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VMedia to go public in proposed reverse takeover of junior oil company Phoenix

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VMedia, the upstart internet and cable provider known for lower prices and a legal spat with rival Bell, is moving to become a public company, announcing a proposed reverse takeover of a resource company listed on the TSX Venture exchange.

The move signals a growth strategy by VMedia, and a way to raise money to expand and offer its services to more customers.

The telecommunications industry in Canada is heavily dominated by five big companies — Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw/Corus, and Quebecor — in what has been a notoriously closed market to new entrants. 

“This is just an opportunity for us to be able to pursue growth a little bit more aggressively. It opens up opportunities for us in terms of expansion of our business,” said VMedia’s George Burger.

Phoenix Oil  is a junior oil and gas company with royalty interests in Alberta and British Columbia as well as Ecuador. The company is currently valued at $7.3 million but has seen annual revenues fall sharply from $39 million in 2014 to just $1.6 million last year. 

“We’ve been seeking somebody with operating assets that is cash flow positive as an investment partner,” said Phoenix CFO Mike Kindy. 

“We’ve conducted a search, we’ve looked at VMedia, and we’re enthused to go forward with VMedia,” he said. 

But VMedia isn’t taking over Phoenix because of its oil business. The move would allow VMedia — a privately held company — to in effect become a publicly traded company without the hassle and expense of an initial public offering or IPO, which is traditionally how private companies sell themselves to the public by offering shares.

“It really dramatically broadens the base of potential investors in the company,” said Burger. “And that’s really what we’ve been looking for for quite a while.”

“The business has been essentially a self-financed, bootstrap operation from Day 1 and it will be very exciting to be able to have some resources to pursue things a little bit more strategically and aggressively,” he said.

Founded in 2013 by Burger and Alexei Tchernobrivets and headquartered in Vaughan, Ontario, VMedia is an independent telecom service provider offering internet, home phone, home security, and television and cable packages.

VMedia is licensed by the CRTC to offer TV services nationally, which it does through IPTV or television over internet protocol. The company recently launched in the Atlantic provinces and with the potential increased access to capital it should be able to accelerate its growth plans.

“It’s been fairly aggressive in trying to expand its footprint,” said Dwayne Winseck, professor at the School of Journalism and Communications at Carleton University. 

Winseck, who is also the Director of the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project, says smaller companies like VMedia, TekSavvy, Distributel and others have been fighting for access to a Canadian market dominated by Big Telcos for more than 20 years. 

“This access to more capital could help [VMedia] build out its footprint as both an [internet] access provider and as an alternative cable service.”

“One of the key things that has held back these entities (smaller, independent ISPs and telcos) is a lack of access to the capital markets. So if this is a way to get more access to capital … than I think it’s just one more arrow in its quiver to continue to scratch away at the edges [of the Canadian telecom market].”

Winseck says smaller companies may have a very small market share in relation to the big telcos but they have been able to introduce some competition and helped lower prices.

As one such newer, smaller entrant, VMedia has had a history of using creative and controversial tactics to grow its business. Perhaps the best example is its legal battle with Bell over VMedia’s “skinny basic” cable package offered through an app on a digital media player.

VMedia’s package was nearly $8 per month cheaper than those of the big telcos.

Shortly after it launched, Bell Media sent a cease and desist letter threatening legal action if VMedia did not remove Bell’s signals from the new service, contending VMedia was violating copyright laws.

As a licensed BDU (Broadcasting Distribution Undertaking), VMedia is generally allowed to retransmit over-the-air TV signals at no cost on its own network. But it was offering the service through the Roku player over the open internet and didn’t require a specific VMedia internet subscription. 

A judge sided with Bell and ordered VMedia to pay $150,000 in legal costs

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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained

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(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud

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(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money

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(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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