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Vidéotron Launches 4G LTE Network in Quebec With Speeds Up to 40Mbps

videotron

Vidéotron, Quebec’s largest cable operator, has switched on its upgraded 4G LTE wireless network for the benefit of its mobile customers, offering real world wireless speeds up to 40Mbps.

LTE-capable devices will automatically connect to the new wireless network immediately, boosting speeds and network performance. Customers with older devices that are LTE-compatible may need a new LTE SIM card, available at any of the company’s stores at no charge.

“At Videotron, innovation is rooted in 50 years of history,” commented Manon Brouillette, president and CEO of Vidéotron. “Today, we have reached another watershed in our progress by bringing consumers this state-of-the-art mobile network.”

Vidéotron is a smaller player in a wireless market dominated by Bell (33% market share), Rogers (29%), and Telus (28%) but has grown significantly since the 2008 spectrum auction that allowed the cable operator to build out the wireless network in launched in 2010. Today the company has more than 550,000 customers and between 10-13 percent of the market, mostly in Quebec where Vidéotron’s network reaches 90 percent of the province.

Ottawa is watching the cable company’s performance closely, perhaps believing Vidéotron is Canada’s best hope to be the fourth largest carrier in the country. But most of the company’s wireless facilities are in Quebec and it is unknown if Vidéotron can or will be able to build a nationwide network of its own.

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Canada Declares War on Paper Statement Charges; Some Want $5.95/Month Just to Mail Your Bill

Phillip Dampier September 4, 2014 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

One_Bill_ENCanadians pay between $495-734 million a year in extra charges just to receive a mailed copy of their monthly bill for cell phone, cable and broadband service. Now the Public Interest Advocacy Centre wants the government to ban charges for mailed invoices.

Jonathan Bishop, PIAC’s Research Analyst, said, “a majority of consumers have indicated their disapproval of being charged extra for a paper bill. Most Canadians believe supplying a paper bill in the mail without having to pay an extra fee is part of the company’s cost of doing business.”

If you ask most cable, phone and satellite companies about their paper billing policies, they will claim the fees are designed to encourage people to adopt more ecofriendly online billing. But the poor and elderly, who often lack Internet access, are forced to pay extra monthly fees just to find out how much they owe their providers.

Some providers have also been quietly increasing those paper bill fees, which now reach as high as $5.95 a month.

Trying to avoid a more formal regulatory proceeding, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission asked 11 major telecommunications companies to attend an informal meeting last week to negotiate curtailing the fees. The meeting fell apart with providers only willing to exempt certain customers from the billing fees, which have become a lucrative new source of revenue for many.

As of last November, 36 companies said they do not charge for paper bills, while 27 others charged between 99 cents – $5.95 a month. Among those with customer-friendly free paper bills: Shaw Communications, Manitoba Telecom, SaskTel and Bell Aliant. Those charging $2 a month for a paper bill include Rogers Communications, Telus, and Bell/BCE.  Rogers and Bell charge the fee for home phone, wireless, Internet and television services while Telus only charges for wireless and Internet bills.

Quebecor Inc.-owned Vidéotron Ltée wants $3 a month for wireless customers seeking a detailed paper bill listing all calls, texts and data used, but a less comprehensive standard bill can be obtained free of charge.

Wind Mobile, one of Canada’s new wireless competitors, charges $4 a month for a paper bill and one of their affiliated companies OneConnect, serving businesses with VoIP service, charges $5.95 a month.

The 11 largely intransigent companies: Bell Aliant, Bell Canada, Cogeco Cable, Eastlink, Globalive, MTS Allstream, Québecor, Rogers, SaskTel, Shaw, Telus only came to unanimous agreement that customers with “no personal or home broadband connection, persons with disabilities who need a paper bill, seniors aged 65 and over and veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces” will be able to avoid a paper bill fee, if charged. The exemptions take effect Jan. 1, 2015.

“While the companies agreed to adopt consistent exemptions to such fees, they were unable to reach a consensus to eliminate them entirely,” said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais. “Many Canadians who will not benefit from the exemptions will be disappointed with the outcome so far.”

The CRTC is going to further survey Canadians before deciding what actions to take next.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CTV Telecoms Will Exempt Some from Paper Bill Fees 9-1-14.flv

CTV reports consumers are frustrated about rising paper bill fees. The CRTC’s efforts to end the fees ran into profit motives — Canadian companies earn up to $700 million annually from bill printing. (1:48)

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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.

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Rogers CEO Self-Servingly Declares Canada Can’t Handle Four Wireless Competitors

Laurence is the ex-CEO of Vodafone.

Laurence is the ex-CEO of Vodafone.

The new chief executive of one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies has declared the country can’t support a fourth national wireless competitor because it will simply cost too much to build and maintain.

Guy Laurence has been very vocal about Canadian telecommunications policies since taking over for Nadir Mohamed who retired last year.

This week Laurence announced a reboot of Rogers Communications he dubbed v3.0, designed to face the “hard truth” that most Canadians despise the cable and wireless company.

“Every day I marvel at what an amazing company Ted [Rogers] built, Laurence said, referring to the company’s founder. “The mix of assets, the culture of innovation and depth of employee pride is extraordinary. But we’ve neglected our customers, and we’ve let our legacy of growth and innovation slip. The plan I’ve laid out will significantly improve the experience for our customers and re-establish our growth by better leveraging our assets and consistently executing as One Rogers.”

Most of the changes Laurence plans relate to its poorly-rated customer service. Laurence has insisted that all customer service functions, including call centers, customer service, service technicians and marketing will be combined into a single unit that will report directly to him.

But Laurence said nothing about improving service plans, dropping usage caps, or lowering prices.

rogers csSeveral long time Rogers executives are out the door, either voluntarily or quietly pushed out.

“When you remove overlap and reduce bureaucracy, and you create agility, then it takes less people in management. So there will be job losses at the management level. No doubt of this,” Laurence said. “But because this is not a cost story, I don’t have a dollar value or a number of people. I don’t even have the vaguest idea in my head what that might be.”

Like many American cable companies, Rogers has lost video customers although it is still growing its broadband business by picking up ex-DSL customers. With overall growth flat during 2013, the new CEO wants to maximize shareholder value by limiting the number of costly new projects launched. Instead, Laurence promised “fewer, more impactful initiatives” under Rogers 3.0.

Rogers will continue to depend heavily on its profitable wireless division, which competes against Bell and Telus.

Although Canadian government officials have repeatedly sought a fourth national competitor willing to break with tradition in the wireless market, Laurence says the government is engaged in wishful thinking if it believed a fourth carrier would shake things up in Canada.

“I’m not saying the government is wrong. I’m not saying that they should change their policy. My personal view is that it is difficult to see a scenario where a fourth carrier will be successful,” Laurence said. “What you saw in Europe was a number of different countries who pursued the four-carrier option for a period of five to seven years. It was politically very popularist and they were happy to follow that. What you clearly see now, and I cite Germany and France, is that they’ve started to realize that given the capital complexity involved in these companies, it is very difficult to support a fourth carrier.”

Canadian wireless companies have recently embraced a study by the Montreal Economic Institute that declared the presence of a fourth national carrier would be “wasteful.”

“It may be preferable for financial resources … to be concentrated in the hands of a few strong players willing to invest in new technologies and services rather than scattered among several small and feeble competitors trying to survive by selling at prices barely above marginal costs,” the report said.

The Montreal Economic Institute won't reveal its donor list of corporations that pay for its research.

The Montreal Economic Institute won’t reveal its donor list of corporations that pay for its research.

The Montreal Economic Institute is “funded by the voluntary donations of individuals, businesses and foundations that support its mission.” The MEI does not disclose the specifics of its donors, however, for fears that “organizations similar to the MEI” would have an opportunity to solicit funds. The foundation of the MEI’s mission statement is couched in basic free market ideology, such as the Randian conception that “people who make money are creating wealth.”

Despite asking repeatedly, MEI will not disclose whether its telecom-related studies were funded by the telecommunications companies named in their reports. But there is little doubt of MEI’s economic philosophy.

Michel Kelly-Gagnon, the president and CEO of MEI, has written a number of opinion pieces that further illuminate the mission of the organization, notes The Telecom Blog. Included among them are articles that suggest “true entrepreneurs… deserve our gratitude” and pieces decrying a “tax the rich” mentality. There’s even a bit about the “dangers” of so-called “Soviet imagery,” citing the “intellectual and moral recklessness” in a pair of teens audacious enough to wear red T-shirts featuring USSR emblems.

Canada’s Competition Bureau, less concerned with Soviet nostalgia, found different results from increased competition – at least $1 billion in savings as competing carriers are forced to increase the wireless penetration rate while working to lower prices.

Laurence said the only way a four-carrier government policy could work in Canada is if the federal government put up taxpayer money to build, update, and run a “modern communications network” across the country. If that happens, Rogers and other companies will only be too happy to use it to offer expanded service and competition, with no commitment it will cost any less.

http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/MEI -- The State of Competition in Canada's Telecommunications Industry -- Paul Beaudry IEDM.flv

Paul Beaudry, associate researcher at the Montreal Economic Institute offers the amazing conclusion that more wireless competition in Canada is bad for consumers! (4:16)

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SaskTel Exposes Predatory Wireless Pricing from Telus, Bell, and Rogers

sasktelTelus, Bell and Rogers charge customers as much as 45 percent less on wireless service where they face a fourth regional competitor in a case of suspected predatory pricing that could threaten the viability of competition in Canada’s wireless marketplace.

SaskTel, a crown corporation, is one of several Canadian regional wireless providers. The Saskatchewan Telecommunications Holding Corporation, based in Regina, said SaskTel’s revenue and net income dipped to $1.205 billion and $90.1 million, respectively. SaskTel (which has net income of $106.2 million in 2012) projects this will be only $59.2 million next year.

The dramatic drop in revenue, in part, comes from suspiciously low wireless rates in areas where SaskTel and other regional providers operate.

Sudden rate cuts were introduced last summer and are available only to customers where regional firms offer wireless service. Vidéotron in Quebec, EastLink in the Maritimes, MTS in Manitoba, and SaskTel in Saskatchewan are all impacted. But the savings don’t extend outside of these competitive areas, leading to whispered accusations that the Big Three are engaged in predatory pricing behavior, designed to undercut competitors while maintaining high rates for everyone else.

Styles

Styles

SaskTel president Ron Styles told The Leader-Post Telus has been offering customers in Saskatchewan a rate 45% lower than customers in Red Deer, Alberta pay. SaskTel is forced to match those rates to stay competitive, but it has hit the crown corporation’s finances hard.

“We’re very concerned; it’s had a major impact,” Don McMorris, cabinet minister responsible for SaskTel, told the newspaper.

Although many customers are happy paying a much lower mobile phone bill, the savings may prove temporary.

Canada’s three national carriers have proved particularly adept as killing off any competitors threatening their 90%+ market share. Public Mobile found it difficult to attract new customers away from rival Telus, so as the business floundered, Telus made the upstart company an offer it couldn’t refuse, shut down Public’s network, and transferred customers to its own network.

Although stopping short of directly pointing the finger at the Big Three, Styles is headed to Ottawa to discuss the implications of predatory pricing on SaskTel’s future. But he left no doubt something is up.

If Bell, Telus and Rogers can afford to offer low rates here and on other “4th carrier” turf, does that mean their wireless rates are needlessly high elsewhere, Styles asks. Or are the Big 3 engaged in “predatory pricing” — selling something below cost to damage or destroy competitors and keep new entrants out of the market.

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Cogeco Won’t Lower Your Bill; Warns Customers Not to Be “Victims” of Landline Cutting

Phillip Dampier April 14, 2014 Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News No Comments

cogecoDespite growing competition from Bell’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood service Fibe, now expanding into many of Cogeco’s outer suburban service areas, Cogeco will not negotiate a better deal for customers, preferring to emphasize its customer service and “right-sizing” bundles of services to best meet customer needs.

As a result of higher prices, Cogeco’s earnings and profits are up for the second quarter of 2014. In the quarter profits rose to $58.5 million — up from $48.9 million during the same quarter a year ago. Revenue rose to $518.4 million from $458.5 million.

“We don’t like competing on price,” said Cogeco CEO Louis Audet said. “I’m not saying it’s zero, but we really don’t like competing on price.”

Audet

Audet

Customers have been offered sign up discounts from Cogeco’s most aggressive competitor on pricing – Bell. But when customers in parts of Ontario and Quebec call Cogeco to negotiate for a lower price, they are largely being turned down.

Audet said Cogeco instead emphasizes that customers will receive better customer service from the cable company, and customer retention specialists are trained to adjust packages to emphasize the services customers want without cutting their cost.

“It’s a right-sizing exercise,” Audet said. “Maybe the person wants a little less video, but they want higher Internet speeds.”

Cogeco isn’t winning the battle to keep its price-sensitive customers, however. The company lost 10,305 subscribers in the second quarter, nearly double the amount lost in the same quarter a year ago. Cogeco now serves 1.96 million Canadian cable television customers.

Customers are also dropping their Cogeco phone service, a decision Audet said makes them “victims” of cell phones. Cogeco permanently disconnected 6,000 landlines in the quarter, up from 5,550 a year ago. It still serves 473,000 phone customers.

The company lost almost 6,000 telephone customers in the quarter compared with additions of 5,550 in the same quarter last year. It had more than 473,000 residential phone customers left.

Despite the customer losses, rate increases more than made up for lost revenue, giving the company a nearly $10 million boost in profits during the second quarter alone.

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Telus Implementing Usage-Based Billing April 21; Already Raised Broadband Rates in Feb.

Phillip Dampier April 3, 2014 Canada, Internet Overcharging, Telus No Comments

Telus is notifying customers in Prince George, B.C. and surrounding areas it will begin imposing usage-based billing for Internet service effective April 21.

Despite claims that implementing usage-based charges will save customers money, nearly every Telus broadband user is already paying a higher bill because of a rate increase announced in late January.

logoTelus

telus data allowance

Telus’ usage allowances range from 15GB a month for High Speed Lite users to 400GB for Telus Internet 50 users. Telus is also imposing a scaled overlimit fee system based on the total amount of excess usage. Customers face a $5 overlimit fee for up to 50GB of overuse to a maximum of $75 for 350GB and above. A typical customer with a 150GB usage allowance using 250GB would pay the usual $55/month broadband charge plus a $25 overlimit penalty, raising the price of service to $80.

Starting in June, Telus will introduce an Unlimited Internet Usage option (price not disclosed) for any of their Internet plans.

overlimit fees

Telus wants to fence in "data hogs" with "fairness."

Telus wants to fence in “data hogs” with “fairness.”

“It’s fair that people pay for how much they use, as you would with any other service,” Telus explained. “Our goal is to offer customers a broad spectrum of plans that meet everyone’s needs, and to get customers on the right plan for them.

“Someone who uses their basic Internet service for a bit of email, Skyping with the grandkids, and sharing photos shouldn’t pay as much as someone who games and downloads hundreds of gigabytes of videos every month,” Telus added.

Of course, every customer is already paying more after Telus raised its broadband rates on Feb. 26.

“The cost of managing, expanding and improving our network continues to rise,” Telus explained. “We’re doing our best to keep rate increases as moderate as possible, while still offering great services, flexibility and good value.”

So effectively no customer is actually saving any money with Telus’ usage-based billing. They are actually paying more today and could potentially pay much more when overlimit fees take effect later this month.

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Regulators@Work: CRTC Smacks Canadian Adult Networks for Showing Too Little Canadian Porn

Phillip Dampier March 6, 2014 Canada, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

aovWhile you wait for Canada’s telecommunications regulator to wake up and realize the country is in the grip of an anti-competitive broadband duopoly, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is busy making sure Canadian heritage is protected with requirements that adult networks air enough homegrown porn.

In a notice published Wednesday, the CRTC notified Toronto-based AOV Adult Movie Channel, AOV XXX Action Clips and AOV Maleflixxx they were allegedly not in compliance with their license obligating them to feature at least 35 percent Canadian-produced content, at least 90% of it is closed-captioned for the hard of hearing.

Channel Zero, which owns the adult networks, was also cited for similar violations affecting its Movieola and Silver Screen Classics networks.

Canadian reporters asking penetrating questions about how the CRTC exactly monitors compliance of Canadian content requirements on the affected networks went unanswered.

The networks do run a regular series of shorts called “Canadian Quickies” that are inserted throughout the program schedule, which may be their attempt at complying with the content rules.

With the networks apparently not in compliance, the CRTC is accepting public comments on whether the licenses for all the networks should be renewed or canceled. Comments are due by Apr. 4 and the CRTC plans a full hearing on the matter Apr. 28.

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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.

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Quebec’s Cogeco Shopping for U.S. Cable Companies to Buy

Phillip Dampier February 6, 2014 Atlantic Broadband, Canada, Cogeco, Competition No Comments

cogecoWith the Canadian cable business locked up by Shaw, Rogers, and Vidéotron, Ltd., suburban Ontario and Quebec cable operator Cogeco announced intentions to acquire at least one small U.S. cable company later this year after it pays down more debt.

CEO Louis Audet told shareholders that cable operators in Canada are large, very profitable, and absolutely not for sale. That leaves few growth opportunities for the fourth largest cable operator in Canada. Instead of spending money to expand its current footprint into unserved areas, the company will look south of the border for buying opportunities.

Audet

Audet

“What you see is pretty much what you get unless something really special comes out of left field,” Audet said. “The potential exists in the U.S. where it doesn’t in Canada.”

Cogeco’s financial resources are too limited to challenge the three largest cable operators in the country, and Audet said Cogeco has no intention of selling its own business. In eastern Canada where Cogeco provides service, Rogers Communications would be the most likely to buy Cogeco. Rogers tried, and failed, to acquire Quebec-based Vidéotron in 2000 — losing out to media conglomerate Quebecor. But Rogers did succeed in picking up Shaw’s Ontario-based Mountain Cablevision, Ltd. last January.

Cogeco has pursued other cable companies outside of Canada in the past. Its acquisition of Portugal’s Cabovisao in 2006 was widely panned, and after Portugal’s economy crashed in the Great Recession, Cogeco ended up writing off its net investment, taking a $56.7 million loss. Cogeco acquired Cabovisao for $660 million and sold it to ALTICE six years later for the fire sale price of $59.3 million.

atlanticIn 2012, Cogeco acquired rural and small city cable operator Atlantic Broadband for $1.36 billion. Atlantic offers service in Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Delaware, and South Carolina — mostly in communities ignored by Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Possible Cogeco acquisition targets include Cable ONE, WOW!, Wave Broadband, SureWest/Consolidated Communications, Midcontinent Communications, Buckeye Cable, and/or Blue Ridge Communications, to name a few.

In the meantime, Cogeco is following the lead of U.S. cable operators by intensifying service expansion in commercial areas, particularly industrial parks and office complexes. Selling larger businesses cable broadband could net Cogeco $600-1,200 a month per account.

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