Regulatory, Telecom & Media News – Shaw temporarily lays off 10% of workforce

Shaw Communications has temporarily laid off approximately 10% of its workforce, mostly those in retail and sales roles, effective Apr. 16. President and CEO Paul McAleese said the company will be providing financial support, using its own funds, to top up affected employees beyond government programs and continue to pay out company benefits and pension contributions during the layoff period. Right now, Shaw is ineligible for emergency government assistance. Read more here.

Shaw Communications has released its Q2 financial and operating results for the quarter ended Feb. 29, reporting consolidated revenue increases of 3.7% to $1.36 billion and an adjusted EBITDA increase of 9.5% year-over-year to $600 million. Removing the $41 million impact from IFRS 16, adjusted EBITDA growth was approximately 2.0%. In the second quarter, the company added approximately 54,000 net postpaid customers, building its wireless subscriber base to nearly 1.8 million customers. Postpaid churn increased marginally in the second quarter to 1.57%. In the Wireline segment, Consumer Internet net additions grew by approximately 6,100. The number of customers electing to self-install increased in the quarter and was over 50% of eligible installs. Shaw Business increased its top-line revenue by 4.3% year-over-year to $144 million in the quarter.

Bell Media has confirmed that some employees are working reduced hours at 75% of their regular salary to match a change in workload due to the impact of COVID-19. While the company declined to disclose the number of employees affected, Rob Duffy, Manager, Communications, for CTV News, TSN, and Bell Media Sports, told Broadcast Dialogue in an email that the reduction in hours will continue for the next four weeks. Employees will still receive full benefits. Duffy said so far there have been no pandemic-related staff reductions in the Media division. Bell Media is just the latest in a series of companies to temporarily scale back its workforce. Print media has seen the deepest cuts with the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) estimating that there have been more than 600 temporary or permanent layoffs in the Canadian news industry since mid-March. Read more here.

The CRTC has issued a call for comments on regulations to be made under the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) which came into force last July with the objective of realizing a “Canada without barriers” for persons with disabilities. The commission will be creating new regulations regarding the accessibility reporting requirements for broadcasting undertakings, Canadian telecommunications common carriers, and telecommunications service providers. The deadline for interventions is May 14.

The CRTC is postponing the May 25 hearing to consider CBC/Radio-Canada’s licence renewals for its various English- and French-language audio and audio-visual programming services. A new hearing date will be announced.

CBC has launched a Creative Relief Fund that will make $2 million in development and production funding available to Canadian storytellers. The fund is aimed at providing immediate support to Canadian creators and is open to project pitches from scripted comedies and dramas, to podcasts, play adaptations and short documentaries. Applications are open until Apr. 24. Read more here.

Cogeco has released its Q2 financials, reporting stable and a 1.1% increase in revenue in the second-quarter and first six months of fiscal 2020, respectively. The Communications segment was stable due to organic growth in American broadband services operations, partly offset by a decrease in Canadian broadband services operations; and stable revenue in the Other segment mainly due to a soft radio advertising market and increased competition from other media platforms. In addition, revenue for the first six months were higher due to the acquisition of 10 regional radio stations in Nov. 2018 from RNC Média inc. during the first quarter of fiscal 2019. The company says media activities, which represent less than 5% of Cogeco’s consolidated revenue, are expected to be more proportionally impacted by the COVID-19 crisis than the Communications segment. Cogeco’s radio business has already temporarily laid off 25% of its staff due to pandemic revenue pressures.

TekSavvy Solutions is asking the CRTC to enact emergency provisions to put in place final wholesale rates in accordance with the commission’s Aug. 2019 decision while the appeals process plays out to ensure independent ISPs can continue to deliver service. Andy Kaplan-Myrth, VP of Regulatory & Carrier Affairs at TekSavvy, says the inflated rates independent ISPs are paying big telecoms to access their high-speed networks, coupled with the pressures COVID-19 has created, is making it impossible to meet costs. TekSavvy has also asked the CRTC to investigate unilateral changes big Canadian carriers are making to regulated processes for ordering, service installations and repairs. It says without CRTC oversight, the big incumbent carriers “may bestow undue commercial advantages to their retail services through the uneven application of stricter COVID-19 procedures.”

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has released new data offering insight into how technology and internet use has changed in Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The findings suggest that with the number of Canadians working from home having skyrocketed, many are experiencing slower internet speeds as video streaming and teleconferencing usage spikes. Based on an online survey conducted by The Strategic Counsel of 1,200 Canadian internet users from April 3-7, the report found that 38% of respondents reported their home internet connection slower than before the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing began. B.C. residents were more likely to say their connection is slower since the pandemic began (49%). Read more here.

Rogers is moving ahead with its ForwardTogether initiative that will see the carrier continue to waive Canadian long-distance voice calling fees for wireless, home phone, and small businesses customers of Rogers, Fido and chatr, through June 30. It’s also removing data usage caps for Rogers and Fido customers on limited home internet plans. Additionally, free access to a rotating selection of channels is being extended for Ignite TV and Digital TV customers, including Tubi TV: a new, permanent ad-supported app on Ignite TV with thousands of free movies and TV shows. Through its commitment to waive Roam Like Home, Fido Roam and pay-per-use roaming fees from Mar. 16 to Apr. 30 in more than 180 countries, Rogers says it helped more than 150,000 Canadians stay connected at no cost while they made their way back to Canada.

Corus has launched #CanadaTogether, a national initiative to help inspire and engage Canadians by highlighting contributions and acts of kindness that businesses and individuals are making in the face of the pandemic. The initiative features broadcast and social spots featuring a chorus of Canadian voices coming together to thank frontline workers, first responders, health care workers, grocery providers, transit and sanitation workers, and all those who can’t work from home in some way. The campaign encourages all Canadians to join in singing “O Canada” together every Sunday at noon to express their gratitude to frontline workers.

Videotron and Quebecor have supplied 150 mobile phones with unlimited data plans to Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (CHUM), a designated COVID-19 institution, so patients can communicate with CHUM physicians from their hospital beds using a smartphone. The new initiative, instigated by La Fondation du CHUM, will enable patients to receive necessary care and treatment while limiting contact with health professionals, thus minimizing the risks of contagion.

TELUS has announced it’s expediting capital investments from its previously announced $16 billion investment in Alberta to support the province through the COVID-19 pandemic. As it reallocates its 2020 capital spend, TELUS will bring forward certain projects originally targeted for 2021, bringing its total investment in network infrastructure and operations in the province in 2020 to approximately $3.5 billion. TELUS will expand its PureFibre and high-speed internet networks to 282,000 homes and businesses across Alberta, with a specific focus on connecting rural and remote communities that require access to reliable networks as they adapt to new ways of living and working through the pandemic. TELUS says the investments will directly support 3,500 jobs for Albertans. 

Canada’s Rural & Remote Broadband Conference Series has announced revised dates for the CRRBC WEST and EAST events. Originally scheduled for May, the WEST and EAST conferences have moved to Nov. 2020, with the Oct. 5-7 dates for the event in Huntsville, ON unchanged. CRRBC West will take place Nov. 8-10 at the Coastal Canmore Hotel & Conference Centre, Canmore, AB, while the EAST event happen Nov. 15-17 at the Fredericton Convention Centre, in Fredericton, NB. Planning is underway for a virtual conference in May from which $10 from each registration will be donated to relief funds in support of conference centre staff directly affected by the COVID-19 closures. 

The Google News Initiative has launched a Journalism Emergency Relief Fund to deliver aid to thousands of small, medium and local news publishers globally. The funding is open to news organizations producing original news for local communities and will range from the low thousands of dollars for small hyper-local newsrooms to low tens of thousands for larger newsrooms. Publishers everywhere can apply until Apr. 29.

The Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA) has written an open letter calling on federal and provincial governments to reach out directly to ethnic media with COVID-19 updates. CEMA Chair Madeline Ziniak says many ethnic media are having to rely on coverage from major outlets and is concerned about how hygiene, financial assistance and other information is being communicated to the estimated 250 ethnic groups in Canada, whose first language is neither English or French. 

RTDNA Canada regional award winners have been announced online with all four of the organization’s regional awards galas and its annual conference cancelled. In announcing this year’s winners, Fiona Conway, RTDNA Canada President, said recognizing the important work of members in this time of disruption is a reminder that journalism has never been more important. National, Network and Lifetime Achievement award winners will be announced in the coming days.

Kim Bolan

Kim Bolan, an investigative reporter covering gangs and organized crime for the Vancouver Sun, is the recipient of the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s (CJF) Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her fearless commitment to truth in the face of threats and intimidation. Bolan has covered a range of stories in her 36 years with the Sun, best known for reporting on some of the biggest criminal cases in Canadian history, including the 1985 Air India bombing. Her work has taken her to wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central America and to northern India to expose the roots of the extremism that led to the Air India bombing. She is also a journalism Instructor at Vancouver’s Langara College where she teaches media and the law, and investigative reporting. Bolan will be honoured at the CJF Awards on Oct. 30 in Toronto.

Eric Blais

FEATURE: In Eric Blais’ latest Rethinking Media column, he reflects on the stages of transition as we weather massive global change and looks ahead to strategic foresight and effective brand and corporate recovery. Read more here.