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Net neutrality - what next?

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission formally released a draft of its plan to kill net-neutrality rules , which equalized access to the internet and prevented broadband providers from favouring their own apps and services.

Now the question is: What comes next?

The FCC's move will allow companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to charge internet companies for speedier access to consumers and to block outside services they don't like. The change also axes a host of consumer protections, including privacy requirements and rules barring unfair practices that gave consumers an avenue to pursue complaints about price gouging.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation. But many worry that his proposal will stifle small tech firms and leave ordinary citizens more at the mercy of cable and wireless companies.

"It would be a radical departure from what previous (FCC) chairs, of both parties, have done," said Gigi Sohn, a former adviser to Tom Wheeler, the Obama-era FCC chairman who enacted the net neutrality rules now being overturned. "It would leave consumers and competition completely unprotected."

The formal proposal reveals more details of the plan than were in the FCC's Tuesday press release. For instance, if companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon decide to block a particular app, throttle data speeds for a rival service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay for it, they merely need to disclose their policies for doing so.

The FCC also says it will pre-empt state rules on privacy and net neutrality that contradict its approach. Verizon has noted that New York has several privacy bills pending, and that the California legislature has suggested coming up with its own version of net neutrality rules should the federal versions perish.

The plan would leave complaints about deceptive behaviour and monitor privacy to the Federal Trade Commission, which already regulates privacy for internet companies like Google and Facebook.

Broadband providers are promising to be on their best behaviour. Comcast said it doesn't and won't block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content. AT&T said that "all major ISPs have publicly committed to preserving an open internet" and that any ISP "foolish" enough to manipulate what's available online for customers will be "quickly and decisively called out." Verizon said that "users should be able to access the internet when, where, and how they choose."

Some critics don't put much weight on those promises, noting that many providers have previously used their networks to disadvantage rivals. For example, the Associated Press in 2007 found Comcast was blocking some file-sharing. AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services on its network on the iPhone until 2009.

Sohn, however, suggests there's reason to worry about more subtle forms of discrimination, such as "paid prioritization." That's a term for internet "fast lanes," where companies that can afford it would pay AT&T, Verizon and Comcast for faster or better access to consumers.

That would leave startups and institutions that aren't flush with cash, like libraries or schools, relegated to slower service, said Corynne McSherry, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group. In turn, startups would find it harder to attract investors, Sohn said.



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Are liquidation prices legit?

The Competition Bureau is investigating allegations that prices on some merchandise was marked up ahead of the liquidation sales at Sears Canada that began last month, the court-appointed monitor overseeing the retailer says.

The monitor says the regulator sent letters on Nov. 8 to the liquidators inquiring about the allegations that certain merchandise was marked up.

Sears began the process of liquidating its remaining stores in October after failing to find a buyer.

After the sales began, several customers posted pictures to social media suggesting prices had been raised.

The joint-venture group running the liquidation includes Hilco Global, Gordon Brothers, Tiger Capital Group and Great American Group.



BC's first LNG shipment

FortisBC says it has shipped 950 gigajoules of liquefied natural gas from Vancouver to China, marking the industry's first shipment to the Asian country.

The move is part of a pilot project aimed to determine long-term feasibility of B.C. LNG shipments to China.

FortisBC's Tilbury facility in Delta supplied the liquefied natural gas, while True North Energy Corp. and CIMC ENRIC Holdings Ltd. provided equipment and logistics.

FortisBC spokesman Douglas Stout says that the small but significant step for the province's LNG export industry could be the first of many shipments from the province.

All three companies involved say China is projected to become the world's second largest LNG importer by next year as its government steps up efforts to combat air pollution and convert millions of homes to natural gas heaters, as well as boost industrial use.

They say the country has limited reserves and is turning to others, including British Columbia, to fill the gap.



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Freedom Mobile steps up

Freedom Mobile will begin taking orders for the Apple iPhone X and iPhone 8 models starting Friday, with the smartphones in its stores on Dec. 8.

While that's more than a month after Canada's three national wireless carriers began selling the iPhone X, it will be the first time Freedom Mobile has a full roster of Apple smartphones to offer its customers.

The wireless arm of Calgary-based Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) had previously been shut out of the Apple market because of limitations of its network technology.

The company said Wednesday that it expects network enhancements to be completed by early December in Western Canada and early 2018 in the rest of Freedom Mobile's area — primarily Ontario.

Analyst Drew McReynolds of RBC Dominion Securities writes that having the iPhone ahead of the holiday period is an "incremental positive" for Shaw and Freedom Mobile and sets the stage for a more competitive market.

Freedom's iPhone X promotional pricing is "more aggressive than what we would have anticipated at this time" but availability and conditions attached to pre-launch pricing, such as high service fees, could "dampen" demand, McReynolds wrote.

Formerly called Wind Mobile, Freedom is offering promotional pricing for orders placed by Nov. 30, subject to change or cancellation without notice and with certain conditions.

For example, the three newest iPhone models could cost $0 if bundled with activation of a new service and a 24-month service agreement, where available. The cost of the qualifying service agreement varies by phone model.

McReynolds said that profit margins for all the carriers could be affected by the cost of acquiring new customers and retaining existing customers but he believes the overall impact for incumbents "should remain manageable".

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said Freedom's announcement was before the three national carriers, rather than after them.



More plan to shop online

A new survey suggests more Canadians are planning to do some or all of their holiday shopping online this year.

A survey commissioned by FedEx Canada and released today found that 65 per cent of Canadians polled planned to shop online this year, while 55 per cent said they did so last year.

Six per cent of those polled said they planned to shop online this holiday season for the first time.

Participants in Ontario, Atlantic Canada and British Columbia were the most likely to shop online for the holidays, with 68 per cent of Ontario respondents and 67 per cent of the others saying they planned to avoid brick-and-mortar stores.

Saskatchewan, Quebec and Alberta had the lowest percentage of respondents who said they intend to shop online, ranging from 58 to 62 per cent.

The survey was conducted online from Oct. 5 to 7 and involved roughly 1,490 adult Canadians. The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population



Uber reveals hack coverup

Uber is coming clean about its coverup of a year-old hacking attack that stole personal information about more than 57 million of the beleaguered ride-hailing service's customers and drivers.

So far, there's no evidence that the data taken has been misused, according to a Tuesday blog post by Uber's recently hired CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi. Part of the reason nothing malicious has happened is because Uber acknowledges paying the hackers $100,000 to destroy the stolen information.

The revelation marks the latest stain on Uber's reputation.

The San Francisco company ousted Travis Kalanick as CEO in June after an internal investigation concluded he had built a culture that allowed female workers to be sexually harassed and encouraged employees to push legal limits.

Khosrowshahi criticized Uber's handling of its data theft in his blog post.

"While I can't erase the past, I can commit on behalf of every Uber employee that we will learn from our mistakes," Khosrowshahi wrote. "We are changing the way we do business, putting integrity at the core of every decision we make and working hard to earn the trust of our customers."

That pledge shouldn't excuse Uber's previous regime for its egregious behaviour, said Sam Curry, chief security officer for the computer security firm Cybereason.

"The truly scary thing here is that Uber paid a bribe, essentially a ransom to make this breach go away, and they acted as if they were above the law," Curry said. "Those people responsible for the integrity and confidentiality of the data in-fact covered it up."

The heist took the names, email addresses and mobile phone numbers of 57 million riders around the world. The thieves also nabbed the driver's license numbers of 600,000 Uber drivers in the U.S.



Disney head 'taking leave'

Just days before Pixar's "Coco" is set to hit theatres, Pixar co-founder and Walt Disney Animation chief John Lasseter announced he is taking a six-month leave of absence citing "missteps" with employees.

The boisterous, Hawaiian shirt-wearing personality behind some of the most beloved children's films of the past 30 years like "Toy Story" is the latest entertainment titan to be exposed for claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct in the workplace.

In a vaguely worded memo obtained by The Associated Press Tuesday, Lasseter says he knows he has made some employees feel disrespected and uncomfortable.

"I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form," Lasseter wrote. "No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected."

The Hollywood Reporter published a story that said an "unwanted advance" toward actress and writer Rashida Jones led to her departure from Pixar, where she had been working on the script for "Toy Story 4."

Jones called that allegation in the Reporter story untrue.

"We did not leave Pixar because of unwanted advances," Jones and her writing partner Will McCormack wrote in a joint statement. "That said, we are happy to see people speaking out about behaviour that made them uncomfortable. As for us, we parted ways because of creative and, more importantly, philosophical differences."



New hotel for Salmon Arm

A $15.5-million Fairfield Inn & Suites hotel is slated for construction in Salmon Arm next year. The project is expected to create 75 construction jobs and up to 30 permanent hotel jobs once the hotel opens.

Marriott International has approved plans to build the hotel on its property along the Trans-Canada Highway. It will be constructed and owned by Hollypark Hotels Corporation, and operated under a franchise agreement with Marriott.

"We’re excited to invest in a growing community like Salmon Arm," said Sam Dhillon, Hollypark's chief executive officer. “Tourism in the region is thriving and there’s a real sense of optimism about the future of this city.

“We hope that our investment and confidence in the market will attract further investment to the area.”

The planned six-storey, 95-room hotel will be located at the corner of 6th Avenue NE and 16th Street NE, across from Salmon Arm Secondary School.

Additional hotel amenities will include an indoor swimming pool, hot tub, waterslide, fitness room, outdoor patio area and business lounge. There will also be 2,100 sq. ft. of meeting space to accommodate functions of up to 100 people.

The project is expected to contribute upwards of $175,000 of additional tax revenue to the city every year.

“Staff at the city and the Economic Development Society have been incredibly supportive of the project, which is one of the reasons we’ve decided to break ground in 2018, pushing it ahead of some of our other projects," said Clint Gavel, Hollypark's director of design and construction.

“We strongly believe in supporting the communities we operate in by utilizing local contractors and suppliers for our hotels where possible, and we fully expect to do the same in Salmon Arm,” added Dhillon.

The hotel will be built on land that once formed part of the 70-acre Turner family orchard established in 1896.



Nations to fish for more tuna

Countries fishing the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean agreed Tuesday to expand the annual quota for prized Bluefin tuna to reflect an improvement in their stocks. Environmentalists insisted the increase was excessive and premature.

The 50-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas agreed to hike the quota from 24,000 tons this year to 28,000 next year, with a further 4,000 tons added in each of the following two years.

The decision means the quota has more than doubled from five years ago, when once depleted stocks of Bluefin tuna, a delicacy in sushi and sashimi dishes the world over, first started showing the potential of a recovery.

"We have been able to decide a gradual increase of captures, by staying careful. And we are staying within the scientific advice," Stefaan Depypere, the head of the European Union delegation said in an interview.

Environmentalists insisted the advice was more ambivalent and were bitterly disappointed since they maintain that the recovery of the Bluefin is still too fragile to permit such major increases in fishing quotas.

"This year was an enormous step backwards for sustainable tuna fisheries," said Paulus Tak of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Considering how many species have been overfished to near commercial extinction in the past few decades, from cod off eastern Canada to Mediterranean Bluefin, the challenge of increasing catch quotas and still safeguarding stocks is daunting and fraught with risk.

Some environmental groups are troubled by the ICCAT's scientific findings and think they might be overly optimistic.

Bluefin tuna's annual market value stands around $200 million at the dock and four times more at the final point of sale.



Call to protect pensions

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recommends that payments to shareholders such as dividends and share buybacks by companies should be limited if their pension plans are underfunded.

The report says pension regulations must expand to consider broader financial decisions within companies.

It says that in many instances, firms are complying with the minimum required payments under the rules, but they are not making up the shortfalls in the pension plans as fast as they could.

Companies with defined-benefit pension plans have been hurt by the financial crisis and low interest rates, which have increased the amount of money they are required to have in their pension plans to pay future benefits.

When a pension plan is not fully funded, members face the possibility of seeing their pensions reduced if the plan is forced to wind up.

The report noted that the pension plan at Sears Canada has a $267-million shortfall, but the retailer which is in the process of liquidating has paid $1.5 billion in shareholders in dividends and share buybacks since 2010.



Big Pot inevitable?

A new report suggests that 87 per cent of Canadian cannabis companies believe that consolidation is inevitable over the next three years, leaving only a few large players post-legalization.

Consultancy firm EY's survey of 11 licensed producers with varying size and scale — among the approximately 50 licensed producers in the country — also shows that 75 per cent of the respondents believe the market will be dominated by the entrance of big players such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals and alcohol.

The report says these established industries recognize that there is substantial opportunity in cannabis and are expected to enter this space and try to leverage their existing competencies and assets.

The majority of the study's participants also believe craft or niche players will grab a smaller share of the market through innovation, namely by creating new products or derivatives.

Speculation that a wave of consolidation is coming to Canada's marijuana industry, in which larger players buy smaller ones to build scale, was sparked last Wednesday when Saskatoon-based CanniMed Therapeutics Inc. (TSX:CMED) said it needed time to review an unsolicited takeover offer from Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX:ACB), a rival marijuana producer in Vancouver.

That same week, CanniMed announced it had reached a deal to acquire Toronto-based Newstrike Resources Ltd. (TSXV:HIP), a producer endorsed by members of rock band The Tragically Hip.

Aurora announced earlier today that it's proceeding with a hostile all-stock takeover attempt for CanniMed after failing to reach an agreement with the company's board by last Friday.



Realtor rules ripple effect

New provincial rules will change how real estate agents in British Columbia can represent their clients – and the impact will be significant in the Okanagan.

The government announced changes last week aimed at enhancing consumer protection, with the most significant of them banning a practice known as “dual agency.”

Dual agency lets a realtor represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. Many see the practice as problematic, because it puts realtors in a situation where they are unable to act in both clients’ best interest.

Others have argued the practice is useful in specific situations. However, even those who see a place for dual agency admit it has its share of problems.

Regardless, the practice will soon be banned in British Columbia, and that is going to mean big changes for many local realtors.

For more on how common dual agency is in the Okanagan, as well as why one realtor thinks the ban is the right move, check out the full story on Castanet's sister business news website, Okanagan Edge.



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