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Bell’s Efforts to Take Bell Aliant Private Will Divert $160 Million in Expansion Funds to Shareholders

Bell-Aliant-FibreOP

Bell Aliant’s FibreOp fiber to the home service may suffer as Bell/BCE redirects upgrade investments into shareholder dividend payouts.

Bell Aliant customers in Atlantic Canada won’t benefit from Bell Canada’s (BCE) efforts to take subsidiary Bell Aliant, Inc. private unless they happen to be shareholders.

In July, Bell Canada Enterprises announced its intention to privatize Bell Aliant, which serves customers in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, expecting at least $100 million a year in savings from reduced operating costs and capital investments.

Bell Aliant has operated largely independent of Bell Canada from its headquarters in Halifax, N.S. Bell Aliant customers have received FibreOp fiber to the home upgrades in several Atlantic provinces in recent years, providing more advanced services than Bell’s fiber to the neighborhood platform Fibe in Ontario and Quebec. Bell Aliant customers have also avoided usage caps and usage-based billing, getting access to unlimited use broadband at speeds up to 400/350Mbps.

Politicians in Nova Scotia immediately raised the alarm about the possibility of job cuts. Both Tory and NDP opposition leaders complain the Liberal premier has not done enough to protect jobs.

Bell Canada Enterprises

Bell Canada Enterprises

NDP MLA Dave Wilson said all three parties agreed to work on economic issues for the province. Wilson said he fears if the government isn’t vocal about its support for the jobs, Bell might look to move them elsewhere.

The news is better for those holding stock in the company. Existing public minority shareholders are being offered cash or shares of BCE stock (or a combination of both) in return for selling their Bell Aliant stock.

Bell wants to take Bell Aliant private to get access to its consistent $1 billion in cash revenue earned annually, mostly to satisfy BCE shareholders with a more reliable and consistent dividend payout.

Although Bell promises it will continue to invest in Atlantic Canada, its own financial disclosures show customers in the region will see spending on upgrades and other service improvements cut as a result of Bell’s actions.

Bell has committed to spending an average of $420 million a year across Atlantic Canada, but as an independent, Bell Aliant was investing $578 million annually, primarily on fiber upgrades. Over the next few years $160 million of the investment budget will be diverted to maintain a healthy divided payout for BCE stockholders. As of May 2014, BCE was paying a dividend of $0.6175 per quarter with common shares outstanding of 777.3 million, for a quarterly dividend payout of about $480 million per quarter, or $1.92 billion per year. As Bell Aliant shareholders cash out their holdings or convert them to BCE shares, the growing number of BCE shareholders will require Bell to spend more to satisfy dividend payouts. In fact, BCE may transfer enough money out of Bell Aliant’s operations to raise its dividend for all BCE shareholders to attract new investors.

Reduced spending will mean reduced upgrades for Bell Aliant customers. Bell is not promising significant cost savings from merger-related synergy, so capital spending will likely suffer the most as a result. So will customers.

HissyFitWatch: Canadian Telecom Companies Annoyed Consumers Getting The Upper Hand

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

Canadians are demanding a better deal from their cable and phone companies and they are forced to respond.

As the United States battles back against the introduction of usage caps and rising prices for broadband service, increased competition and regulated open wholesale access to some of Canada’s largest broadband providers have given Canadians an advantage in forcing providers to cut prices and improve service.

Canadians can now easily get unlimited broadband access from one of several independent ISPs that piggyback service on cable and phone networks. Some large ISPs have even introduced all-you-can eat broadband options for customers long-capped by the handful of big players. As customers consider switching providers, cable and phone companies have been forced to cut prices, especially for their best customers. Even cell service is now up for negotiation.

The more services a customer bundles with their provider, the bigger the discount they can negotiate, say analysts who track customer retention. Bell, Rogers, Telus, and others have a major interest keeping your business, even if it means reducing your price.

“It’s far more lucrative for the telecom company to keep you there for the third or fourth service,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told AP. It cuts down on marketing, service and installation calls, he added.

Getting the best deal often depends on your services, payment history, and how long you have been a customer. Cellphone discounts are the hardest to win, but customers are getting them if they have been loyal, carry a large balance and almost never pay late.

telus shawBigger discounts can be had for television and Internet service — cable television remains immensely profitable in Canada and broadband is cheap to offer, especially in cities. Americans often pay $80 or more for digital cable television packages, Canadians pay an average of $60.

Internet service in Canada now averages $45 a month, but many plans include usage caps. It costs more to take to the cap off.

Because of Canada’s past usage cap pervasiveness, online video is not as plentiful in Canada as it is in the United States. There has been considerably less cord-cutting in the north. Despite that, Canadians are ravenous online viewers of what they can find to watch (either legally or otherwise). As usage allowances disappear or become more generous, online video and the Internet will continue to grow in importance for service providers.

Customers should negotiate with their provider for a better deal, particularly if Bell’s Fibe TV is in town. Bell has been among the most aggressive in price cutting its fiber to the neighborhood television service for new customers ready to say goodbye to Rogers or Vidéotron.

Shaw and Telus battle for market share in the west and also have room to cut customer bills and still make a handsome profit.

22,000 Bell Small Business Customers Have Their Usernames/Passwords Hacked

nullcrewHackers exploited poor coding practices at an Ottawa-based third-party contractor to access and eventually publish more than 20,000 usernames and passwords of Bell Canada’s small business customers on a website.

Canada’s largest phone company is being criticized for allowing the third-party contractor access to sensitive account information, which became vulnerable after IT workers introduced security holes that bypassed Bell’s own security and encryption systems. Even worse, security experts say, Bell apparently stores customer usernames and passwords in a plain text format, accessible to any hacker.

Bell has refused to comment on the security lapse or its ongoing investigation, but the hackers are talking.

“Nullcrew” claimed responsibility for the breach on Twitter, including screenshots that suggest the group used a well-known SQL (structured query language) exploit that allowed the hackers to fish for information contained in Bell’s database.

Hackers often use automated scripts to hunt sites for security exploits and often don’t know whether they will get a handful of useless data or a treasure trove like Bell’s customer records.

bell badTrustwave Holdings, a security company based in Chicago, Ill., said in a 2013 report that poor coding practices have made the SQL injection attack a threat for more than 15 years.

“Outsourcing IT and business systems saves money only if there’s no attack,” the Trustwave report said. “Many third-party vendors leave the door open for attack, as they don’t necessarily keep client security interests top of mind.”

“Nullcrew’s” attack also discarded any pretense of encouraging clients to use passwords that are easy to remember but hard for others to guess, since Bell stored the data in an easily readable format.

Nullcrew said it alerted Bell to its security lapse more than two weeks before publishing their find online. An additional screenshot showed a Bell online customer service representative perplexed about the hacker group’s claims and likely never passed the information on to Bell’s security department.

Bell suspended the affected passwords over the weekend and is notifying customers about the security breach.

Consolidation: Financial Sector Wants Bell Canada To Buyout Maritime’s Bell Aliant

bellCanadian investment analysts are recommending that Canada’s telecom giant Bell (BCE) should explore buying out Bell Aliant, Inc. the largest telephone company in the Maritimes, to further consolidate Canada’s telecommunications marketplace.

Bell already effectively controls the phone company serving provinces east of Quebec through its 44 percent stake in the venture. Picking up the rest through a takeover would make financial sense, said Maher Taghi, a telecom analyst at Canada’s Desjardins Securities.

The Globe and Mail reports Yaghi explained in a note to investors a buyout would boost overall free cash flow for Bell (BCE), primarily from the increased revenue paid by customers for phone, television, and Internet service.

Bell_AliantBell Aliant has been one of Canada’s most conservative telecom companies serving the country’s smallest provinces in Atlantic Canada, as well as parts of rural Ontario under the NorthernTel brand and Télébec, which serves rural Quebec.

Unlike Bell (BCE), Bell Aliant has aggressively deployed fiber to the home service in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia to stem landline losses. Bell Aliant’s FiberOP customers avoid stingy usage caps that are pervasive across the rest of Canada. Its fiber network delivers strong competition to cable operators.

Bell (BCE) is already a major player in Canadian telecommunications, both with its landline operation and Fibe — mostly a fiber-to-the-neighborhood service — wireless phone and broadband, owner of more than two dozen specialty cable networks, a satellite TV service, owner of the CTV television network, new owner of Astral Media, and a few dozen radio stations across Canada. With this level of media concentration, Bell (BCE) would have a tough time trying to buy any additional media assets, but with its current de facto control, Bell would likely have little regulatory scrutiny merging Bell Aliant into its existing operations.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Aliant FiberOP Intro Video 1-2014.flv

Bell Aliant’s FiberOP introductory video explains the network and its features for Atlantic Canada. (2:20)

Competition Not: Canada’s Forthcoming Spectrum Auction Bidders a Familiar Lot

before after

Before -and- After

Hopes for increased Canadian wireless competition were dashed last week when Industry Canada released an official list of approved spectrum auction bidders mostly filled with familiar names.

Fifteen Canadian participants including market-dominant Bell, Rogers and Telus each put down a refundable 5% deposit for the Jan. 14 auction. Most of the rest of the bidders are regional providers or suspected spectrum speculators hoping to sell any acquired spectrum at a profit.

It was good news for the three largest cell companies which feared the possibility of a well-funded new entrant like Verizon Wireless. Instead of facing the deep pockets of Verizon, the three cell companies will be competing against regional providers like Quebec’s Vidéotron, Bragg Communications’ EastLink which serves Atlantic Canada, and provincial telephone companies MTS in Manitoba and SaskTel in Saskatchewan.

Two private equity firms are also participating: a subsidiary of Birch Hill Equity Partners and Catalyst Capital which holds the debt for independent Wind Mobile. Wind Mobile’s owner Globalive Communications is also registered as a participant. Both could use the airwaves in the Wind Mobile business or sell them to another provider.

“Ultimately, what would have been great is to have a well-capitalized startup, a feisty competitor coming in,” telecom analyst Troy Crandall told the Canadian Press news agency. “That would have been the best thing for consumers.”

But Canada’s best hope for lower cell phone bills was never to be found from Verizon Wireless.

“I can assure our investors that we never have and never will be leading on price,” Lowell McAdam told investors at a conference last week.

Bell Discovers It Was Ripping Off Travelers Headed to U.S.; Slashes Roaming Rates by Half

Bell's version of price competition before the government made wireless pricing a priority.

Bell’s version of price competition before the government made wireless prices and competition a priority.

After years of acute bill shock afflicting those who didn’t bother to check the breathtaking cost of using a Bell cell phone abroad, Canada’s largest phone company announced today it was cutting in half the prices it charges for mobile data, voice, and text roaming plans for customers headed to the United States.

“During the summer, Canadians told the federal government that they support wireless competition and strongly believe the wireless rules should be the same for all carriers, Canadian or international. But Canadians also told us that they want to use their smartphones a lot when they travel, and they want the price to come down,” said Bell Mobility president Wade Oosterman in a statement. “We heard you, and today Bell is cutting in half the cost of mobile roaming where Canadians travel the most: the U.S.A.”

The new, discounted rates begin Tuesday and cover the following plans:

  • 30-day travel bundle: $25 (was $50) — includes 50MB of data, 50 anytime minutes in the U.S. or to Canada, unlimited incoming text messages, 200 sent text messages.
  • 30-day travel add-ons: $20 each (formerly $40) — 100MB of data, or 100 minutes of voice calling, or unlimited incoming and sent texts.

Bell officials said the company is not stopping with the United States and plans further cuts in joint roaming rates in conjunction with their global telecom partners.

Some Canadians wonder what took the company so long.

“When you can just casually drop the price of something by half, I can only imagine how much profit you are actually making on it to begin with,” commented Mark Winn.

Analysts speculate Bell’s move is designed to preempt, or at least soothe “competition fever,” now rampant in the Conservative Harper government. Officials in Ottawa were reportedly disappointed that a rumored entry by Verizon Wireless into Canada never came to fruition. Opposition critics have labeled the current ‘all competition, no regulation’ government policy impotent. Some have also pointed the finger at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canada’s telecommunications regulator, criticized as being too cozy with incumbent market leaders.

“Viagra couldn’t grow competition in this country,” said Sally Pearson, a consumer advocate fighting to broadly open Canada’s wireless market to foreign-owned competitors. “Years of government policies that favor Bell, Rogers and Telus and flaccidity at the CRTC has given us the level of competition telecom lobbyists intended all along.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CP With Verizon out whats next for Canadas wireless space 9-3-13.flv

With Verizon out of the picture, there are no obvious candidates to take on the big three Canadian wireless providers. Canadian Press reporter Steve Rennie considers how this will impact the Harper government, its telecom policies and the telecom industry. Will Canadian consumers demand something better when Parliament returns in the fall? (2 minutes)

Verizon Says It Won’t Enter Canada; Incumbent Providers’ See Major Stock Gains

610px-Verizon-Wireless-Logo_svgExecutives at Canada’s largest telecom companies are sighing relief after Verizon announced it was not interested in competing in Canada.

“Verizon is not going to Canada,” Lowell McAdam, chief executive officer of New York-based Verizon, said yesterday in a phone interview with Bloomberg News. “It has nothing to do with the Vodafone deal, it has to do with our view of what kind of value we could get for shareholders. If we thought it had great value creation we would do it.”

McAdam added he thought speculation about Verizon’s plans in Canada was “way overblown.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Big 3 Canada telecom stocks surge as Verizon threat fades 9-3-13.flv

The CBC reports three of the largest telecom companies in Canada are seeing their stock prices soar on news Verizon won’t enter Canada. Kevin O’Leary takes a position shared by Bell, Telus and Rogers that no spectrum should be set aside for new competitors. Instead, he seeks a “winner takes all” auction, even if it means dominant incumbent carriers monopolize every available frequency. (3 minutes)

McAdam

McAdam

Verizon’s possible entry into Canada was among the hottest stories of the summer, even reported on the CBC’s national nightly news. The potential new competition provoked Bell, Rogers, and Telus — three of Canada’s largest phone and cable companies — to join forces in a multimillion dollar lobbying effort to slow Verizon down and make the wireless business in Canada less attractive. The Harper government used news of Verizon’s potential entry to promote its policies favoring competition over regulation.

Verizon Chief Financial Officer Fran Shammo said the company was considering a wireless venture in Canada at a June Wall Street investor conference.

“We’re looking at the opportunity,” Shammo said at the time. “This is just us dipping our toe in the water.”

Verizon took its toe out yesterday, despite the potential profits available in a country criticized for its extremely expensive cell phone service.

“I’m surprised that Verizon isn’t interested in Canada,” tweeted Adam Shore. “There are over 33 million suckers up here that will pay ridiculous cell phone rates.”

Bell joined Telus and Rogers to launch a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon's entry into Canada difficult.

Bell joined Telus and Rogers in launching a multi-million dollar lobbying effort to make Verizon’s entry into Canada difficult.

The three companies most Canadians now buy wireless service from denied they wanted to keep Verizon out, arguing they simply wanted a “level playing field.”

Industry Minister James Moore suggested a fourth large player could provoke a price war in a way much smaller wireless providers like Wind Mobile or Mobilicity never could. The government was willing to set aside coveted 700MHz wireless spectrum at a forthcoming auction to help a new entrant — any new entrant — get started.

Verizon’s decision to stay out might have delivered a damaging blow to the Conservative government’s “pro-competition” solution to the problem of high cell phone bills. After the announcement, Moore was left promising only that spectrum auctions would carry on regardless of Verizon’s decision.

For now, the best chance of increased competition comes from Quebecor, which is gradually expanding its wireless network. Spectrum set asides almost guarantee the owner of Quebec’s cable giant Vidéotron will be able to bid for and win significant spectrum at the upcoming auction, some at a discount.

“If Verizon doesn’t show up, they’re actually in a very strong position to buy a block of spectrum that will not be very expensive,” Maher Yaghi, an analyst at Desjardins Securities Inc., told Bloomberg News. “Wireless is currently providing them with a nice growth platform.”

Without a surprise late entrant suddenly announcing interest by the auction filing deadline of Sept. 17, many analysts predict the outcome will likely not deliver Canadians any significant changes in cell phone service and pricing. The government may also be disappointed with the auction proceeds. Canada’s big three will likely avoid overbidding and still end up dividing most of the available airwaves between them. Quebecor may end up with most of the rest at comparatively “fire sale” prices. The Montreal-based company must then decide how much it will spend to expand its home coverage areas outside of Quebec, Toronto, and southeastern Ontario.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/BNN Verizon Wont Enter Canada 9-3-13.flv

BNN reports Verizon’s decision not to enter Canada leaves the Conservative government without an effective means to moderate cell phone pricing in the country. Mary Anne de Monte-Whelan, president of The Delan Group, observed the government may be forced to take a more regulatory approach to control expensive cell service, possibly starting with roaming rates.  (7 minutes)

Bell’s Idea of Cost Savings: Fire 100 “Redundant Workers” at Acquired Astral Media

Astral Media... digested by Bell.

Astral Media… digested

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s approval of Bell-BCE’s $3.4 billion acquisition of specialty broadcaster Astral Media has resulted in the loss of at least 100 jobs in Toronto, with more to come in Montreal, all deemed “redundant” by the Canadian telecom giant.

A union representing many of the workers indicated Bell had posted notice of the workforce reduction in Astral’s offices and notified the Minister of Labour “approximately 100 people will be laid off in Toronto” as the merged companies restructure.

The layoffs are expected to include Bell Media workers at locations in downtown Toronto and the Agincourt neighborhood of Scarborough and at newly acquired Astral stations and networks.

Local 723M president Kelly Dobbs told the Toronto Star that the cuts at 299 Queen St., where she represents Bell Media workers at MuchMusic, CP24 and BNN and other television employees, haven’t hit union employees yet. So far, she said, the cuts are in management.

“So far we haven’t been hit. It doesn’t mean we won’t be,” Dobbs said Thursday, adding the notice went up about two weeks ago. “At this moment, we haven’t.”

Bell committed to spend $246.9 million on what the CRTC calls “tangible benefits” over the next seven years to create more Canadian content for its networks and stations after the CRTC initially objected to the merger last fall.

Those tangible benefits do not include Canadian employees.

Last fall, the CRTC claimed the merger would have brought no benefits to Canadian radio and television audiences and would result in the creation of an over-dominant entity, particularly in Montreal, controlling an excessive amount of Canadian media, undermining competition and diversity.

By this spring, the CRTC changed its mind.

Bell’s acquisition includes 84 Astral radio stations — 52 of which were acquired in a $1.08-billion purchase of Standard Radio in 2007. Bell now owns 107 radio stations in 55 markets across Canada as well as the CTV television network and more than three dozen major cable networks.

bell television

Bell’s television outlets include the CTV television network and many of Canada’s largest cable networks.

bell radio

Bell’s radio stations often use the same logos, formats and identities in different Canadian cities.

Canadian Wireless Carriers Freak Out Over Rumored Verizon Entry; Panic Buttons Pressed

upsetcableguyThe three companies that control 90 percent of Canada’s cell phone marketplace have set what they argue is ‘cut-throat’ competition aside to team up in a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to discourage Verizon Wireless from entering the country.

Bell, Rogers, and Telus have maintained what critics charge is a “three-headed oligopoly” in the wireless business for years, leading to findings from the OECD that Canada is among the ten most expensive countries in the world for wireless service in almost every category and has among the highest roaming rates in the world.

Americans also pay high cell phone prices, and customers of both countries will find somewhat comparable pricing when comparing prices north or south of Lake Ontario. A shopper in Niagara Falls, N.Y. can find the Samsung Galaxy S4 from a Verizon reseller for $120 with a two-year contract. A shared data service plan runs as little as $80 a month for 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and global texting. Travel across the Rainbow Bridge to Niagara Falls, Ontario, walk into a Rogers store and the same phone runs $199 with a two-year contract (most Canadian carriers used to offer three-year special reportcontracts until the government banned them earlier this year) and a service plan running $80 a month offering the same 500MB of data and unlimited domestic calling and texting. Rogers charges extra if customers want to text a customer outside of Canada, however.

Verizon is no discount carrier. Verizon management has repeatedly stressed it offers premium service and coverage and can charge commensurately higher prices for access to that network. So the idea that Verizon’s interest in entering Canada is to launch a vicious price war is suspect, according to many telecommunications analysts.

Keep Verizon out of Canada at all costs!

They are coming.

They are coming.

In June, the Globe and Mail reported Verizon had shown serious interest in acquiring Canadian cellular upstart Wind Mobile with an early bid of $700 million. Wind Mobile, one of the three significant new “no-contract” entrants vying for a piece of the country’s cell phone market, has limped along since opening for business in 2009, unable to attract much interest from customers concerned about coverage gaps and the poor choice of mobile devices.

More recently, Wind Mobile’s new owner — the Russian mobile giant Vimpelcom — has expressed an interest in selling off the carrier because it cannot gain traction against the biggest three, which also control 85 percent of mobile wireless spectrum.

News that Verizon had taken an interest in the carrier leveled shock waves across the Canadian financial markets. Shares in the three largest telecom giants fell sharply on the news. Earlier this month, Bell CEO George Cope reported that Bell, Telus and Rogers have taken a $15-billion cumulative hit on the capital markets since Verizon hinted interest in Wind Mobile.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon takes aim at telecom Big 3 with possible Wind Mobile bid 8-19-13.flv

The CBC reported earlier this summer that Verizon Wireless was interested in acquiring the 600,000 customers of independent wireless provider Wind Mobile, which has an insignificant share of the Canadian wireless market. (2 minutes)

Spending a few million, or even a billion dollars, to keep Verizon south of the Canadian-U.S. border is well worth it to the three big players who have launched an expensive campaign to block the proposed transaction and are willing to pay premium prices to keep struggling carriers from being sold to deep-pocketed American telecom companies.

bribesTelus had already done its part, attempting to scoop up another scrappy upstart carrier that wanted out of the wireless business. But the Canadian government rejected Telus’ proposed acquisition of Mobilicity, claiming it would harm efforts to expand Canadian wireless competition. Not to be deterred, Rogers is now attempting a cleverly structured deal to acquire Wind Mobile out from under Verizon with a proposed buyout worth more than $1 billion.

To avoid the anticipated rejection of the deal by Canadian regulators on competition grounds, Rogers has reportedly joined forces with Toronto-based private equity firm Birch Hill Partners that would make that firm the owners-in-name. Although Rogers wouldn’t get a direct equity stake in Wind, it would finance a good part of the deal and win access and control of Wind’s mobile spectrum for its own network. More importantly, it could keep Verizon out of Canada.

“The government is handing out loopholes to Verizon to beg them into Canada”

Cell phone companies in Canada are particularly angry that the government has set aside certain spectrum and guaranteed access for upstart providers to successfully establish themselves without having to outbid the cash-rich big three for wireless frequencies or have to build a nationwide network from scratch. Bell, Rogers and Telus have consistently opposed spectrum set-asides for small carriers, deeming them “unfair.” They argue Canadians’ voracious needs for more wireless service are unending, and it would be unfair not to sell the spectrum to benefit their larger customer bases. But hearing that Verizon, a company larger than Bell, Rogers, and Telus combined, could get preferential treatment and spectrum to enter the country has them boiling mad.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Telecom debate 8-19-13.flv

Bell’s CEO George Cope appeared on “The Lang and O’Leary Exchange” to debate the fairness of Verizon’s possible entry into Canada’s wireless market. Cope argues Verizon is getting special favors. (9 minutes)

Cope

Cope

The idea of luring a company to move or begin offering service in a barely competitive marketplace is hardly new. Cities have offered preferential policies to airlines to fly in and out of particular cities, local governments have offered tax abatements to get companies to set up shop, and providing exemptions for zoning and infrastructure have been familiar to telecommunications companies for decades.

In 1880, the National Bell Telephone Company had incorporated, through an Act of Parliament, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada (today also known as BCE), which was given the right to build telephone lines over and along all public property and rights-of-way without compensation to the public or former owners. Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Bell would later become the dominant monopoly provider of telephone service across much of eastern Canada.

When the phone companies were handed wireless spectrum to launch their wireless businesses in the 1980s, they didn’t have anything to complain about either.

None of that history impressed Bell’s current CEO George Cope, who took to the airwaves to complain Verizon was being given preferential treatment:

  • Verizon could bid on two blocks of Canadian spectrum set aside for new entrants to the market in auction later this year. Because the big three Canadian firms are not permitted to bid on these blocks, they are likely to be sold at a lower price.
  • Verizon would not have to build its own networks to remote or rural communities, but would be able to piggyback on existing networks.
  • Verizon can bid to acquire small Canadian companies such as Mobilicity or Wind, but Bell, Telus and Rogers are forbidden from bidding on them.

“A company of this size certainly doesn’t need handouts from Canadians or special regulatory advantages over Canadian companies,” Bell said in a full-page newspaper ad. “But that is exactly what they get in the new federal wireless regulations. We’re ready to compete head to head, but it has to be a level playing field,” Cope said in a TV interview, echoing Rogers CEO who also called for a “level playing field.”

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Is Verizon really the bogeyman Canada's telecom giants claim 8-19-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers have launched a lobbying campaign designed to make life difficult for Verizon Wireless if it chooses to enter Canada. The CBC reports Verizon will be able to bid on more spectrum than Canadian carriers and will have the right to roam on Canada’s incumbent wireless networks. (2 minutes)

Industry Minister Moore

Industry Minister Moore

Telus went further, claiming Verizon’s entry into Canada would result in a “bloodbath” for Canadian workers, laid off by the three largest Canadian providers to cut costs to better compete with Verizon.

But Cope said at least one Canadian carrier won’t be able to compete at all, because preferential treatment for wireless spectrum will result in at least one of the big three to lose at a forthcoming spectrum auction, guaranteeing degraded wireless broadband speeds and worse service.

The three companies have found little sympathy in Ottawa, particularly from Industry Minister James Moore, now on a road tour across Canada to promote the government’s wireless competition policies. He called the big three’s loud campaign self-serving and announced a new website sponsored by the Conservative Party of Canada to prove it.

“I think that the public instinctively knows that when they have more choices that prices go down and more competition they’re well served by that,” he told CBC News in Vancouver on Monday. “The noise that we’re hearing is about you know companies trying to protect their company’s interest. Our job as a government is larger than that, our job is to serve the public interest and make sure that the public is served in this so that’s one of the reasons why I’m pushing back a little bit.”

Industry Minister James Moore appeared on CBC Radio this morning to contest the wireless industry’s claims that Verizon is getting special treatment and will bring unfair competition to the Canadian wireless market. (7 minutes)
You must remain on this page to hear the clip, or you can download the clip and listen later.

Oppose Verizon Wireless. Do it for Canada!

But the wireless companies show no signs of backing down and have turned towards appealing to Canadian nationalism and fairness.

fair for canada“The U.S. government is not giving Canadian wireless carriers any special access to the U.S. market,” says a website launched by the big three cell providers to drum up support for a “level playing field.” “Then why is it that our own government is giving American companies preferential treatment over our own companies?”

This week, a Reuters report citing unnamed sources suggests Bell, Telus, and Rogers are about to target Verizon directly with a new campaign warning Canadians the American giant has been implicated in allowing the U.S. government open access to network and customer data, which would represent a profound privacy threat to Canadian customers.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/Bell Rogers Telus Ad 8-13.flv

Bell, Telus, and Rogers paid to produce this ad calling on Canadians to protest unfair competition from an American wireless company.  (1 minute)

So far, Canadians’ hatred of their telecommunications providers has trumped the companies’ public relations and scare tactics. The Conservative government in Ottawa is winning support for its wireless competition war, even from unlikely places.

tweet“Someone mark the date,” Tweeted one Halifax woman not inclined to vote Conservative. “Stephen Harper has done something I mostly support.”

“Eat it Telus/Bell/Rogers,” wrote a Calgary man fed up with the lack of competition in Canadian wireless.

John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa, says opposition from the big three telecom companies is obvious because they don’t want to face a fourth, powerful competitor.

“They should be scared because chances are they’re going to have more competition in the Canadian market if Verizon comes in and they are going to have to lower their prices and compete harder,” Lawford told CBC News. “It’s pretty rich of them to be talking about unfairness” when they already control 90 per cent of Canadian spectrum, he added.

Iain Grant of the SeaBoard Group, a telecommunications consultancy, said government policies to open up more competition are designed to shake things up.

“[The new rules weren’t] meant to be a level playing field,” said Grant. “[They were] meant to give a leg up [to new competitors].”

“To talk of loopholes, as some do, is to not understand that the same companies who complain most loudly about loopholes in 2013 were the recipients of even greater public largesse in 1985 when the government gifted their initial spectrum as an incentive to build a wireless business in Canada,” said Grant.

wireless north america

Few companies have taken on the Canadian big three telecom providers because of their enormous market share, at least inside Canada.

Nine out of ten Canadian wireless users are subscribed to Bell, Telus or Rogers. Trying to convince a banker to extend capital loans to effectively confront a wireless oligopoly in a country with an enormous expanse of land but not people and find enough airwaves among the 15% not controlled by the big three is an uphill battle.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Wireless war heats up 8-19-13.flv

CBC reports Industry Minister Moore believes increasing competition is the best way to cut Canadian cell phone bills. Regardless of whether Verizon enters Canada, the current government will continue to push for more competition. Even the threat of Verizon coming to Canada has already reduced prices. (2 minutes)

Why does Verizon want to enter Canada?

roamingAnalysts suspect Verizon’s interest in Canada has little to do with wooing Canadians to Big Red. Many suspect Verizon’s true interest is to make life easier for its traveling American customers who head north for business or pleasure.

Chief among the possible benefits is the elimination of roaming charges for Verizon customers.

“Verizon’s customers come into the country every day through all the bridges and ports of entries and they want to roam where they want to roam, whether that’s fishing in Saskatchewan or hunting in northern Ontario or wherever,” said Grant.

There are other apparent impediments that could limit the usefulness of Wind’s mobile network to Verizon. In addition to only operating in the largest Canadian cities, Wind’s infrastructure is built by Chinese firm Huawei and is not compatible with Verizon’s technology.

Huawei has been the subject of significant controversy because of its reported ties to the Chinese military. Fears that data could be intercepted by the Chinese government have kept many North American firms from doing business with the company.

Verizon also lacks bundling options for Canadian customers. The biggest three Canadian providers can offer telephone, television, and wired broadband service to their customers. Verizon can only offer wireless service.

Verizon has second thoughts

Perhaps most remarkable are late reports that Verizon may be having second thoughts about jumping into Canada’s wireless market.

Desjardins analyst Maher Yaghi said Verizon may have delayed its plans until after Ottawa’s auction of 700MHz spectrum planned for January to better understand the potential spectrum costs it will incur entering Canada.

Others speculate incumbent providers may be attempting to end the rationale for Verizon to enter Canada in the first place. One major development includes a much more favorable roaming deal for Verizon that could dramatically cut the costs for Verizon customers to roam on Canadian networks.

Regardless of what Verizon does, Industry Minister Moore says Canada’s goal of getting increased competition will continue.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Verizon doubts 8-15-13.flv

CBC reports Verizon may be having second thoughts about entering Canada. Verizon may not be interested in entering a political battle to win licenses to provide service and may want to acquire its own spectrum before considering buying either Wind Mobile or another competitor like Mobilicity. (2 minutes)

Bell Finds New Labor Cost-Cutter: Use Unpaid Interns Until They Drop or Wise Up

Bell_Mobility logoTwo former interns for Bell Mobility have filed complaints with Canada’s labor department alleging the company exploited an internship program to acquire the ultimate in cheap labor.

Jainna Patel, 24, spent five weeks at the wireless phone company’s intern campus in Missassauga, Ont. She was enrolled in Bell’s Professional Management Program (PMP), intended to expose workers to the fast-paced telecommunications industry. Patel expected to work with advanced wireless telecom technology and get an introduction to the industry over the course of the three or four-month program. Instead, she and other workers allege they were exposed to 12 hour days doing unpaid entry-level work including phone surveys and basic market research that directly benefited Bell and likely violated Canadian labor laws.

“It felt like I was sitting in an office as an employee, doing regular work. It didn’t feel like a sort of training program,” Patel told CBC News. “They just squeezed out of you every hour they could get and never showed any intent of paying.”

Bell’s PMP invites nearly 300 post-secondary graduates each year to work in the special facility, segregated from regular Bell employees.

Interns are allegedly pressured to work long hours and late, sometimes until 3am, and some left afraid to ask too many questions or complain.

Patel

Patel

One intern interviewed by the CBC said he lasted two months in the program and felt taken advantage of performing tedious market research that helped the company place cell towers and advertising billboards. He added he was chastised if he arrived late or complained about overtime hours.

He noted many interns had few opportunities in the jobs market, including at Bell, and many eventually returned to living at home, unemployed.

“I didn’t learn anything,” he said. “I learned not to trust corporations. I learned how life works. Anything I learned professionally was from the other interns.”

Toronto lawyer Andrew Langille, who specializes in internships and labor law, estimates the majority of the 300,000 unpaid interns working in Canada are performing work that directly benefits their host companies in violation of Canadian labor laws.

“Employers decided to use the poor economic conditions and the poor labor market as a carte blanche to begin replacing paid employees with unpaid ones,” Langille claims, noting he hears more complaints about Bell’s internship program than any other program in Canada.

“If you are out of school and you are just providing free work for an employer, then it is typically illegal,” said Langille.

But provincial laws often differ from federal law, opening up loopholes that some companies use to flout labor laws.

Bell's Creekbank Campus in Ontario.

Bell’s Creekbank Campus in Ontario.

In Ontario, provincial regulated employers, which do not include Bell, must provide training that benefits the intern without reaping any benefit from the work the intern does. Bell, which is federally regulated, is covered by Canada’s looser Labour Code, which avoids spelling out specific rules governing internships. Case law and past precedent have provided some general guidance that employers should follow, including the fact almost all work should be compensated, but it remains less clear-cut.

Patel’s complaint asks Bell to compensate her almost $2,500 in unpaid wages for her work.

Patel also explained she felt intense pressure from Bell managers to stay quiet and not file any complaints against the program, which at least one manager suggested could be at risk if the government intervened. Patel was told that could result in hundreds of interns being sent home.

Langille was unmoved.

“Is it permissible that a company that makes billions of dollars each year in profits is not paying the minimum wage? It’s ridiculous. A lot of the companies that are using unpaid labor have the ability to pay but choose not to — to save money,” Langille said.

Patel is now back at home worried she will get blacklisted by the industry for being a troublemaker.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC BC Bell accused of breaking labour law with unpaid interns 6-24-13.flv

Jainna Patel talks with the CBC about her experience as an unpaid intern for Bell Mobility, Bell Canada’s wireless division. (3 minutes)

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