Greg Enright: Summing up a busy July

There was a fair bit of news generated in the Canadian telecom sector in July, but unfortunately, not much of it was of the good variety. Two of our stories highlight instances of this less-than-positive trend. A third, our feature, is not so much a bad-news story, but one that highlights the sense of flux that the larger telecom picture in this country appears to be in.

On the downbeat side, Oakville, Ont.’s Sheridan College is shutting down its Telecommunications Management program (see our story on page nine.) The demise of a long-thriving program at a college on the cusp of the country’s largest economic centre is not something those interested in the telecom sector’s health should look upon lightly.

While there’s no certainty that such a development will lead to any kind of larger trend, it’s not the kind of event industry insiders would want to see repeated at any other post-secondary institution. Finding top-notch talent to operate a telecom network would get that much tougher if other schools were forced to follow suit.

Even when market conditions were thriving a few years back and schools were turning out an impressive number of quality graduates, Canadian corporations were put to the test to ensure that talent came to work for them. The lure of jobs south of the border, with remuneration in the attractive American dollar, coupled with sweetly enhanced benefits and perks packages, made it tough for their often smaller brethren north of the border to keep the talent up here.

Now, although that picture has been altered somewhat by an American telecom sector that has also seen a general slide into hard times, the situation gets even tougher for such firms. Job offers that still come with larger paycheques in U.S. figures, coupled with a smaller talent pool from which to draw, will make it that much more of a daunting task to find the hires that Canadian telcos, service providers and enterprises are seeking.

The top story on page one describes the extent to which public wireless LAN hotspots are being adopted in Canada. While it is beginning to find some success in specific vertical markets, such as the travel industry, the book is clearly out as to how this technology will gain a wider adoption rate. A lack of confidence amongst potential users around the area of security, and a dearth of roaming agreements that would make the experience with such devices truly seamless, are but two factors hindering its growth.

This issue’s feature article, on pages 12-13, highlights the latest ups and downs in the area of foreign ownership of Canadian telecom companies. There appears to be no consensus on just what kind of a role pure telecom services play in Canada’s cultural picture, or the extent to which foreign firms would invest in their Canadian counterparts if they were permitted to charge across the border unencumbered. It appears there is a certain air of inevitability of that possibility becoming a reality, but, as we all know, nothing can be taken for granted in this industry. It’s always full of surprises.