Category Archives: new zealand

Lessons from New Zealand on Crown telecom firms

Saskatchewan: land of wheat... and innovation?

Saskatchewan: land of wheat… and innovation?

I wasn’t being entirely serious last week when I suggested that a potential plan B for the Canadian government, in the event that Verizon opts not to expand its wireless operations north, might be to start its own Crown cellphone corporation. But lo and behold just two days later, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers - which counts many telecom employees among its ranks - echoed the idea with the same suggestion. In light of that, it’s perhaps time to examine the thought a little more closely.

The most obvious comparison to be made is to SaskTel, a provincial Crown corporation in Saskatchewan. The company competes against the likes of Bell, Rogers, Telus and Shaw across a variety of service offerings, including wireless, internet, landline phone and television. Even though the company is a relative flea compared to its rivals, it does pretty well for itself.

In 2012, it posted a profit of $130 million, with a dividend of $84 million going back to the provincial government. SaskTel began its upgrades to LTE wireless the same year, pushing its capital expenditure intensity up to a relatively high 26 per cent. Residents, for their part, seem to like the company, as evidenced by the 1.4 million accounts in a province of only a million people and its good standing in J.D. Power customer satisfaction surveys. This is probably because SaskTel’s prices tend to be better than its bigger rivals. Read the rest of this entry »


Kim Dotcom: a modern-day Robin Hood?

Kim Dotcom’s latest venture: undersea broadband cables?

Last week was a good week for modern-day Robin Hoods, with a pair of very wealthy individuals announcing major philanthropic endeavours.

There was the whopping news from George Lucas, who said he will donate to charity most of the $4 billion he’s making from the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney. The money will go toward education, which is one of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ pet causes. If you’ve seen the Oscar-nominated documentary Waiting For Superman, you’re probably aware of just how badly the U.S. education system needs such funding.

References to Lucas as a Robin Hood are made in jest, of course. Much of his existing fortune is well earned, since he’s given the English-speaking world one of its most profound cultural touchstones. The nerds who loved Star Wars, however, can be forgiven for feeling like Lucas has spent the better part of the past decade taking advantage of them, what with the prequel trilogy and his constant tinkering with the original movies. As some people joked on Twitter, the big donation just about makes up for Jar Jar Binks.

The Robin Hood appellation is probably more appropriate in the case of Kim Dotcom, the uber-rich internet entrepreneur who, as far as the copyright cops are concerned, is public enemy number one. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on November 5, 2012 in internet, new zealand, piracy


Happy birthday Sex, Bombs and Burgers!

At some point over the past two weeks, while I was busy running my crazy technology predictions for the next 10 years, we passed the one-year anniversary of the release of Sex, Bombs and Burgers. That means we also passed the second-year anniversary of this blog, which actually started out over at Both have been more successful than I could have hoped, so thanks to everyone out there for making them so!

If you haven’t read the book yet, just a reminder that you will soon have another chance to do so. A smaller and cheaper format is coming out in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand in June, while the paperback version will be out in the United States and Canada in December. As a bonus, both will have new covers while the North American version will have a tiny bit of new content at the end.

And yes, Sex, Bombs and Burgers is also available as an e-book. Check your favourite e-book store as it should be there in most of them.

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Posted by on March 14, 2011 in australia, books, new zealand, u.s., uk


A new international cover

A new version of Sex, Bombs and Burgers will be hitting bookstores in the UK, Australia and New Zealand in June. All three will have a brand, spanking new cover. I’m pleased to unveil it here:

It’s obviously very cheeky. There are things I like about this new design and things I don’t, but I’ll reserve judgment for now because I’m curious as to what you all think. Please jump in through the comments section.


Posted by on February 10, 2011 in australia, books, new zealand, uk


Don’t fear the foreign reaper

You know what they say: when it rains, it pours! Or, in the case of Canada, when it snows, it Snowmaggedons! Hot on the heels of the whole usage-based internet billing fiasco, the Federal Court on Friday dropped a bombshell in ruling that our government goofed when it let Wind Mobile, one of our new cellphone companies, start up back in 2009. It’s a huge decision that throws our telecom market into chaos. I’ve written about the repercussions in an op/ed piece for

In the meantime, it certainly looks like the issue of foreign ownership restrictions is finally going to get some attention. I’ve seen a good deal of concern from readers over the last little while on foreign ownership, both in stories and blog posts I’ve written. A lot of people don’t believe that opening Canada’s telecommunications market to foreign companies would be a good move, based on a number of fears.

There’s a few well-established ones, but I think those are easily countered. Chief among them is that we’ll sell out our big Canadian companies to foreigners, likely Americans. To that one I say: so what? Bring it on.

When Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts, a U.S. private equity firm, thought about buying Bell Canada a few years ago, someone - I can’t remember who - criticized the deal by saying he didn’t want decisions about Canadian telecom made in Manhattan board rooms. That’s about as dumb an argument as I’ve ever heard because when it comes to telecom companies, we’re talking about the pipes - whether they’re wires or wireless - that stuff travels through. It’s like complaining about how the decisions regarding the computers we use or the televisions we watch are being made in California and Tokyo board rooms. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who owns the pipes the stuff goes through. All that’s important is that we get the stuff, preferably faster and cheaper.

That fear is tied to another, that foreign firms will have no impetus to promote Canadian content, especially if they end up owning our broadcasters as well. That’s another dumb one. I won’t get into whether we need to falsely promote some notion of Canadian culture, but be that as it may, it’s actually a very simple fear to quash. All we need are some very simple and clear rules: foreign firms must devote X% of their revenue to creating Canadian programming and they must include said programming as X% of their daily content. And they can’t air it in the middle of the night when no one is watching/listening. Canadian companies currently follow these rules as conditions of having their broadcast licenses renewed, so there’s no reason we couldn’t apply them to foreign entities as well.

Another fear is that by allowing foreigners to buy Canadian companies, we’ll hollow out corporate Canada and see all of the top-level jobs leave the country. Also related to that is the possibility that a foreign owner might decide to pare down the Canadian operation by cutting jobs. Both scenarios are based on the presumption that our companies suck, and always will. Some of them probably do suck right now and could use a good round of fat-cutting, but they don’t have to stay that way. If we build good companies that service a vibrant market, the jobs will come rather than leave. If Bell or Telus or whoever could transform itself and start expanding out of Canada we could some day have our very own Vodafone, or a giant multinational behemoth. That would mean many, many more jobs of all levels right here in Canada.

In fantasizing last week about what Canada might look like if we did get rid of our restrictions, some relatively new fears came up. I’m of the belief that AT&T would become a big player in Canada, simply because it already does big business here and it would like to ease its operations and lower its costs. A few readers commented that they didn’t necessarily want a company that is known for abusing its U.S. customers to come north. That would hardly solve our problems.

In the first case, unfortunately things don’t work this way. If we open up the market, we can’t really pick and choose who gets to come in - the market decides that. If we decide we want to take steps to solve the oppressive situation we’re in right now, this is a risk that has to be taken.

But the real point is, it’s actually not much of a risk. If, for example, AT&T were to buy Bell Canada, there probably wouldn’t be any real change in the level of customer oppression. However, if AT&T were to buy a smaller company - I suggested MTS Allstream - it would immediately be put into the role of challenger to the likes of Bell, which is the reverse of its situation in the United States, where it is the incumbent.

In the end, market position determines market behaviour. Put another way, the level at which a company behaves like a bastard is directly proportionate to how much of the market it controls. Challenger companies have much more reason to be friendly to their customers than market leaders do.

This isn’t just theoretical - I had a front-row ticket to this phenomenon a few years ago in New Zealand. There, Telecom New Zealand was the big, evil phone company. TelstraClear, a smaller company owned by Australia’s Telstra, was the challenger. For years, TelstraClear fought Telecom to get better access to its network, and the company also built some of its own cable infrastructure in the capital city of Wellington. For the most part, internet speeds and prices were better in Wellington than they were in most other parts of the country. TelstraClear was generally considered a better company to get services from.

On the other side of the Tasman Sea, it was the exact opposite. Telecom fought against Telstra for better access rules and generally positioned itself as a consumer champion through its AAPT subsidiary. The irony was not lost on anyone - the two companies were bitter enemies, but whether they were bastards or not depended on which country you were talking about.

Such is bound to be the case in Canada. There will likely be foreign takeovers of incumbents, but there will also be acquisitions of smaller players or startups of new companies. As long as there are new, hungry challengers, they will be friendlier to consumers in their services and prices, regardless of their relative doucheyness back home.

ALMOST FORGOT: In writing this post up last night, I forgot to include perhaps the best example of this dual douchey-ness. Few would doubt that Wind Mobile has positioned itself as a champion of the Canadian consumer. The whole concept is in the company’s very DNA. But let’s not forget that the company behind Wind, Egypt’s Orascom, is also the only cellphone provider in North Korea. Doing business with Kim Jong Il scores some serious points on the bastard scale. More proof that behaviour in one country doesn’t necessarily equate to the same behaviour in another.


Posted by on February 7, 2011 in australia, new zealand, telecommunications


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