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Big telcos hike internet prices amid soaring demand, revenues

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You can run but you can’t hide from internet price hikes. That’s what Sean Barry in Powell River, B.C., learned after leaving his provider, Shaw, following a couple of price increases.

He switched to competitor Telus in September only to discover that the cost of his current Telus internet plan is also going up — by $5 a month.

“I am choked over the increase so soon,” said the 71-year-old Barry, who lives on a fixed income.

“Every year it just goes up and up and up.”

Telus, Bell and Shaw are all raising prices on select internet plans over the next few months. The hikes come on the heels of internet price increases by Telus, Shaw, Bell and Rogers in 2018.

Sean Barry, of Powell River B.C., says he is on a fixed income and switched providers after Shaw increased its prices. He was unhappy to learn that his new provider, Telus, is hiking his bill by $5 a month. (Submitted by Sean Barry)

Meanwhile, Canadians are living more of their lives online and signing up in record numbers for internet service, driving up revenues for providers. 

“They can do whatever they want; it’s big business,” said Barry. “We’ve just got to suck it up.”

Price hike roundup

Beginning on Feb. 25, Telus will hike rates on internet plans by $2 to $5 a month.

On Feb. 1, Bell will raise internet prices by $5 a month for Bell Aliant customers in Atlantic Canada. In Ontario and Quebec, the telco is hiking various internet plans by up to $6 a month as of March 1.

“I laughed, because I pretty much knew it was coming,” said Christopher Provias, of Welland, Ont., after learning that he’s facing a $5 monthly increase on his Bell internet bill.

“It’s pretty much like clockwork.”

On April 1, Shaw also plans to raise rates on select internet plans. The telco declined to say by how much prices are going up.

Why raise prices?

In 2017, home internet was the fastest-growing sector of all telecommunications services.

According to the latest Communications Monitoring Report by the CRTC, Canada’s telecom regulator, 86 per cent of Canadian households subscribed to home internet service in 2017, up almost four per cent from 2016.

Canadians are also demanding faster internet speeds with more data — average monthly data use for high-speed users jumped by a whopping 30 per cent in 2017 compared to 2016.

Bell, Telus and Shaw say they have to raise rates to continually improve their networks to accommodate growing demand.

Bell said customers’ internet usage has increased by more than 500 per cent over the past five years.

“Our costs to meet that demand and provide customers with the best experience possible also continue to rise,” said spokesperson Nathan Gibson in an email.

Total Canadian internet service revenues in 2017 (Communications Monitoring Report 2018/CRTC)

Industry analyst Dwayne Winseck acknowledges that the big telcos are investing significant amounts in their networks. But he says that’s not the only reason customers face higher internet bills. 

“These price increases are at least as much, if not more, about protecting very high operating profits,” says Winseck, a professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication.

According to the CRTC report, residential internet service revenues, including applications, equipment and other related services, totalled $9.1 billion in 2017 — an 8.8 per cent increase over 2016.

‘Makes me so mad’

In a notice sent to customers facing price hikes, Bell said it invested $4 billion in its infrastructure last year. 

But that’s cold comfort for Dennis Fitt, of Truro, N.S., who’s facing a monthly increase of $9 come February for his bundled internet, phone and TV service with Bell.

“Their profits aren’t enough to cover the infastructure — this $4 billion that I have to pay for now?” said Fitt, whose family of six relies on internet for both their TV and phone service. 

“It just makes me so mad.”

Because the internet has become so important in Canadians’ lives, Fitt believes the CRTC should do something to ensure prices don’t get out of control.

“The CRTC should call [the internet] a necessity, and at that point they should be able to regulate it a lot more than they do now.”

The telecom regulator is currently exploring an internet code of conduct to address a growing number of complaints from Canadians about their internet service.

86% of Canadian households subscribed to home internet service in 2017, up almost four per cent compared to the previous year. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

While there’s no mention of price regulation, the CRTC says the code would include measures to make it easier for consumers to switch providers to take advantage of competitive offers.

For Canadians planning to make a switch, there are a growing number of independent internet providers such as TekSavvy, Distributel and Start that offer competitive rates. 

In 2017, only 13 per cent of Canadian internet subscribers were signed up with an independent, according to the CRTC report.

Reasons for the modest uptake include the fact that many are unaware of Canada’s smaller providers or are fearful of switching to a lesser-known company

Others believe they’re better off bundling their internet with other services at a discount with one of the major telcos. 

Barry in Powell River says because he has a promotional deal with Telus, if he cancelled his internet, he’d likely face a bigger bill for his phone and TV service with the company

“They’ve got you coming and going,” he said. 

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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