) [pdf, 10 MB] and the usual suspects played mathematical gymnastics to misrepresent the findings of the Report, perhaps to advance their agendas, or to ask donors for funding or perhaps because they are simply mathematically illiterate.

For example, a writer who specializes in technology said “Internet & wireless prices in Canada continue to soar, as per today’s #CRTC report”

A so-called consumer advocacy group used the report to solicit support for donations, saying “Home Internet prices rose by nearly 10 per cent while mobile wireless prices increased by just over five per cent, as telecommunications price increases continue to far outpace the rate of inflation.”

In fact, what the CMR actually says is that “wireless prices generally declined”.

Canadians’ total household communications spending increased 1.7%, but people consumed significantly more data on their mobile and home connections. The CRTC showed that more people actively changed their subscriptions to higher speed plans. Bills didn’t soar. At 1.7%, how can a group honestly claim “telecommunications price increases continue to far outpace the rate of inflation.”

Now, of course we would like the prices to come down, but that is true for every product or service we buy. The data shows that value is increasing; Canadians are getting more for their communications dollars.

The discussion about Canada’s communications industry structure and regulatory framework isn’t helped by such purveyors of such fake news.

Unrelated to the CMR, I was away when news came that Canada’s Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) was teetering on financial collapse, in part because of changes to the CRTC’s cost awards process that now waits until a decision has been released before costs are awarded.

There have been a number of major consultations over the past few years and some consumer groups participated in a significant way. Some extremely large cost applications were filed, asking for unprecedented levels of cost reimbursement.

At the same time, the CRTC has taken longer and longer to release decisions, in part because of the complexity of the cases being taken on and no doubt, in part because of other distractions.

The result has been a completely unfair amount of time to provide directions for costs reimbursements.

I may not agree with many of the positions put forward by PIAC, but the organization usually brings an important perspective to the hearings in which it participates. I don’t believe it represents all consumers, and likely not even most consumers. But PIAC most often represents disadvantaged consumers who generally don’t have any other strong or credible voice in regulatory proceedings, and as such, the organization plays an important role in Canada’s regulatory processes.

The cost awards system is broken. It would be unfortunate if PIAC becomes a casualty of the regulatory process. We need to find a new model to ensure that PIAC’s stakeholders continue to be represented at the Commission.

[Update: November 24, 2018] You can make a tax deductible donation to PIAC here:

What problem are we trying to fix?

An Economic Note [pdf, 871 KB] from the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) is challenging the premise for elements of mobile wireless policy deliberations in Canada. Whether it is consideration of a spectrum set-aside for “new entrants” or ordering the CRTC to revisit its refusal to mandate resale for WiFi based MVNOs, the MEI study says “the minister’s justifications for the proposed change are groundless”.

The Economic Note challenges the preamble of Order in Council 2017-0557, where it claims “Canada has among the lowest adoption rates for mobile wireless telecommunications services among industrialized countries.” MEI says:

This assertion is drawn from a misleading OECD comparison based on the number of SIM cards per inhabitant (as opposed to the proportion of wireless users in the overall population). In many countries, users have more than one card for the same device in order to save money, which results in absurdly inflated “penetration rates,” in many cases far above 100%. The fact is that the vast majority of Canadians (81.6%) had a wireless device in 2015, a proportion that keeps increasing. Canadians are among the biggest users of data on tablets and smartphones (sixth out of 21 countries surveyed by Cisco for both categories). Moreover, in terms of smartphone market penetration, Canada ranks third out of 21 countries surveyed with a total of 83% of mobile subscribers using smartphones. And it ranks fourth in terms of the proportion of mobile users connected to the fastest network.

In its press release, MEI warns “Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains runs the risk of discouraging investment in the telecommunications industry”. The report contrasts reseller investment levels of just $30 million per year with the $11.3 billion being invested by national and regional carriers.

As Canada has one of the best wireless infrastructures in the world, and Canadians are among the most avid consumers of data in the world, there is no need to intervene in order to catch up with other countries.

The Montreal Ecoonomic Institute says its Regulation Series of reports “aims to examine the often unintended consequences for individuals and businesses of various laws and rules, in contrast with their stated goals.” I have written frequently about this kind of effect, such as “Driving costs higher” as an unintended outcome of a number of government measures originally meant to benefit consumers.

A few weeks ago, MEI commented in the Financial Post about the plans for a set-aside in the next spectrum auction. “Experience has shown that such measures essentially constitute public subsidies that are either lost to weak new entrants that consistently fail, or wasted on established regional players that would have had the means to bid for the full value of the spectrum.”

Whether it is a spectrum set-aside or ordering the CRTC to have a fresh look at its decision on resale versus facilities based competition, the Montreal Economic Institute report again challenges the premise that appears to be motivating increased government intervention in Canada’s mobile marketplace.

Earlier this year, FCC Chair Ajit Pai observed that “Building 5G networks will require huge capital expenditures–spending best incentivized with light-touch regulation.”

Canada needs to carefully consider the potential unintended consequences of further intervention in its mobile sector. To date, the facts show that Canadian carriers are investing, our networks are world leading in coverage and speed, and Canadians are among the world’s top users of mobile data.

What problem are we are trying to fix?

Speeding up broadband

How can cities and other levels of government create more favourable conditions to accelerate investment in digital infrastructure? Subtle changes in policies and processes can go a long way.

I have written before that cities don’t need to become “smart cities” overnight. They should try to get a little smarter every day.

Over the past 20 years, we have sometimes seen different levels of governments enact regulations and processes that seem to discourage or inhibit investment in fibre or use junk science to delay or prevent wireless service providers from improving coverage or adding capacity.

These kinds of behaviours seem inconsistent with a shared objective to build the networks that drive an electronically fueled economy. All levels of government should be looking for ways to encourage more investment, reducing the cost of deploying facilities, improving service quality, fuel increased competition and ultimately lead to lower consumer prices.

A couple of recent unrelated articles caught my eye with thoughts that might contribute to a better climate for private sector investment in advanced digital infrastructure.

In a blog post, Verizon’s policy group describes today’s pole attachment process to deploy new networks as very slow and inefficient when it comes to attaching new small cells and fiber. So Verizon is asking the FCC to adopt a rule for what it calls “One-Touch Make-Ready“, to improve the processes by which telecommunications providers attach new equipment to poles. With 5G networks based on even smaller cells, towers will be located even closer to the end users. As such, it is becoming increasingly more important to improve these processes.

Under the current system, a new attacher must contact a pole owner to get permission to attach, wait for a survey, and then, wait some more as each existing attacher moves or adjusts their attachments – a process called “make-ready” (literally, making-the-pole-ready for the new attachment). Right now, this often proceeds sequentially, with multiple reviews and truck rolls for each of the providers already attached to the pole. It can take six months to a year – and piles of paperwork – to get a new attachment approved and placed on a pole.

Under the new proposal – called One-Touch Make-Ready – we suggest that new attachers should have the option of using pre-approved, licensed, and insured contractors to coordinate with all of the providers already attached to the pole and to do all the work to add a new attachment at one time.

Are broadband deployments being delayed by bureaucratic processes associated with accessing poles and towers owned by municipal and provincial power companies? Can these public agencies and companies help accelerate enhancements to broadband by improving access to their vertical assets?

Can we extend this to other public assets that can be used for wireless and wireline broadband deployment, such as municipal rights of way, water towers, easements, conduit in new road construction? All of these are mundane civic assets that can help stimulate network development to make the city a little smarter.

The other article I saw was an opinion piece in the Detroit News, advocating for Michigan to pass a bill that would “prevent local governments in the state from using public funds to pay for the cost of providing internet service.”

States have good reason to be concerned about municipal broadband projects. A recent study showed the financial performance of government-run broadband utilities is very poor, with only two of 20 municipal broadband projects for which transparent financial information was available expected to recover their costs within 40 years.

The University of Pennsylvania study cited in the article concludes “that municipal leaders should carefully consider all of the relevant costs and risks before moving forward with a municipal fiber program.”

In some communities, municipal offices, schools and hospitals could be anchor customers that encourage private sector investment in broadband. If a community establishes its own publicly funded network and migrates these institutions away from the competitive marketplace, the business case for private sector service providers can evaporate. Given the dismal financial performance of so many government-run broadband projects, communities should examine other models to encourage competitive private sector operators to make the investments to serve the entire population.

How can cities and other levels of government create more favourable conditions to accelerate development of digital infrastructure? Sometimes it doesn’t take millions of tax dollars; relatively simple changes to policies can significantly improve the climate for private sector investment.