Rural Ontarians want the government to take their connectivity needs seriously

According to CBC, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is pushing Ottawa “for a hefty investment in broadband expansion for rural and remote parts of the province.” In fact, for the 2019 federal budget, the OFA is asking “the feds to commit to rural Internet expansion to the tune of $100 million per year.

That sounds like a lot, right? But the OFA argues it is necessary. Neil Currie, general manager of the OFA, compared the situation to the electrification of rural Ontario, all the way back in the 1930s. Currie told CBC that the electrification process was “an essential service in the 1930s, just as broadband is essential now, and actually quite long overdue… We should’ve been doing this in the 90s.” Currie points out Southwestern Ontario as a particular part of the province that has been neglected in the past, and could benefit from this investment.

This isn’t the first time this issue has come up in Ottawa. As CBC explains, “in 2016, the federal government committed to $500 million in funding to bring broadband Internet access to 300 rural and remote communities by 2021.”

Despite the low customer density for broadband services that makes the service quite expensive, Currie believes that federal investment will ultimately benefit all Canadians. As CBC explains, “Experts say Canada has an opportunity to become a leading player in the world’s agri-food industry, but that investment is needed to make that happen.” One of these investments is equipping farmers with the tools to make their life easier, such as high-speed, reliable internet connectivity to stay up-to-date with the latest market trends, among other things.

Doug Knox, VP of Guelph-based agri-tech accelerator Bioenterprise, told CBC that one way farmers can benefit from reliable broadband is through the growth of “precision” agriculture. Farmers apparently “can now use sensors to extract information about everything from soil content to the growth stage of their crops, which helps to make data-driven decisions about fertilizing and planting.” But with poor connection, the process of collecting and downloading data is long and tedious. Knox believes many farmers choose not to implement better technologies because of the “severe” time lag.

“The yield may be lower because of not being able to understand what’s happening with the crop that’s growing, and so the impact is huge for the farmer,” Knox told CBC.

In order for Canada to feed not only its own population, but the growing world population, broadband is looking incredibly important. It is up to the federal government to decide if they deem the investment is worth it.

Source: cbc.ca – ‘Long overdue’: Ontario farmers say lack of reliable broadband Internet is hurting their business
Published: September 05, 2018

CRTC will phase out its support of local phones in hard to serve regions

Schooley Mitchell complaintsThe Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commissions spends millions of dollars each year to subsidize the cost of maintaining telephone lines . Now, the commission says it will begin phasing out that subsidy over the next couple of years to focus instead on helping hard-to-serve regions connect to broadband. According to the The Financial Post, this decision will eliminate “nearly $116 million in subsidies for local telephone service[s].”

Starting January 1st, 2019, the subsidies will be phased out semi-annually. By December 31st, 2020, the subsidies will completely end for local phone service.

In 2016, the CRTC made the decision to label broadband as a basic service, as crucial as telephone or television. Now, clearly it sees broadband as the “more critical connection.” As The Financial Post explains, “Its preliminary view was that if a person can reliably access the internet, over which they can use voice services, there is no need to subsidize residential phone lines.”

Who actually pays for these subsidies? Believe it or not, a lot of the money comes from carriers. Providers “with more than $10 million in annual revenue must contribute to a national fund that is distributed to incumbent local exchange carriers serving rural and remote areas where the monthly costs to provide service are higher than revenue.”

Not everyone is happy with this move. Opposition has bubbled up from SaskTel, Telus Corp, and Eastlink, among others, who say carriers “have the obligation to serve customers in high-cost areas, but without the subsidy could not do so with rates that are just and reasonable.”

Source: www.financialpost.com – CRTC to phase out $115 million in local phone subsidies by 2021
Published: June 26, 2018

‘Inner Circle’ unlimited iPhone data plan is cancelled, says Sprint

A year ago, Sprint’s prepaid brand Virgin launched a plan which it referred to as ‘Inner Circle.’ If you were a part of this circle, you were offered an entire year of unlimited data, just for buying an iPhone and signing onto a Virgin plan. This was available to new and existing customers who upgraded to an iPhone.

Now, according to Fierce Wireless, Sprint is finally nixing the deal. Initially, they had said the plan was only going to be available for a month, but ended up extending it for the better part of a year.

Virgin told Fierce Wireless that it is “committed to providing the best experience for our customers. Virgin Android customers have asked for Androids, so we are bringing them back into our device lineup to meet this popular demand. Current Virgin iPhone customers on an Inner Circle plan can stay on their Inner Circle plan… We now offer Unlimited Data with benefits plans starting at $35/month.”

Considering the same plan was previously available for $60 a month, the new rate is still excellent if you are looking for a new unlimited data option.

Source: fiercewireless.com – Sprint discontinues Virgin ‘Inner Circle’ $1/month iPhone plan
Published: August 29, 2018

Apple releasing two new cost-effective computers in 2018

According to The Vancouver Sun, Apple plans on releasing a “new low-cost laptop and a professional-focused upgrade to the Mac mini desktop later this year.”

Apple insiders told The Vancouver Sun that the laptop will look “similar to the current MacBook Air, but will include thinner bezels around the screen” and the display will “remain about 13-inches.” It will likely “be geared toward consumers looking for a cheaper Apple computer, but also schools that often buy laptops in bulk.” Given that the current MacBook air costs about US$1,000, we can assume this PC will be cheaper than that.

As for the Mac mini desktop computer, this will be the first upgrade in four years. It is an affordable option for users who want to customize their desktop experience because it “doesn’t include a screen, keyboard, or mouse in the box and costs US$500.” For the new model, the Apple insiders say Apple is gearing the computer towards pro users – who purchase the computer to develop apps, run home media centres, manage server farms, etc.

The Mac line of computers represent a steady eleven percent of Apple sales in the last fiscal year, beating out the iPad. At the same time, however, Apple has been under pressure to adapt the Macs to the increasing professional needs of its users. In addition to the desktop allegedly being released later this year, “Apple has sought to address this by releasing a high-end iMac Pro and a new MacBook Pro with an updated keyboard and faster processor options.”

Apple often launches new computers in October, following the launch of new iPhones.

Source: vancouversun.com – Apple to release a new low-cost Macbook, pro-focused Mac mini later this year
Published: August 21, 2018

Fido doubling data for the back to school season

According to Mobile Syrup, Canadian carrier Fido has some great deals on mobile plans for the back to school season. The publication says, “Most of the back to school plans come with an additional five extra hours of data per month through Fido Bytes, as well as Fido Xtra.”

If you have your own device you want to bring to Fido, you can “hop on” a plan for $65 a month with 6GB of data,  $75 a month for 8GB of data, $85 a month for 11GB of data, and finally $115 a month for 13GB of data. These plans are available across Canada, except Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Quebec. “Both of the prairie provinces have a 5GB for $53 deal on bring your own device plans. In Quebec the plans start at 2GB for $35 a month with unlimited minutes, and they go up to the 10GB plan for $56 a month.”

If you do not have a device to bring with you, that’s okay! These plans are available with devices as well, but of course cost more per month depending on the device you choose to purchase with the plan.

Fido’s overage rate is seven dollars per 100MB.

All back to school deals come with unlimited calling minutes, but can be substituted for 500 Canada-wide minutes in exchange for a discount of five dollars a month.

Source: mobilesyrup.com – Fido’s back to school wireless plans offer subscribers double data
Published: August 23, 2018

Traffic cameras may soon be able to connect to your smartphone

PHADE, a new technology developed by researchers at Purdue University, allows public surveillance cameras – such as the ones attached to traffic lights – to send personalized messages to civilian smartphones without knowing the address of that device.

GCN describes one possible scenario where PHADE might come in handy: “You’re about to cross a downtown street and your smartphone beeps to tell you that a text message has arrived.  As you pull out your phone to check the message as you walk, the phone receives an alert from your local police — you’re about to step into the path of a rapidly approaching SUV!”

GCN also explains that PHADE “digitally associates people in the camera’s view with their smartphones by using the subjects’ behavioral address, or the identifiers extracted from their movements in the video… With PHADE, a video stream tracks the movements of people within range, then analyzes and encodes those movements as an ‘address.’ At the same time, an application on a subject’s smartphone is doing the same analysis using the phone’s sensors.  When PHADE broadcasts a message it will be received only by the smartphone that has a matching ‘address.’” This bypasses the traditional requirement for an IP or media access control address to deliver messages, and protects individuals’ privacy.

If you’re not convinced about the privacy aspect, PHADE allegedly ‘blurs’ the data it uses after delivering a message, preventing it from being used to ever identify the user of the smartphone.

The main purpose of PHADE, assure researchers, is to enhance public safety. PhD student and PHADE researcher Siyuan Cao explained that, “For example, the government can deploy cameras in high-crime or high-accident areas and warn specific users about potential threats, such as suspicious followers.”

However, PHADE has many potential uses, such as being “used to provide tailored information to visitors at museums or historical sites.”

You might be thinking that while this is really cool, it is also kind of freaky. You’re not alone. GCN says, “the prospects get even creepier if entities — whether government agencies or private-sector companies — combine PHADE with other technologies, such as face-recognition programs.”

Do you think PHADE has more potential to be a tool for safety, or potentially unsettling behavior?

Source: gcn.com – A majority of U.S. teens are taking steps to limit smartphone and social media use
Published: July 2018

 

Air Canada leads the purchase of Aeroplan

Many retailers across Canada offer their customers the opportunity to collect Aeroplan points when they make purchases with their credit cards. Aeroplan is a loyalty program created by Aimia Inc. in which customers save points towards flights and other vacation perks. Now, Aeroplan is in the process of being acquired by a “consortium led by Air Canada” for $450 million cash, according to The Chronicle Herald.

The group purchasing Aeroplan also includes TD Bank, CIBC, and Visa Canada Corp. By purchasing Aeroplan, Air Canada and these other companies agree to assume the approximate $1.9 billion in liability “associated with Aeroplan miles customers have accumulated.”

The consortium attempted in July to purchase Aeroplan from Aimia, at that time for $250 million cash and the liability assumption. That offer was rejected. The new deal, approved by Aimia, is expected to close in the fall of this year.

Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu made a statement on behalf of the whole consortium on August 21st, saying “We are pleased to see that an agreement in principle has been reached as Aeroplan members can continue to earn and redeem with confidence… This transaction, if completed, should produce the best outcome for all stakeholders, including Aeroplan members, as it would allow for a smooth transition to Air Canada’s new loyalty program launching in 2020, safeguarding their miles and providing convenience and value for millions of Canadians.”

Source: thechronicleherald.ca – Air Canada-led Consortium Signs Deal To Buy Aeroplane Program From Aimia
Published: August 21, 2018

Could internet prices be rising in the United States?

FCC Schooley MitchellAccording to CBS News, broadband service in the United States might be seeing a price increase in the near future. This is allegedly because major IPs such as AT&T and Verizon “want the Federal Communications Commission to scrap a key provision that some say helps keep broadband costs low for small businesses and consumers.”

The rule in question was added in part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The rule makes it so “large telecom companies must allow smaller rivals to piggy-back on their networks at rates set by the government.” There has been a formal request by USTelecom, a group that represents the larger ISPs to waive that rule, which industry experts suspect would result in a price hike for consumers.

Dane Jasper, the CEO of ISP Sonic, which benefits from the rule in question, told Wired in an interview that “without the threat of upstart rivals, incumbent players will invest less in their networks and charge more to consumers.”

On the other hand, USTelecom denies that waiving the requirement will drive up prices, “noting that only 11 percent of households access the internet through piggy-backed networks.” The group also estimated that telecoms would “spend as much as $1.8 billion and create more than 2,000 jobs if they didn’t have to share their lines.”

There is no immediate worry about this rule being waived. CBS assures that the FCC “isn’t expected to take action until 2019 at the earliest.” However, keep an eye out for progress on this decision as time passes. It may effect the telecom industry of the United States going forward.

Source: cbsnews.com – High-speed internet service may be poised for a price hike
Published:
August 17, 2018

Confidential Mode is the Snapchat of Gmail

Gmail users! Haven’t you always wanted to send and receive self-expiring messages through your trusted email service? No? Well, you’re getting it anyways! According to Android Authority, Gmail’s new ‘Confidential Mode’ is bringing “self-deleting messages” which allow “you to specify an expiration date or manually revoke access to a message.”

Messages sent in Confidential Mode also cannot be copied, forwarded, printed, or downloaded. If you’re really serious about sending a an email confidentially, you can choose to require the recipient to enter a passcode (sent via SMS or email) before opening the message. Android Authority specifies, “SMS-based passcodes are the only option if your recipient is using a Gmail account — recipients using another email service can receive either SMS or email passcodes… SMS-based passcodes are only supported in Europe, India, Japan, North America, and South America.”

If you’re familiar with the world’s biggest self-deleting messaging service, Snapchat, then you will know the app notifies you if someone ever takes a screenshot of your snap. In contrast, Gmail’s Confidential Mode both allows screenshots and does not include an alert function when one is taken. So Confidential Mode is not perfect, but it does allow a certain amount of control over your emails.

Confidential Mode is available now for Gmail Users. You should be able to enable it when composing a new message.

Source: androidauthority.com – Gmail now has Snapchat-style self-deleting messages
Published: August 17, 2018

How much damage are screens doing to our eyes?

Most of us use screens in our professional lives as well as during leisure time in large quantities. For as long as this has been true, new studies have been published connecting our screen time to some plethora of health risks. Most recently, as explained by Popular Science, “researchers at the University of Toledo have begun to parse the process by which close or prolonged exposure to… ‘blue light’ can trigger irreversible damage in eye cells.”

Blue light, produced by our screens, can apparently cause a damaging chemical reaction in our eyes. Study author and chemistry professor Ajith Karunarathne found that, “In the lab, when cells from the eye were exposed to blue light directly—in theory, mimicking what happens when we stare at our phone or computer screens—the high-intensity waves trigger a chemical reaction in the retinal molecules in the eye. The blue light causes the retinal to oxidize, creating ‘toxic chemical species’… The retinal, energized by this particular band of light, kills the photoreceptor cells, which do not grow back once they are damaged.”

In case none of that makes sense to you, here is the point. Blue light “can kill photoreceptor cells” in your eyes. And “murdering enough of them can lead to macular degeneration, an incurable disease that blurs or even eliminates vision.”

Of course, you might be thinking, doesn’t blue light occur naturally in sunlight? Yes, it does. But as Karunarathne says, we are usually told to avoid looking at the sun, and listen to that advice. The same can’t be said for our screens.

This information, Karunarathne thinks, can lead to positive technological developments to aid our ocular health. He told Popular Science, “Who knows. One day we might be able to develop eye drops, that if you know you are going to be exposed to intense light, you could use some of those… to reduce damage.”

The research out of the University of Toledo was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Source: popsci.com – Screens are killing your eyeballs, and now we know how
Published: August 10, 2018