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Increased Investment and Fierce Competition Brings 1.5 Gbps Internet to Western Canada

Phillip Dampier November 12, 2020 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Shaw, Telus No Comments

Shaw is western Canada’s dominant cable operator.

While American cable companies have cut back investing in their high-speed broadband services as competition languishes, a price and service war has erupted between western Canada’s biggest cable and phone companies, with consumers winning the benefits of increased investment and fierce competition.

Shaw Communications, the largest cable company west of Ontario, has just upped the ante with the introduction of 1,500/100 Mbps unlimited internet service for $127 (all prices in $US) a month. The new speed tier, known as Fibre+ Gig 1.5,  is delivered over Shaw’s existing DOCSIS 3.1 cable broadband network, and is already available in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, and Victoria, and is gradually expanding outwards to smaller cities, including Banff in Alberta, and Burnaby and Dawson’s Creek in British Columbia. Shaw also offers a traditional gigabit unlimited plan in most of its service area, offering 940/25 Mbps for $88/month. Both high-speed plans include a two-year contract.

“The hard work and investments we’ve made in building, upgrading and expanding our Fibre+ and Fast LTE networks and services — nearly $22.8 billion over the past seven years — allow us to deliver these ultrafast speeds to western Canadians over our existing infrastructure,” said Zoran Stakic, chief operating officer and chief technology officer. “These ongoing investments are the foundation to providing our customers service beyond one gigabit today and ultrafast speeds to more places in the future.”

“We know that there’s a growing segment of people — including heavy gamers, content creators and super streamers — who need access to ultrafast internet services, and that need has only increased during the pandemic as many of our customers manage the reality of having multiple people working from home and sharing bandwidth,” said Paul Deverell, president of Consumer, Shaw Communications. “With the launch of our Fibre+ Gig 1.5 product, we are delivering the speeds and capacity needed by today’s super users and data-heavy customers, while confirming Shaw’s position as the western Canadian leader in gigabit speed deployment.”

Telus is western Canada’s largest phone company.

Shaw’s increased investment is designed to fend off its chief competitor, Telus. In 2020, Shaw discovered a growing number of its broadband customers defecting in favor of Telus, the region’s telephone company. Telus is expanding its own high-speed offering, which relies on fiber to the home service. In some areas, Telus offers 940/940 Mbps service on a two-year contract for $76 a month and a 1,500/940 Mbps plan for $127 a month — which matches Shaw’s price but vastly exceeds Shaw in upload speed. To further sweeten the deal, Shaw gives its premium-speed internet customers discounts on Shaw Mobile services — including the exclusive rate of $25 per month on Unlimited Data wireless plans for Shaw Fibre+ Gig 1.5 and Fibre+ Gig internet subscribers.

Shaw claims its infrastructure has made it possible to offer gigabit service to at least one million more western Canadians than Telus. Telus has been gradually scrapping its legacy copper wire network in favor of fiber optics, but will likely take over a decade to complete the transition in significantly populated communities.

While Canadian cable companies are pushing DOCSIS 3.1 to the limit, American cable companies have taken it easy this year, reducing estimated budgets for network investment, returning to data caps, and putting further upgrades to next generation DOCSIS 4.0 on hold for at least a year or two. With AT&T and Verizon distracted and focused on spending billions to build 5G wireless networks, both companies have stopped significant expansion of fiber-to-the-home service for residential customers, reducing competitive pressure on cable operators. This reduced competition allows cable companies an opportunity to raise rates on broadband customers, and Charter Spectrum has done exactly that, announcing a general $5/month increase on residential internet service to take effect by the start of 2021.

Unlocked Phone Rule Sparks Carrier-Alleged Smartphone Crime Spree in Canada

Phillip Dampier August 21, 2018 Bell (Canada), Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Video, Wireless Broadband Comments Off on Unlocked Phone Rule Sparks Carrier-Alleged Smartphone Crime Spree in Canada

Criminals are supposedly having a field day robbing cell phone stores in Canada after regulators ordered all cell phones to be sold unlocked, allowing customers to bring their devices to other carriers.

“There have been multiple instances of armed robberies at our stores targeting unlocked, new devices,” Bell Canada complained in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). “We believe this trend is attributable to the availability of unlocked devices [that are] more desirable to fraudsters and thieves.”

Because Canada’s three major carrier-cell phone marketplace is seen as less competitive and more expensive than the United States, the CRTC has tried to keep wireless service costs under control by regulating some of the practices of the barely competitive Canadian market. One such initiative is the ban on charging unlock fees on devices, which carriers used to deter customers from changing providers. As of last December, carriers could no longer collect an average of $50 to unlock each device, and new devices had to be sold to customers in an unlocked state, allowing them to be used on any compatible wireless provider’s network.

Rogers, which runs Canada’s largest cable operator and has a major market share of Canada’s wireless market, claims the unintended consequence of the CRTC’s unlock policy is a 100% increase in cell phone thievery during the last six months the policy has been in effect. Rogers reports thieves are stealing brand new cell phones in the mail or off a customer’s front step after the shipper drops the package off. Brazen armed robberies of cell phone stores have been more common in the United States, but providers claim criminal gangs are now taking their business north of the border, holding up stores and running off with dozens of valuable phones.

Both Bell and Rogers warned the CRTC last year thievery would be the likely result of providing unlocked phones. Consumer groups claim both providers have a vested interest complaining about the new unlock policies. In 2016, Canadian telecom companies made $37.7 million from fees related to unlocking smartphones. That was a 75 percent increase in fee revenue since 2014.

Canadian consumers called unlock charges “ransom fees,” and were particularly upset paying fees after they paid off the device.

“You should be able to unlock it [for free] at the very least once you’ve paid off the device. You own it,” John Lawford, executive director with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa told the CBC.

Lawford calls unlock fees an intended consequence of the industry’s own policies. Cell phone companies sell devices manufacturers have to lock at the behest of carriers, and then consumers face fees paid to the same carriers to undo the lock.

Canada’s providers often point to examples of armed robberies and truck hijacking south of the Canadian border as a reason to be concerned about employee and customer safety. In the view of some, an unlocked smartphone worth more than $500 is an invitation to steal.

Bell told regulators things are certain to get worse in Canada.

“It appears that illegal activity may have shifted from the U.S. to Canada as some [American] carriers have begun to lock devices,” Bell officials told the CRTC.

Bell was referring to Verizon’s unilateral announcement it began relocking smartphones in February, despite its agreement not to as part of an acquisition of 700 MHz spectrum in 2008. That prime spectrum came with strings attached, including a requirement not to disable or restrict devices that use the spectrum, something locked phones do. Verizon previously tested the waters on reintroducing locked cell phones during the second term of the Obama Administration, but the idea met immediate resistance from FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler.

In 2018, Verizon found a much more receptive audience from the Republican-dominated FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai, and has gradually returned to locking down devices on Verizon’s network. Last spring, Verizon began locking all smartphones sent to stores, to be unlocked after purchase. Verizon argued this would deter armed gangs from hijacking deliveries or raiding stores to steal phones by the dozens, to be resold to the eager black market.

After meeting little resistance, Verizon announced it would start locking phones for an arbitrary amount of time after purchase, defined in terms of “months, not years.”

If thieves obtain a stolen, locked phone, it cannot generally be activated by the customer unless taken to an authorized retailer. This theoretically leaves thieves stuck with worthless phones, which is why Canadian carriers claim the country’s unlocked phone policy will draw American thieves north. But critics suspect financial motives hold more sway. In addition to charging lucrative fees for unlocking phones, customers unable to take their device with them to a new carrier can effectively deter a provider change, especially for family accounts where multiple devices would need to be moved.

Others claim locking phones is not the best way to deter thieves, because an unscrupulous Verizon employee or reseller can still unlock them for thieves.

The wireless industry already claims to have a voluntary, industry-led initiative to dramatically reduce theft — a national database of stolen/lost phones. Under this system, a would-be customer is denied activation if their device’s unique ID appears on a list of stolen or lost phones.

CBC Calgary reports Canadians no longer face unlock fees on their smartphones and other wireless devices. (3:55)

Great North American Broadband Ripoff: Canada, U.S. Pay Double What Europe, Asia Pays

Phillip Dampier September 26, 2017 Broadband Speed, Canada, Competition, Public Policy & Gov't 3 Comments

Prices in €. (Source: European Commission)

The European Commission’s latest study on broadband pricing shows while Europe and Asia offer consumers affordable broadband, North American providers are forcing Americans and Canadians to essentially pay twice as much for equivalent levels of service.

Just as was the case in 2015, the report found some of the most costly broadband packages in the world are sold to customers in Canada and the United States. This year, the study found the average Canadian paid more than $52 a month for standalone broadband, in the U.S. an average of $42 a month. In contrast, Europeans paid an average of $30 and Asians paid $22 a month for comparable service. Customers in the U.S. and Canada with a triple play bundle package of broadband, TV, and phone service paid more than double what their counterparts in Asia and Europe did last year.

As U.S. and Canadian providers raise broadband speeds and constrict the number of service tiers they offer, customers are forced into more expensive tiers, whether they need or want them. That further exacerbates the digital divide based on broadband affordability.

In Europe, competition in many EU member states has caused prices to drop for some types of service. Double and triple play packages offering 100Mbps or less declined in price by as much as 10.6% in 2016.

The study found:

Broadband prices for budget tiers actually dropped in Europe last year.

For the download speed basket 12-30Mbps, the EU vies with Japan and in some cases Korea showing the least expensive prices in one or more of the four service bundles. The lowest price for Double Play with fixed telephony in the €28 is also the lowest compared to all the countries analysed. The EU, Japan and South Korea have relatively similar prices when compared with Canada and, in particular, the USA.

Comparing the €28 with other countries in the world, the pattern in the 30-100Mbps speed basket is similar to the 12-30 Mbps basket. Japan is the least expensive country for three of four bundles; only Single Play is slightly less expensive in South Korea. Here, the EU28 just fail to present the lowest price for Double Play with fixed telephony. Again, the EU, Japan, and South Korea stay at more or less close compared to Canada and the USA. Alternatively, Canada is the most expensive country in three of four bundles. However, USA shows the most expensive Double Play with fixed telephony – despite considering the lowest price offers in three States there.

With regard to the 100+ Mbps basket of advertised download speeds, Japan and South Korea are decisively the least expensive markets, across all service bundles. South Korea has the least expensive offer for Single Play, Japan for Double Play including TV services. For the top download speed basket, the EU lies in mid-field between the low-cost Asian and the high-priced North American countries.

Other conclusions:

• Ultra-fast broadband offers (100+ Mbps) were still most expensive in the USA and Canada
• The least expensive offer for South Korea across all bundles was faster than 100Mbps
• Compared to Japan and South Korea, European citizens have to pay similar prices for offers of up to 100Mbps, but significantly more for ultra-fast connections.

CBS Invades Canada: Launching Its All-Access Pass Service North of the Border in 2018

Phillip Dampier August 8, 2017 Canada, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video Comments Off on CBS Invades Canada: Launching Its All-Access Pass Service North of the Border in 2018

CBS All Access is coming to Canada, bringing nearly the entire lineup of CBS shows and features north of the border.

The service will launch in Canada in the first half of 2018, followed shortly thereafter in other countries in “multiple continents” according to CBS. CBS has not yet set prices for the Canadian market, but the price is expected to be comparable to the $5.99 and $9.99 (ad-free) options sold in the United States.

It isn’t known if CBS will also attempt to offer Showtime as an add-on abroad, but the network promises to include most of the 9,000 episodes of CBS and original programming available to Americans without annoying geographic restrictions for those abroad. Canadian viewers will also be able to watch CBSN, the 24/7 streaming news service developed by CBS News specifically for online audiences, as well as on-demand access to certain shows licensed by CBS but not seen on the network.

CBS All Access is available on smartphones, tablets, Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, Android TV, Fire TV, and most major game consoles.

Canada Talks TV: Preparing for A-La-Carte Cable TV; Providers Threaten Rate Hikes

Phillip Dampier December 29, 2015 Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News, Data Caps, Online Video, Public Policy & Gov't, Rogers, Video Comments Off on Canada Talks TV: Preparing for A-La-Carte Cable TV; Providers Threaten Rate Hikes
alacarte

Does Canada’s Food TV need special protection when it made 53% gross profits on the backs of cable subscribers that pay for the network whether they watch it or not?

“If you cut your cable, then your Internet is going to go up,” predicts Gary Pelletier, president of the Canadian chapter of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing.

That is just one of several predictions many Canadian cable and phone companies are claiming will come from the “disastrous decision” to allow consumers the freedom to pick and pay for only the cable channels they want to watch. Amidst claims that over 10,000 jobs will be lost, chaos and bankruptcy will stalk minority and niche cable networks, consumers will pay much higher bills, and American programming will boycott Canada fearing a-la-carte could make its way into the United States, Canada is at least having an adult discussion about the future of television and where it fits in the country’s identity.

Big changes are coming as a result of the latest great soul-searching made by our good neighbors to the north, always concerned about the potential of the Canadian Experience being overrun, if not decimated by the United States’ entertainment hegemony. In a moment of clarity, regulators have just realized what the rest of English-speaking Canada already knew: protectionist content regulations don’t work on the Internet. Canadians routinely bypass geographical restrictions and Canadian content laws with virtual private networks that relocate them, online at least, to a home address in the U.S. so they can binge-watch the unrestricted American versions of Netflix, Hulu and other online video services.

Regulators have now adopted the attitude – “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” encouraging Canadian entertainment producers to create fewer, but better shows that will not only attract Canadian audiences, but those abroad.

Only the exchange is supposed to be mutual. High quality Canadian television productions like Orphan Black, Schitt’s Creek, X Company, The Book of Negroes, This Life, 19-2, Vikings, Killjoys, Rookie Blue, and Murdoch Mysteries are all among Canadian critics’ top favorites. But relatively few Americans know these shows exist or assume they are co-productions owned by some American entertainment conglomerate. Only a brief glimpse of a Canadian flag during the warp speed end credits might clue viewers this isn’t the case.

Despite protectionist media policies that have endured since 1970, the Canadians are now boldly going where Americans have so far feared to tread. They are having the conversation about the future of television and online entertainment in all forms while American media barons remain in denial.

For average consumers, the biggest change will begin next spring when the era of Canadian a-la-carte cable television arrives, allowing consumers to take an ax to the expensive 120-300 channel television package once and for all. Starting March 1, all Canadian providers will be required to offer consumers a basic cable package priced at no more than $25 a month, containing Canadian and U.S. over the air stations and networks, educational, and public channels. If you want more, you can have it by buying channels or mini-packages of networks individually to create a personalized cable TV lineup of networks you actually care to watch.

Programmers across Canada, particularly those catering to sports fans, foreign audiences, religious viewers, and minorities are horrified by the idea. So are media critics that fear the change could help bring an end to Canada’s unique multilingual and multicultural identity.

special reportCustomers like James Rehor of Hamilton explains why.

“Why would I pay for it? Why do I get it? Why does it come on my TV?” asks the 60-year-old construction worker. He’s ready on day one to purge the large number of French and other non-English channels from his Cogeco Cable lineup. Rehor offers comfort to sports programmers, however. He’s a big fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, so Leafs TV, Sportnet, and TSN will stay.

Non-sports fans are another matter. They can’t wait to ditch the sports networks that are always the most expensive channels in a Canadian cable package.

“Clearly the most expensive (channels) will always be sports,” Pelletier tells the Canadian Press. “At the end of the day, for sports watchers, their cable bill will probably stay the same or increase, maybe … In the case of someone who doesn’t watch any sports at all, their bill will probably decrease.”

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CRTC Supporting the creation of content made by Canadians for Canadians and global audiences 3-2015.mp4[/flv]

An Age of Abundance: Canadian telecom regulators are transforming media regulations in Canada, recognizing the way Canadians watch television has changed. Quality, not quantity, is now most important. CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais discusses the new reality. (6:08)

Pelletier and his industry friends are on a mission to convince Canadians to leave well enough alone and not drop the current all-for-one price cable television package for a-la-carte — not realizing the potential consequences.

catnipSome in the cable industry have tried other scare tactics to no avail.

One industry-backed study predicted pick-and-pay could cost the economy 10,000 jobs. Consumers could care less. Unifor, a union that represents many in the television sector, seemed to agree Canada’s cultural heritage will be at risk with lowest common denominator programming dominating from St. John’s to Vancouver, much of it shoveled from the United States. But Canadians still want their House of Cards and Homeland.

Howard Law, a media spokesman for Unifor, predicts less profitable Canadian channels will fold under a pick-and-pay pricing model.

“The introduction of pick and pay will, in itself, lead to a major loss of revenues to Canadian broadcasting system, which ultimately plays out in less Canadian content and less Canadian jobs and less Canadian broadcasting,” he said in an interview on CBC’s The Exchange with Amanda Lang.

Minority interest and religious channels are also worried about their future. Most of those networks are classified as “specialty channels” by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). Legacy networks that have been around since at least the 1990s have been sitting pretty, protected by their designation as a “Category A” specialty station. Unlike in the United States, Canadian cable networks are licensed to operate by the CRTC, and at least 60 of those Category A networks also enjoy “genre protection,” a CRTC policy that guarantees their channel carriage on Canadian cable, satellite, and telco TV systems and protection from other cable networks that want to run the same kind of programming.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC How New CRTC Rules Will Change Canadian TV 3-2015.mp4[/flv]

For decades, protectionist Canadian content regulations made certain Canadian television reflected its audience. But online video and the Internet has allowed Canadians to bypass traditional cable television to watch they want, not what the government hopes they will. New CRTC rules reflect that reality as Canadian TV rethinks how to get the viewer’s attention. From CBC-TV’s The National (4:16)

CRTC policies have allowed Canadian specialty channels to flourish despite operating in a smaller marketplace with fewer viewers than their American counterparts. That means networks like FoodTV and HGTV in Canada have profit margins ranging from 53-58 percent. Fashion Television and BookTV made an improbable $2.7 million in pre-tax profit, not so much from viewers but from the licensing fees every Canadian cable customer pays for the four networks whether they watch them or not.

From its inception, Canadian TV has always faced a looming shadow from the south. Protecting Canada's identity has been a priority for decades.

From its start, Canadian TV has always faced a looming shadow from the south. Protecting Canada’s identity has been a priority for decades.

“If you’re a specialty channel that’s lived within the protective cocoon of bundling for years, you’ve gotten used to having a full-time job with benefits,” independent technology analyst Carmi Levy told CBC News. “Contrast that with living outside the protective cocoon, you’re essentially a freelancer, you fight for every contract, you have no benefits, there are no guarantees that money will be coming tomorrow or next week.”

It probably won’t be coming from subscribers like Mr. Rehor, who won’t hesitate to drop channels if they go unwatched.

The CRTC is also doing some dropping of its own, starting with genre protection, which could lead many specialty networks to follow American cable networks that today depend on chasing ratings to justify their licensing fees. The unintended result in the United States has been questionable lineup changes like the appearance of Law & Order rerun marathons on WEtv, a network supposedly dedicated to women’s entertainment. Ovation, a fine arts independent cable network that is about a niche as a network can be, depended on weekend binges of PBS’ Antiques Roadshow reruns in 2012 just to attract enough viewers to show up in the ratings.

Lesser known networks like OutTV, Canada’s only network dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender viewers, may face an uncertain future if it can’t charge a premium price to make up for expected subscriber losses from pick and pay. Other niche channels may have to merge with other networks or more likely relaunch with an online platform and deliver a reduced menu of content to audiences.

crtcLarge Canadian mainstream networks and programmers don’t expect too much change from pick and pay, as most Canadians will likely still demand a package with their programming included. But distributors – cable, satellite, and telco TV platforms, do expect some major changes. The average Canadian now pays around $50 a month for basic cable, a price that will be cut in half next spring.

Rogers Cable already knows what is coming. It ran a trial in 2011 in London, Ont., with 1,000 customers who were given the choice of picking and paying for the channels they wanted. It didn’t take long for the cable company to discover customers loved it and TV stations and cable programmers hated it.

“We found that customers like bundles, but want to build their own. They want a basic package and an extra package they create,” Rogers spokesman Kevin Spafford told the Toronto Sun. “We did get push back from TV stations. There was concern about offering this service. They did not want us to proceed with that model.”

After the trial ended, Rogers allowed the pilot project participants to keep their pick and pay packages, something they’ve held tightly for over four years.

Rogers’ pilot offered something like what the CRTC is demanding be available to all Canadians:

rogers logoROGERS PICK AND PLAY PILOT

  • $20 a month for “skinny basic” TV package of Canadian stations. (The CRTC plan mandates no more than $25.)
  • 15-channel package for $27 a month. Other packages of 20 and 25 stations also offered, for more money. (The CRTC wants networks to offer channels individually or in mini-bundles.)
  • U.S. major networks offered for $3 a month. (Under the CRTC policy, these stations may appear under the basic or a-la-carte tiers.)

REGULAR ROGERS

  • Basic: $40 a month, 190 channels
  • Digital Plus: $63, 220 channels
  • Sports packages: $77, 230 channels
  • VIP TV: $77, 270 channels
  • VIP Ultimate: $119, 320 channels

The upcoming changes are probably the biggest in Canadian cable television history, but they still may not be enough to attract cord-nevers — those who have never subscribed to cable TV. Most are under 30 and already watch all their favorite shows online. Some budget-minded Canadians who want to cut their cable bill may consider joining them by cutting the cord altogether or slimming down their cable packages, but Pelletier warns that cable operators will not leave their money on the table.

cablecordSupplementing a slimmer cable package with a streaming service or two could increase data charges, Pelletier warns. Plus, you may have to surrender any discounts you get from bundling cable with home phone, Internet and/or wireless service.

Usage capped Internet is also still an effective deterrent for cord-cutting and whether your television entertainment comes over the cable or online, providers will still make a run for your wallet. Some observers predict providers will dramatically increase the retail prices of a-la-carte networks to limit potential savings while also continuing to raise broadband prices.

A 2014 national PIAC poll found 90 per cent of 1,000 consumers polled were willing to pay an additional $1 a month per channel, while 54 per cent would be willing to go $3 a month, and 21 per cent would be willing to pay $5 a month for an extra channel of their choosing. Many don’t realize under the current system the wholesale rate for many channels is under 50 cents a month. Considering what Canadians are willing to pay, it is likely cable companies will price channels according to what the marketplace will tolerate, which could be around $3 for each channel a month.

Suspicion about any cable company offering a New Deal is something Americans and Canadians have in common. Mr. Rehor is already keeping a wary eye.

“I think it’s a good idea, I just don’t know how they’re going to really work it,” he says, fearing it could ultimately end up costing the same amount he pays now.

[flv]http://www.phillipdampier.com/video/CBC Pick and Pay TV 3-2015.flv[/flv]

CBC News offers this extended discussion about the implications of “pick and pay” cable television. (10:11)

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