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Opinion  

Opinion: Satellite breakthroughs will change internet delivery

Satellites will change ISPs

Elon Musk’s Starlink low Earth orbit (LEO) network has been awarded US$885 million over 10 years to build out rural internet access in the U.S.

This was the fourth largest amount awarded under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). Testing of preliminary Starlink service recently began. This is a billion-dollar (almost) vote of confidence in a service that is at the preliminary consumer testing stage.

For rural and remote Canadians, does this mean that competitively-priced high-speed broadband access will finally be available anywhere?

For others, new technologies will compete against today’s cable Telco, and independent internet service providers.

But the new LEO services are still a year, two years or more away from full-scale commercial operation, depending on who you ask in the satellite industry.

When Musk first announced his plan several years ago, he said he was targeting 30 per cent of the global broadband access market by 2030s. How? And what makes LEO satellites different from the GEO (geostationary) satellites that have been in service since the 1960s? What makes them different from existing LEO networks like Iridium and Globalstar?

With thousands of satellites, the unit cost is projected to drop because they’re produced by normal industrial processes, whereas geostationary satellites are built one by one, making them comparatively expensive. The LEO satellites only have to be launched a few hundred kilometres above the earth so launch costs are much lower than for a GEO satellite that has to travel 35,000 km to geostationary orbit.

LEO satellites have much lower latency than GEOs because they’re so much closer to Earth. Latency refers to how much time it takes for a signal to travel to its destination. LEO satellites are projected to have latency as low as terrestrial fibre networks and even lower in some situations. GEOs take over 600 milliseconds to make the trip from Earth to the satellite and back.

The new LEO networks are broadband, providing much more capacity (higher speeds) than the earlier-generation Iridium narrow band capability that has delivered satellite phone service and short data messages since the 1990s.

Amazon’s Kuiper program and Starlink are getting most of the press but they’re not the only entrants in the broadband LEO market. O3B (meaning the other three billion people who didn’t have good internet access) has been operating for several years in mid-Earth orbit (MEO), a little higher up than LEO. It turns out that it has been successful in higher-priced niche applications like communications to super yachts than its name implied was its original target. Nevertheless, O3B is operating successfully.

The new entrants have added satellite-to-satellite communications, which should greatly reduce costs by reducing the need for ground stations and double hops. An email going from Canada to China can go up to one satellite and then transfer to other satellites in orbit to arrive at its destination.

OneWeb has also been launching LEO satellites and building ground stations. Recently it went into bankruptcy, and was reorganized and refinanced with the help of the United Kingdom government, as well as private sector participants. Now, OneWeb is building and launching satellites again.

Telesat Canada, founded with federal government participation in 1969, was long described as Canada’s domestic satellite communications carrier. By combining operations with Loral in 2006, it became one of the big four global GEO satellite companies. Telesat also has a major LEO system on the drawing boards and has launched several demonstration satellites. Canada’s federal government has invested heavily in this venture with cash and commitments to purchase service in the future.

There are four or five entrants (if you want to include O3B) chasing the same market with highly capital-intensive technology. Are there too many players for the size of the market? Has the glamour and romance of space attracted too many players? Will there be more big bankruptcies like those in the narrow-band LEO sector in the early 1990s?

To remain viable, Iridium had to be reorganized with virtually the whole of the original investment written off and still required a major commitment from the U.S. Department of Defense for future service. OneWeb’s reorganization is an indication of the risk even though it emerged successfully.

Mergers aren’t really a practical solution if it turns out that there are too many participants. They can’t merge the networks because the technology of each company is incompatible with the others.

With the exception of O3B, we have yet to see pricing for commercial enterprise and residential services.
Although there are still some unanswered questions, these are exciting times in the satellite industry. The emerging LEO systems will be disruptive, shaking up both the traditional satellite industry and challenging terrestrial fibre-optic communications. It could put an end to the digital divide.

Roland Renner is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. A former employee of Bell and Telesat, he assists companies competing with Telco, cable, and satellite incumbents, including Hunter Communications, owner of a GEO satellite beam with high-power northern Canadian service capability.



Op/Ed: Overcoming unimaginable odds in health care

Overcoming the odds

As we look back on 2020, we might be tempted to focus on the challenges. However, I want to take a moment to reflect on the strength and resilience demonstrated by individuals and communities as we overcame unimaginable odds together.

Our health care system, supported by outstanding teams of providers, patients and families, found new and innovative ways to provide and receive care. Our capital projects continued and new services opened to ensure more patients could access the health care services they need, closer to home.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit us hard early in the year and as new information about this novel virus came streaming in, health-care teams throughout Interior Health stepped up to rapidly adapt new processes and procedures.

A team of health-care professionals at Royal Inland Hospital shared their experience about working and adjusting to the early days of the pandemic on our [email protected] website, Facing the Unknown. It was inspirational throughout these past 10 months to see the spirit of our health-care workers and physicians across the health authority.

You may need a tissue to watch as they encouraged each other on YouTube in this video, Health Care Staff Supporting Health Care Staff.

These creative efforts to keep staff and patients feeling optimistic are just a few examples of what went on consistently in the background at health care sites throughout Interior Health.

When I consider the stresses that health-care staff and physicians have endured in this pandemic, I am deeply moved and so proud of the attitude and strength of our teams who have one shared goal – to protect you and each other and to provide the best care possible.

The behind-the-scenes work included upgrading technology to provide care from a distance, opening a new emergency department at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail, emergency department and pharmacy renovations at the Penticton Regional Hospital, and continued construction of the new Patient Care Tower at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

Urgent primary care centres continued to open, offering access to primary care services for many patients who don’t have a primary care provider of their own and to those who needed to see a physician or nurse practitioner immediately.

Surgeries restarted in May and through the collective efforts of the entire surgical team from our physicians, to nurses, to cleaning staff and leadership staff, we have made great initial progress in catching up on the elective surgeries that were paused in March to ensure hospital beds and workers were available to handle a surge in COVID-19.

The year 2020 taught us how to work together to face challenges and you were there with us every step of the way; washing your hands like never before, staying home when you were asked, wearing masks to protect others and making huge sacrifices when you were only able to visit relatives in long-term care from a distance. We know how difficult this was for our residents and their families.

You also showed your support for our health care workers with pot banging at night, parades and beautiful hand-painted signs at our health-care facilities. We are profoundly grateful.

Now we have reached 2021 and we still have a pandemic under way, but we have renewed hope with the launch of a massive immunization program to halt the spread of the COVID-19. The fast development of a safe and effective vaccine is monumental and a credit to dedicated scientists around the world who were able to build on what is already known about vaccinations.

In Interior Health, a full-scale effort is already in progress to immunize our most vulnerable populations and the health-care workers most at risk from COVID-19. This will take place over the next three months. At the moment, COVID-19 vaccines are not available for the general public, but this will change quickly. We anticipate everyone in the B.C. Interior who wants a vaccine will have been immunized by the fall. Until then, as long as we keep each other healthy, we will soon be able to celebrate renewed connections within our homes, our communities and our health-care sites.

Thank you again for your support in 2020 and Happy New Year to you all!

Interior Health President and CEO Susan Brown



Opinion: Get set for another pandemic election

Get ready for another one

Think you’re done with complaining about crass, ill-timed elections in the pandemic?

Not yet. One more beckons.

A big one.

Another one we don’t need.

An election of opportunism, a process in search of purpose.

An election that banks on the coronavirus being subdued by the spring but not so much as to spur a true campaign.

Admit it: Is there anything left after these weeks and months that can surprise us?

No? Fine, because the federal election is coming soon.

Just as MLAs announced last spring and summer they were leaving the John Horgan government, so MPs have started to announce this fall and winter they will be leaving the Justin Trudeau fold. Horgan bade them farewell and bid good day to a majority government; Trudeau is doing and wanting the same, sensing time is running out on running before we gain herd immunity and he loses his politically.

The announcement Tuesday by Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains that he won’t run in the next election need not have triggered a cabinet shuffle if the election were, say, the three years away Trudeau has to work with the NDP in a minority government. Instead he’s probably three months away from a call. A spring budget with another round of spending – but few hints of paying for it – will trip the switch.

Of course, there is nothing any more dysfunctional taking place in Ottawa than is typically the case, which is damning with faint praise. There are no crises or threats (as Horgan falsely claimed) to Trudeau’s minority government co-operation. There are no confidence votes about to claim the Commons.

Indeed, you could say that the pandemic requires more than ever a steady, constant hand on the steering wheel. The Liberals need not ask the electorate for one; they have it and no one is about to seize it.

But for the Liberals, who believe in their hearts their DNA features genes that confer the birthright to rule, even these pretend confines of government are still painful confines to them. To quote the late philosopher Freddie Mercury, they holler: I want it all, and I want it now.

The socially distant country means a virtual campaign, if not a virtual certainty of outcome.

If the BC NDP knew there would be no better time to capitalize than amid all things haywire, the federal Liberals are also well aware these optimal times are running low. There is less chance their political fortunes would improve once the country is vaccinated and vigorous.

It is true that polls indicate the Liberals on the cusp of forming a majority if the election were held tonight. And by the time a spring election is upon us, the country will have been anesthetized, even brainwashed by cheques in direct deposit and in direct support for a full year. In this blurry COVID time of guessing which day we’re occupying, the WE Charity scandal will be a faint memory, as will the missteps that nearly cost Trudeau power.

Joe Biden will be chumming up, presumably, and the only leader to pay the price for an election in the pandemic will be dividing his time playing golf and watching impeachment proceedings. On both counts, our prime minister will look better than he has as the tiptoeing, subservient counterpart to Donald Trump. There is no longer any bear not to poke; he has Twitter to himself.

It is hard today to see how the Conservatives under Erin O’Toole will have any sort of rejoinder to the incessant largesse – except to spread concern about its eventual fiscal impact. Of course, in blurry COVID times this is as changeable as our weather, but to date, to his regret, the market isn’t fretting and interest rates aren’t frothing. Canadians so far are worrying more in this decade about climate change than about the environment for our finances.

O’Toole would be a real campaigner if this were a real campaign, but without herd immunity we cannot be a herd and politicians cannot press the flesh or kiss the babies. O’Toole has one hand tied behind him and one mask tied in front of him as he tries to persuade the country he is the agent of our recovery.

A sideshow to the two major parties’ tussle will be the two minor parties’ tests. The federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is only still there because Trudeau was sufficiently wounded last time to lose his majority and surrendered seats in Quebec. He will be auditioning again for his job. The NDP needs the Bloc Quebecois to again shine to keep a minority in place, but the poll-leading Liberals in Quebec have another idea in mind.

It benefits to ask again as we explore all this political roil: Why do we need this?

Kirk LaPointe is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president of Glacier Media.



Trudeau's carbon tax short-sighted in so many ways

Carbon tax short-sighted

COVID-19 has had an impact on Canada’s food industry but, over time, resilience will prevail. However, the federal government’s pre-holiday announcement that it will increase the carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2030 will have a long-term impact on consumers.

Climate change is a real and significant problem. We need to act quickly, and the carbon tax seems to provide a simple and fair solution. The Trudeau government is clearly committed to the carbon tax now.
This tax – more of a policy – is essentially aimed at penalizing polluters. That’s a good idea, in principle, but is short-sighted in many ways.

For some farmers, a tax of $170 per tonne is a game-changer. By 2030, a typical 5,000-acre farm would have to shell out more than $150,000 in new tax, based on some estimates, without any compensation. That’s enough to compromise any farm’s ability to make a profit.

As well, how a $170 tax impacts the competitiveness of the sector will depend greatly on what happens at Canada’s borders and beyond. Given the competitiveness of national and international food markets, a $170 tax per tonne imposed in Canada, but not imposed in other major exporting and importing countries, will undoubtedly penalize our farmers.

Producers can’t increase their prices even if production costs increase on the farm. This is quite simply price-taking economics. Unlike the processing and distribution sectors, this economic reality afflicts production specifically.

The government is considering imposing a border control tax on food products from elsewhere, but nothing is confirmed. Taxing domestic production would give importers a significant competitive advantage. Protecting our farmers is imperative.

Of course, with the arrival of president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris in the White House, things could get easier internationally. Like the Canadian government, Biden intends to ratify the Paris climate accord on behalf of the United States. The agreement encourages nations to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. To this end, American producers may also have to pay a tax, like those in Canada.

Agriculture producers are among the best environmental stewards in the world. They earn their living mainly by having access to abundant natural resources. Environmental recklessness is just not an option.

But incentives to make big changes are lacking. For example, there’s no economical substitute for propane to dry out grain at harvest. We need to develop new technologies to offer environmental options to our producers.

There are also significant risks for consumers.

Farmers keep claiming that food prices will rise, in part because of the carbon tax, which will hit $50 per tonne by next year. But Quebec and British Columbia have had such a tax since 2007 and 2008, respectively, and food prices haven’t increased faster than elsewhere. In addition, consumers receive credits as compensation during tax return season.

Yet it remains unclear how consumers are compensated for higher food prices spawned by fees paid by the food industry, from farm to fork. With a high rate of $170 per tonne, the idea that the carbon tax could have an impact on retail prices is much less farfetched.

Further research is required, of course, but it’s certainly possible that Canada’s food inflation rate will increase significantly by 2030.

As presented, Canada’s carbon tax policy isn’t just about penalizing polluters in the food industry, from farm to fork. It mostly inhibits farms and forks.

Some consumers will be willing to pay the right price for food to help save the planet, so the effects of a carbon tax won’t be much of an issue. But for many Canadians who struggle to make ends meet, budgetary realities will be an obstacle even as credit is provided.

The federal government is clearly not considering how the carbon tax could put many Canadian families in a state of food insecurity by 2030.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.
 



KGH doctors: hospital is feeling second wave of COVID-19

KGH feeling second wave

Dear Kelowna residents, neighbours and friends,

We are a group of physician leaders who work at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH). All of us work in hot spots in the hospital affected by the increase in COVID-19 cases in Interior Health this November and December.

As we enter 2021, we want to (1) recap our community's experience with the COVID-19 pandemic so far and, (2) make a plea for the renewed vigilance and strict adherence to public health measures that will be needed during the winter of 2021.

First of all, we wish to acknowledge how great a place Kelowna is to live, work and play! On top of that, KGH is an excellent hospital in which to work. The nurses, physicians and all health care staff and support workers at KGH and across our region have worked tirelessly, professionally and in good spirits throughout the pandemic. Our hospital’s leaders have been calm and steadfast, and worked to ensure we have the appropriate personal protective equipment and other supports necessary to do our jobs effectively and safely.

During the summer and fall of 2020 we were fortunate that our community was not hard hit, with the exception of July, when we saw a cluster develop in Kelowna. Fortunately, there were few hospitalizations even then. In the early fall, as COVID-19 case counts climbed dramatically in the United States and grew in other parts of Canada and B.C – it often seemed that COVID-19 had spared us. At that time, the number of patients with COVID-19 at KGH was typically between zero and one. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

It is important for residents to realize that we have entered a new phase of the fight against COVID-19. Every week, the BCCDC releases our COVID-19 numbers for the Kelowna and Central Okanagan area. Per capita, our region has ranked among the highest number of new cases for the past several weeks. This data is available publicly and helps paint a picture of the situation in our community.

Ongoing and increasing rates of COVID-19 in the community leads to more COVID-19 hospitalizations, and an associated number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients who require life support and ICU care.

At KGH we are seeing clear effects of the second wave of COVID-19. In the emergency department, we are seeing significant numbers of patients with COVID-19. More people who have COVID-19 are requiring inpatient care. Our ICU space has been re-organized to accommodate those who are impacted most severely. In all areas, staff use the appropriate precautions and PPE.

Despite these new pressures, all patients continue to receive high quality and appropriate care. KGH remains a safe place. If you have a medical emergency, please come to your hospital and seek medical attention.

In order to protect our hospital resource, healthcare workers and vulnerable members in our community, we are calling on all residents to respect and follow public health guidelines. These include:

  • not gathering with people outside of your own household
  • wearing a mask and practising physical distancing in public
  • staying home when you are sick
  • receiving a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you this year

Like you, we are fatigued and weary with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our wish for 2021 is that everyone does their part during the difficult winter months to come. Join us and help protect yourselves, your family, our hospital and our community.

We wish you and your family a happy and safe 2021.

 

Dr. Tony Kwan

Medical Director – Emergency Medicine, KGH

 

Dr. Scott Smith

Hospitalist Department Head, KGH

 

Dr. Vikas Chaubey

Medical Director – Critical Care Services, KGH



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