Canada’s auditor general says the Canada Revenue Agency lacked controls and the up-to-date information it needed to properly assess applicants when the federal government launched its wage subsidy program at the start of the pandemic — putting the integrity of the program at risk.
CRTC’s virtual mobile network approval stirs mixed reactions
The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) approved mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) in Canada, but independent operators are not impressed. The new decision announced on April 15 will enable regional providers — ones that have purchased wireless spectrum licences and deploy network hardware — to provide service over the infrastructures built by national carriers like…
The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) approved mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) in Canada, but independent operators are not impressed.
The new decision announced on April 15 will enable regional providers — ones that have purchased wireless spectrum licences and deploy network hardware — to provide service over the infrastructures built by national carriers like Bell, Rogers and Telus for a wholesale fee.
The goal, according to the CRTC, is to increase competition and reduce mobile costs for consumers, which the Trudeau government has promised to cut by 25 per cent.
The CRTC has the final say on who can become an MVNO under several criterias, of which the most important being that the regional carrier must have purchased spectrum licenses that cover tier 4 areas or broader.
Additionally, the CRTC’s MVNO policy allows the regional MVNOs to sell their capacity to any operator, including international players.
“The whole idea behind this model which was effectively developed by the competition bureau is to encourage investment in facility [operators],” said telecom consultant Mark Goldberg.
Canada’s mobile prices have been declining. According to the 2019 CRTC Annual Communications Pricing Survey, the average mobile services declined by 13.8 per cent over 2018. The drop was particularly notable in the midrange where the cost of 5GB data plans dropped by 36 per cent between 2016 and 2019.
Still, Canada’s mobile costs currently rank as some of the highest in the world. The Toronto Star reported that the falling costs fail to keep up with the global average.
Matt Stein, chairperson of Competitive Network Operators of Canada (CNOC) and chief executive officer of Distributel, argued that dropping prices doesn’t consider the users’ expanding data needs.
He argued that users today need more data to access the same experience as they did years prior, and they are still overpaying for that experience.
“When people say wireless prices are falling, they’re looking at a plan that used to cost $60 three years ago that now only cost $35. But consumers are no longer buying that plan. Now they’re buying a new plan that’s much larger. And guess what? It still costs $60,” Stein said.
Criticisms from independent operatorsMost MVNOs in Canada operate as flanker brands of major carriers. But independent MVNOs do exist. Dotmobile, Canada’s first approved “full” MVNO, is on track to start servicing in Canada.
Many of Canada’s telecommunications players have long been at odds with the idea. Smaller carriers have been calling for more competition, demanding a similar model to wholesale internet, in which regional ISPs like TekSavvy can purchase capacity from national cable carriers and resell them.
Conversely, the major carriers have vehemently advocated against its efficacy, claiming that it would reduce cost beyond what’s sustainable and therefore erode investment.
Read more on IT World CanadaExpert says CRTC’s data plan proposals for telcos are ‘misguided’
Strictly speaking, the CRTC’s version of MVNOs isn’t a “true” MVNO model. By its textbook definition, an MVNO does not own wireless spectrum or infrastructure.
Alex Bauman and Algis Akstinas, founders of Dotmobile, said the CRTC “mislabelled” what an MVNO is.
“Owning spectrum and operating a radio access network (towers) makes you an MNO. There is nothing virtual about it, even if the CRTC decided to use the term MVNO,” wrote Bauman in a separate release.
In an interview, Bauman noted that the recent MVNO announcement only gave the regional providers a way to pre-sell in areas that they own wireless licenses in.
Stein also criticized the decision, saying that it ignores the smaller providers.
“It says it’s an MVNO decision, but if you read it closely, you’ll realize that it only is available to people that have already bought spectrum,” Stein said. “Smaller providers didn’t buy spectrum. Furthermore, it’s only available in the areas where people already bought the spectrum. So if you bought spectrum in Kitchener, you can become an MVNO in Kitchener–not in London, not in Wells. It really is the smallest possible thing they could have done and still calling it MVNO.”
Stein added that he does not see the decision leading to lower prices. Instead, he believes that the commission should have fully opened up MVNO and support service-based competition as opposed to facility-based.
In service-based competition, a regulating organization such as the CRTC would set a wholesale price for the facility-based operators and sell the services to smaller companies. The smaller companies would in turn sell them to consumers, competing for value in the process.
“The big phone and cable companies are…still making a profit,” Stein said. “Competition doesn’t need one more player. Competition needs a vibrant market of many choices.”
“The problem in Canada isn’t whether we have enough wireless providers in Toronto although there is a problem with pricing, it’s that all of Canada never gets access to any of these new players or new types of competition,” he said.
What does this decision mean for Canadians living in large population centres? Not much, Bauman said. Additionally, given the spectrum and infrastructure requirements set out by the CRTC, he doesn’t anticipate rural areas to benefit from this either.
Some operators praised the decision. In a press release, Cogeco said that the change marked as an “important step” towards a balanced market.
Although the CRTC saw MVNOs as necessary, it did not set a wholesale price as it did with internet. Instead, the commission left it up to the regional and the national carriers to negotiate their wholesale rates.
Goldberg explained that the negotiated prices will be cheap enough to allow regional carriers to sell their services sooner, but will also likely be more expensive than owning their own infrastructure. This middle cost and rapid customer acquisition will give regional carriers the incentive and means to invest.
“It can cost $100,000 to put up a tower,” said Goldberg. “When you put up a tower, you don’t instantly have customers. With the MVNO arrangement, it’s easy to start getting customers. So you’re getting revenues from an area that allows you to say ‘hey I’ve got a lot of customers in this area. Let’s put up a new tower there.’”
In addition, with Canada’s diverse geography, population density and other socioeconomic factors, a unified national price is impractical.
The CRTC’s MVNO policy will stand for at least seven years and provides regional carriers a buffer period to build out their own networks. But both Akstinas and Bauman stressed the complexity surrounding infrastructure deployment.
“In a region, you get 10 years to build [services using purchased wireless spectrum],” said Akstinas. “If you take the auction for Wind [now Freedom Mobile] and you look at when the last licenses were built out, some of those areas that were outside of the urban centers got built in the last month of that 10 year period. And that’s the provider that had the backing of a $15 billion company (Shaw).”
Goldberg says there is a possibility that the MVNO will negotiate for a longer term.
When asked, Bell replied that its focus “remains on serving our wireless customers with a full range of affordable pricing options.”
The CRTC’s call for lower pricesIn the same announcement, the CRTC also asked SaskTel, Bell, Telus and Rogers to promote a $35 per month low-cost plan, a $15 per month postpaid plan, and a $100 per year prepaid plan. The low-cost and postpaid plan should include 3GB and 250MB of data respectively, while the prepaid plan should include 400 minutes that do not expire in less than a year.
These plans should be promoted in the same way as their other more premium plans, wrote the CRTC. The named carriers must report back to the commission every six months on their deployments.
The CRTC also called for an app from respective carriers that allows their customers to easily change their wireless plans.
But in an email to IT World Canada, the CRTC underscored that these are expectations, not requirements. Carries are currently not obligated to fulfil them.
“The record of the proceeding demonstrated that there are a wide array of plans, including low-cost plans, available to customers,” wrote the CRTC. “However, some options, in particular, more economical options on premium brands, are not always easy to find. In addition, many consumers do not see flanker brands, owned by the national wireless carriers, as a reasonable substitute for a premium brand. The commission determined that mandating the provision of defined plans is unnecessary at this time.”
Canada’s major carriers offer lower-cost plans through their flanker brands such as Koodo, Virgin, and Chatr. These brands typically offer lower speeds and smaller data packages at reduced costs.
Goldberg shared the sentiment that lower-cost plans are already available from major brands but also pointed out its flaws.
“What the commission is saying is they want the main brands to offer those same prices, which I’m questioning the rationale for it,” Goldberg said. “It’s a little bit patronizing for consumers, saying that consumers aren’t smart enough to shop around for the best deal.”
“What they’re doing is putting a Cadillac nameplate on a Chevrolet product. Because they’re putting them in Rogers and Telus nameplate,” he added.
Moreover, Goldberg said that these measures exert pressure on regional carriers to drop their prices. While it can be seen as beneficial to consumers, Goldberg said this runs counter to the CRTC’s objective, which is to incentivize the regional carriers to invest in the long run.
Hashtag Trending, April 20, 2021 – Rogers outage; Starlink goes fully mobile later this year; NASA chopper on Mars
The massive Rogers and Fido outage leaves customers without precious data nationwide, Elon Musk says Starlink should be fully mobile by the end of 2021, and NASA successfully flies a helicopter on Mars. It’s all the tech news that’s popular right now. Welcome to Hashtag Trending! It’s Tuesday, April 20 and I’m your host Baneet…
The massive Rogers and Fido outage leaves customers without precious data nationwide, Elon Musk says Starlink should be fully mobile by the end of 2021, and NASA successfully flies a helicopter on Mars.
It’s all the tech news that’s popular right now. Welcome to Hashtag Trending! It’s Tuesday, April 20 and I’m your host Baneet Braich.
You probably noticed a massive Rogers and Fido outage impacting customers across the country on Monday. As per this recording, it’s not clear what caused the interruption or how many were impacted. The outage affected wireless voice and data however, residential and business wireline internet services were not impacted. The website Downdetector showed Rogers outages beginning overnight and spiking to almost 13,000 reports during the day. The service disruptions also impacted Canadians trying to make COVID-19 vaccination appointments with calls dropping and verification codes not delivering. [Twitter]
Elon Musk says Starlink should be ‘fully mobile’ by the end of 2021, allowing customers to use it at any address or in moving vehicles from technology
Elon Musk says Starlink should be fully mobile by the end of 2021. The Tesla CEO also says Starlink will exit beta this summer. The offering to this point only allowed people to access Starlink from where they registered it. In March, Musk filed a request to the Federal Communications Commission for Starlink to go mobile. This would allow Starlink to be accessed from ships, planes, RVs, trucks and more. Tesla cars will not have access because they are not big enough to carry the Starlink terminal. Musk also says Starlink internet speeds would double and latency would drop by the end of 2021.
Nasa successfully flies small helicopter on Mars from technology
NASA has successfully flown a small helicopter on Mars. The drone called Ingenuity was in the air for 40 seconds. NASA say this is the first powered, controlled flight by an aircraft on another world. Getting airborne is a challenge on Mars because the atmosphere is very thin. It’s only 1% of the density here on Earth. This means the blades have very little work to life up. The drone also has two cameras onboard. A black-and-white camera points down to the ground, and is used for navigation. The other high-resolution colour camera looks out to the horizon. The control is also autonomous because flying by joystick is, well, not a great idea. The long distance to Mars means radio signals take minutes to cross the intervening space. More images of planet red will be coming this week.
That’s all the tech news that’s trending right now. Hashtag Trending is a part of the ITWC Podcast network. Add us to your Alexa Flash Briefing or your Google Home daily briefing. Make sure to sign up for our Daily IT Wire Newsletter to get all the news that matters directly in your inbox every day. Plus, catch episode one of Hashtag Trending in French, hosted by our own Catherine Morin from Quebec at DirectionInformatique.com. Episode 2 drops this weekend. I’m Baneet Braich, thanks for listening!
North Dakota to vaccinate Manitoba long-haul truckers
Manitoba has enlisted the help of its southern neighbour to vaccinate some of the province’s essential workers. Beginning Wednesday, Manitoba long-haul truckers will be able to receive their COVID-19 shots in North Dakota as they return home from U.S. trips. In the next six to eight weeks, as many as 4,000 truckers are expected to…
Manitoba has enlisted the help of its southern neighbour to vaccinate some of the province’s essential workers.
Beginning Wednesday, Manitoba long-haul truckers will be able to receive their COVID-19 shots in North Dakota as they return home from U.S. trips.
In the next six to eight weeks, as many as 4,000 truckers are expected to receive either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines through what Premier Brian Pallister called a “continental-first joint initiative” with the United States.
The first clinic will open at a rest stop on Interstate 29 near Drayton, N.D., about 50 kilometres south of Emerson.
In co-operation with the Manitoba Trucking Association, the province will identify eligible individuals and work with North Dakota to schedule appointments.
“Today’s announcement is indicative of the friendly relationship between Manitoba and North Dakota that’s always benefited our people on both sides of that border,” Pallister said Tuesday in a joint news conference with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum.
The premier said Manitoba is relying on U.S. assistance as it faces a third wave of the coronavirus with limited vaccine supplies.
“We have months ahead of us before all Canadians are fully vaccinated, and that’s in stark contrast to our American neighbours,” he said. “The No. 1 limiting factor in protecting Manitobans from this deadly virus is the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.”
Crediting Pallister with the idea, Burgum said the U.S. government will pay for the vaccines provided to the truckers and compensate the state for the costs of administering them.
“The U.S. has got a lot of vaccine and Canada has got less so this is an opportunity for us to work together starting with essential workers,” the governor said.
More than half of all North Dakotans age 18 and older have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. All of the state’s adults are eligible to be vaccinated.
Pallister said he has informed the federal government of the initiative, although it’s unclear whether he received an OK to do so from Ottawa. The Canadian government is responsible for vaccine procurement.
Asked for comment, Corinne Havard, a spokeswoman for federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said in an email:
“Since March 2020, we have been working with provinces and territories to support them in their pandemic response. This work continues.”
In the screenshot from a video, Premier Brian Pallister (right) was in a joint news conference with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum Tuesday.
The federal government says it’s on track to receive 48 million to 50 million doses by the end of June.
Terry Shaw, executive director of the Manitoba Trucking Association, called the initative “a great announcement.”
COVID-19 has not hit the long-haul trucking industry in Manitoba particularly hard. The industry acted swiftly early on to institute health protocols that have protected drivers, Shaw said.
An informal survey of truckers by the Canadian Trucking Alliance found that only about 60 of 12,000 respondents across the country admitted to having been infected with COVID-19. The majority of those said they contracted the virus in the community, not on the job.
Yet, Shaw said the industry is grateful for the initiative, and he expects the majority of drivers will take the North Dakota government up on its offer.
He also pointed out that with up to 4,000 Manitoba essential workers being vaccinated in the U.S., that will free up capacity at Canadian vaccination sites.
“Just because the long-haul driving community has managed our COVID risk very successfully, the simple fact is we still need to get vaccinated as does everybody else,” Shaw said.
North Dakota, with a population of roughly 765,000, had received 549,285 doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday and administered 504,929 of them. The state has recorded 1,510 COVID-19-related deaths.
Manitoba, with a population of more than 1.3 million, had received 486,810 doses of COVID-19 vaccine as of Monday and administered 341,926 of them. As of Tuesday, it had recorded 960 deaths.
A memorandum of understanding between the two jurisdictions says North Dakota will provide proof of immunization to truckers and share the records with the Manitoba government.
The two sides will also examine ways of vaccinating other essential workers.
Burgum said he is also in discussions with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe about vaccinating energy workers who criss-cross the Saskatchewan and North Dakota border.
Pallister said he has expressed interest in having Canadian military reservists receive vaccinations, courtesy of the U.S.
“The governor and I know that if the shoe was on the other foot, I would be the first guy to offer help to him, and he knows that 110 per cent,” Pallister told the news conference. “Right now, we’re the people who need help. God forbid but in five years there could be another pandemic and it will be us offering help straight up to North Dakota.”
— with files from Dylan Robertson
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
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