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

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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 They argue Ottawa is working with outdated information and insist their prices are competitive.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.”

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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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At least 34 dead after floods in north India

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At least 34 people have died following days of heavy rains in the north Indian state of Uttarakhand, the state’s chief minister said, as rescuers continued work to free those stranded on Wednesday.

Aerial footage of the affected areas showed engorged rivers and villages partially submerged by floodwaters.

“There is huge loss due to the floods … the crops have been destroyed,” Pushkar Singh Dhami told Reuters partner ANI after surveying the damage late on Tuesday.

“The locals are facing a lot of problems, the roads are waterlogged, bridges have been washed away. So far 34 people have died and we are trying to normalise the situation as soon as possible.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet he was “anguished” by the loss of life.

The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand is especially prone to flooding. More than 200 were feared killed in February after flash floods swept away a hydroelectric dam.

Unseasonally heavy rains across India have led to deadly floods in several areas of the country in recent days. Authorities in the southern state of Kerala said on Monday more than 20 people had died there following landslides. (This story corrects typographic error in the last paragraph)

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Jane Wardell)

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Japanese volcano spews plumes of ash, people warned away

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A  volcano erupted in Japan on Wednesday, blasting ash several miles into the sky and prompting officials to warn against the threat of lava flows and falling rocks, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

Mount Aso, a tourist destination on the main southern island of Kyushu, sent plumes of ash 3.5 km (2.2 miles) high when it erupted at about 11:43 a.m. (0243 GMT), the Japan Meteorological Agency said.

It raised the alert level for the volcano to 3 on a scale of 5, telling people not to approach, and warned of a risk of large falling rocks and pyroclastic flows within a radius of about 1 km (0.6 mile) around the mountain’s Nakadake crater.

The government is checking to determine the status of a number of climbers on the mountain at the time, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, but added that there were no reports of casualties.

Television networks broadcast images of a dark cloud of ash looming over the volcano that swiftly obscured large swathes of the mountain.

Ash falls from the 1,592-metre (5,222-foot) mountain in the prefecture of Kumamoto are expected to shower nearby towns until late afternoon, the weather agency added.

Mount Aso had a small eruption in 2019, while Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years killed 63 people on Mount Ontake in September 2014.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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UK Manchester Airport terminal to reopen after security scare

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Terminal Two at Britain’s  Manchester Airport will reopen after Greater Manchester Police found no security threat following reports of a suspicious package, a spokesperson for the airport said on Tuesday.

“…Greater Manchester Police is satisfied that there is no security threat and has lifted the cordon that was in place,” the spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the terminal will reopen within the next hour.

The terminal was closed earlier on Tuesday evening after police began assessment of reports of a suspicious package.

In a previous statement, the airport said a “controlled evacuation” was taking place.

(Reporting by Costas Pitas and Nishit Jogi in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)

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