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Canada telcos regulator orders big firms to boost competition to lower bills



By Moira Warburton and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada‘s telecommunications regulator on Thursday ordered the dominant operators to take steps to increase competition in a market that has some of the world’s highest billing rates, although the measure fell short of what some analysts had expected.

The move comes more than a year after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government asked the telecoms companies to cut bills by 25% or face consequences after high mobile bills became a hot button issue in the 2019 elections.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said the telecoms firms should offer wholesale wireless access to so-called Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), smaller outfits such as Videotron in Quebec that can then resell the capacity at reduced retail prices and pass on the savings to consumers.

The CRTC also said it expects Canada‘s three main wireless providers – Rogers Communications Inc, BCE Inc, and Telus Corp, as well as SaskTel in Saskatchewan, to offer C$35 ($28) plans with set minimum conditions, including unlimited cross-Canada talk and text and 3GB of data.

The three largest companies have 89.2% of telecoms subscribers and 90.7% of the revenue. They argue Ottawa is working with outdated information and insist their prices are competitive.

But in a concession to the majors, the CRTC said only MVNOs with infrastructure or spectrum of their own would be eligible, meaning that interested companies would have to be serious about making investments in physical or network infrastructure. The access agreements will expire after seven years.

Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa with expertise in Canadian telecoms, said the CRTC missed “the opportunity to maximize new competitors.”


The limited MVNO model “could benefit some smaller regional competitors, but falls far short of the open, broad-based mandated MVNO model that many were hoping for,” Geist said in an email to Reuters.

CRTC chair Ian Scott said in a statement Canadians should have access to more affordable options while acknowledging there were encouraging signs that prices were trending downwards.

Scott told Reuters the commission would likely begin a review of the MVNO mechanism in five years to ensure it was working as intended, but left the door open to trying a new tack sooner. “If this model is not working, we’ll need a different one,” he said.

Telus said it was reviewing the ruling. BCE said it was considering options. Rogers did not immediately comment.

The big three complain that the smaller MVNOs do not help build the expensive infrastructure needed to ensure service over Canada‘s vast area.

“It was the regional carriers who were most vulnerable to a wide open MVNO mandate,” Mark Goldberg, an industry consultant, said. “I would think that you’re going to see the regional carriers… as being the most grateful for the outcome today.”

Canada‘s regional operators include Quebecor Inc and Cogeco Communications Inc.

The CRTC’s decision is not final, since it can be overruled by the government and also challenged in court. Canada‘s federal innovation ministry, which has overall responsibility for the telecommunications sector, said it would review the CRTC ruling.

($1 = 1.2545 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and David Ljunggren in Ottawa;Editing by Diane Craft and Rosalba O’Brien)

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China to release results of once-in-a-decade census on May 11



China is expected to release the results of its once-in-a-decade census conducted late last year on May 11, according to a notice from the State Council Information Office.

Officials from the census and statistics bureaus will brief the media on the census results on May 11, the State Council Information Office said in a notice on Sunday.

The National Bureau of Statistics said previously that the results would be released at a media briefing scheduled for early April. It later said the announcement had been delayed, as more preparatory work needed to be done.


(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Hallie Gu and Xiao Han; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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Afghan school blast toll rises to 58, families bury victims



The death toll from an explosion outside a school in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul has risen to 58, Afghan officials said on Sunday, with doctors struggling to provide medical care to at least 150 injured.

The bombing on Saturday evening shook the city’s Shi’ite Muslim neighbourhood of Dasht-e-Barchi. The community, a religious minority in Afghanistan, has been targeted in the past by Islamic State militants, a Sunni militant group.

An eyewitness told Reuters all but seven or eight of the victims were schoolgirls going home after finishing studies.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Saturday blamed the attack on Taliban insurgents but a spokesman for the Taliban denied involvement, saying the group condemns any attacks on Afghan civilians.

Families of the victims blamed the Afghan government and Western powers for failing to put an end to violence and the ongoing war.

Bodies were still being collected from morgues as the first burials were conducted in the west of the city. Some families were still searching for missing relatives on Sunday, gathering outside hospitals to read names posted on the walls, and checking morgues.

“The entire night we carried bodies of young girls and boys to a graveyard and prayed for everyone wounded in the attack,” said Mohammed Reza Ali, who has been helping families of the victims at a private hospital.

“Why not just kill all of us to put and end to this war?” he said.

The violence comes a week after remaining U.S. and NATO troops began exiting Afghanistan, with a mission to complete the drawdown by September 11, which will mark the end of America’s longest war.

But the foreign troop withdrawal has led a surge in fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban insurgents with both sides trying to retain control over strategic centres.

(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Chinese rocket debris lands in Indian Ocean, draws criticism from NASA



By Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) -Remnants of China’s biggest rocket landed in the Indian Ocean on Sunday, with most of its components destroyed upon re-entry into the atmosphere, ending days of speculation over where the debris would hit but drawing U.S. criticism over lack of transparency.

The coordinates given by Chinese state media, citing the China Manned Space Engineering Office, put the point of impact in the ocean, west of the Maldives archipelago.

Debris from the Long March 5B has had some people looking warily skyward since it blasted off from China’s Hainan island on April 29, but the China Manned Space Engineering Office said most of the debris was burnt up in the atmosphere.

State media reported parts of the rocket re-entered the atmosphere at 10:24 a.m. Beijing time (0224 GMT) and landed at a location with the coordinates of longitude 72.47 degrees east and latitude 2.65 degrees north.

The U.S. Space command confirmed the re-entry of the rocket over the Arabian Peninsula, but said it was unknown if the debris impacted land or water.

“The exact location of the impact and the span of debris, both of which are unknown at this time, will not be released by U.S. Space Command,” it said in a statement on its website.

The Long March was the second deployment of the 5B variant since its maiden flight in May 2020. Last year, pieces from the first Long March 5B fell on Ivory Coast, damaging several buildings. No injuries were reported.

“Spacefaring nations must minimize the risks to people and property on Earth of re-entries of space objects and maximize transparency regarding those operations,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a former senator and astronaut who was picked for the role in March, said in a statement after the re-entry.

“It is clear that China is failing to meet responsible standards regarding their space debris.”


With most of the Earth’s surface covered by water, the odds of populated area on land being hit had been low, and the likelihood of injuries even lower, according to experts.

But uncertainty over the rocket’s orbital decay and China’s failure to issue stronger reassurances in the run-up to the re-entry fuelled anxiety.

“It is critical that China and all spacefaring nations and commercial entities act responsibly and transparently in space to ensure the safety, stability, security, and long-term sustainability of outer space activities,” Nelson said.

Harvard-based astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told Reuters that the potential debris zone could have been as far north as New York, Madrid or Beijing, and as far south as southern Chile and Wellington, New Zealand.

Since large chunks of the NASA space station Skylab fell from orbit in July 1979 and landed in Australia, most countries have sought to avoid such uncontrolled re-entries through their spacecraft design, McDowell said.

“It makes the Chinese rocket designers look lazy that they didn’t address this,” said McDowell.

The Global Times, a Chinese tabloid, dismissed as “Western hype” concerns the rocket was “out of control” and could cause damage.

“It is common practice across the world for upper stages of rockets to burn up while reentering the atmosphere,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at China’s foreign ministry, said at a regular media briefing on May 7.

“To my knowledge, the upper stage of this rocket has been deactivated, which means most of its parts will burn up upon re-entry, making the likelihood of damage to aviation or ground facilities and activities extremely low,” Wang said at the time.

The rocket, which put into orbit an unmanned Tianhe module containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent Chinese space station, will be followed by 10 more missions to complete the station by 2022.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Hallie Gu and Xiao Han in Beijing and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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