This is just a guess, but I strongly suspect that the electricity sold to Maryland had a lot to do with the severe heat wave experienced during the latter half of June, and continuing into July, over the entire southern states region, and the mid-west, eastern, and New England regions of the USA On several occasions in late June and early July, CNN carried news reports about soaring electricity costs as electric utilities throughout those regions struggled to meet the heavy demand caused by sustained air-conditioning loads on top of all other electric power usage. CNN reported on the cost of a "unit" of electrical energy. (There was no explanation of just what this mysterious "unit" was, but the context made it obvious to informed observers that this was a megawatt-hour.)
For decades, electric companies have been operating a system in which electric generating capacity is bought and sold on a day-by-day, and often on an hour-by-hour basis. Companies which happen to have a generation surplus can offer to sell, and any company requiring an additional supply can choose to buy. The price is determined by a negotiation based on the selling company's cost of generation at the plant having the capacity being offered for sale, and the buying company's highest incremental generation cost at the moment, with transmission losses being taken into account.
According to CNN, the usual going rate for a "unit" (one megawatt-hour) is in the range of $30 to $40 (in US dollars), but during the June-July 1998 heat wave, electricity prices went much higher. There were some hours on some days when the cost of one "unit" of electric energy went as high as $3500 to $4000, and on June 26 there was one report of the cost of a megawatt-hour in the Chicago area as high as $4900. This is about 140 times the usual rate, and illustrates the desperate need for any electric generating capacity that could be found, cost being (apparently) no object. All kinds of old, high-cost plants were being fired up. Also, there was an opportunity for far-distant generating plants — which normally would be shut out by the large losses associated with long-distance transmission — to sell electricity no matter how far away the buyer was from the source. My guess is, it was this situation that made it possible for Nova Scotia Power to sell to Maryland. The transmission losses associated with carrying power from Cape Breton to Maryland normally would make any such sale not feasible.
The matter of transmission losses is complicated. Electrical energy, sold by one company to another far away, can be carried in two ways — by displacement (which often reduces the overall loss), or by increasing transmission line loading (which substantially increases loss). In a long-haul case, such as Cape Breton to Maryland, the power generated in Cape Breton does not actually travel all the way to Maryland. What happens is — one of the seller's generating plants increases its power production by the agreed amount, say 20 megawatts, and at the same time one of the buyer's generating plants reduces its power production by the agreed amount less the calculated transmission loss, say 17 megawatts. The calculation of the appropriate loss allowance is done by a central dispatch computer for the system loading existing at that hour. The details of what happens, line by line, along the way — which lines experienced an increased loading, and which experienced a decreased loading — often are very complex, and are known only to a very few people. An adequate discussion of transmission losses for these inter-utility power sales would take many pages.
Using a 60 cm dish and a set-top receiver, ExpressVu subscribers receive more than 100 channels of Canadian and U.S. networks and specialty channels, sports and out-of-market programming. In the fall of 1998, when ExpressVu moves to its high powered DBS satellite, it will offer the equivalent of 200 channels, on a smaller 45 cm (18 inch) dish, which will be more than any other cable or satellite service in Canada. Express is owned by BCE Inc. of Montreal. [BCE Inc. is the large company that owns Bell Canada Enterprises, the largest telephone company in Canada.]
I cannot provide a list of the channels available from ExpressVu, because ExpressVu's website does not provide a list of the channels it carries. On 27 July 1998, I looked through their website for best part of an hour, and found no list of channels carried by ExpressVu. So I called their toll-free phone number, 1-888-759-3474, and asked where I could find this list online. I was told that they do not have a channel list online.
They took my mailing address and said they would send me a list by surface mail. Not even e-mail! They have more than a dozen programming packages, and they told me I could assemble a complete channel list only by looking at all of these separate packages, one at a time, and writing down the channels included in each package. If I want to find whether they have a particular channel (for example, ATV, which Star Choice does not have) they say the only way to find out if ExpressVu carries it is to look at each individual programming package — or wait a week for the surface mail to arrive.
Incredible! But true.
That channel list, mailed by ExpressVu, arrived on 12 August.
See link below.
|Six days ago, on 24 July, a sales agent of a local retailer offered to sell me a Star Choice set-top box and dish for $999, installed, plus 15% sales tax.|
|This was calculated by estimating the number of telephone customers in Nova Scotia at 720,000 and the population at 950,000. On 31 December 1996, MT&T reported it had 716,521 single party (private-line) customers, and 5,186 multi party (party-line) customers, so the figure 720,000 telephone lines in July 1998 seems reasonable. The population estimate is based on demographic statistics published by the Nova Scotia Department of Finance, and available at http://www.gov.ns.ca/fina/stats.div/publish/facts/1997/fax301.htm|
Whoever wrote that billing insert appears to be someone who has little familiarity with the Internet, and knows naught about the difficulty a viewer has in trying to find a certain special webpage which is located deep within a big website, especially a complex website like MT&T's, designed by someone who knows the site well and forgets that others may have problems decoding the oblique links and uninformative graphics.
If you want a demonstration of these problems, find someone who has used a browser but is relatively new at it, and ask that person to find MT&T's wiring guide given only the information provided by MT&T, that it is located at www.mtt.ca. If that person goes to www.mtt.ca expecting to find there a link labelled Wiring Guide, he/she will be disappointed. If that person is familiar with search engines, and happens to see the tiny "search/site map" link off in a corner, he/she may decide to try the search feature. I tried it. I did a search using "wiring guide" and got 15 hits. None of these led to the document described by the billing insert as a wiring guide. On 11 August 1998, I sent a comment to MT&T's Digital Soapbox, http://www.mtt.ca/AtHome/LetsTalk/index.html
After a lot of wandering around in the dark, I found it more or less by accident. To assist those who don't want to spend a lot of time wandering into blind alleys (each supplied with lots of slow-downloading graphics), that wiring guide is at http://www.mtt.ca/AtHome/Services/InsideWire/index.html
Keeping the "churn rate" low is vitally important to any long distance company. Churn rate measures the proportion of customers who switch from and to a company. When a customer decides to go elsewhere, money must be spent to find a replacement customer. This expenditure is not productive, since all it accomplishes is staying the same. Lowering the churn rate reduces these unproductive expenditures. For an excellent discussion of churn rates, see http://www.edventure.com/release1/1197.html The Fridge Door.
"Churn — alarmingly high customer loss — bedevils telecom companies, cable TV service operators and online services... The average churn rate for online services and ISPs today is believed to be around 45 percent per year."]
The Sprint flyer, distributed 15 July, had a cutoff postcard to be filled out and mailed to Sprint (postage paid by Sprint) for use by customers who wanted to sign up for this $20 a month flat rate service. The postcard had an interesting feature: Three check-off boxes for customers to indicate their language preferance:
"I would like to receive all future verbal and written communications in (check one)
[ ]English [ ]French [ ]Chinese."
ICS comment, written 8 July 1998:
No doubt this flat rate innovation is, in large part, attributable to the pressure of competition between the above-named long distance telephone companies, but, it also seems to me to be a response to the enormous threat of a rapidly developing new technology — free Internet long distance telephone service, which is fast becoming a viable option for many people. Over the last couple of months, there have been media reports of several companies getting into the business of selling, at very low flat-rate prices, long distance telephone service which bypasses all the conventional long distance telephone companies, and all long distance charges, by converting the analog voice audio signal to digital form, then sending it in packets over the Internet, reassembling the packets at the destination, converting back to analog, and delivering the voice signal to the destination telephone — in both directions.
For at least two years, some people have been using the Internet for long distance telephone calls, mainly as an experimental curiosity. The process has been notorious for poor audio quality, and unpredictable delays at random points during the conversation, due to congestion on Internet transmission paths. Recently, the technology has improved to the point where audio quality is acceptable, and the inherent random delays have been reduced to a level that many people find tolerable in light of the lack of long distance charges.
Until recently, Internet long distance telephone calls were available only to people who already had a computer fitted with suitable hardware and software, with an Internet connection — these conditions had to be met at both ends of the conversation, and, in addition, the people at both ends had to have compatible software, and had to make advance arrangements for both to be on-line at the same time. Now, there are companies making and selling telephones with the necessary technology built into the phone — you no longer need a computer or even an Internet connection, the regular telephone connection serves the purpose by routing the originating call to a local number supplied with the telephone, at which the transition to the Internet is made. All that is taken care of by the company, at both ends. You buy one of these special telephones, and you can talk to anyone else who has one, anywhere, free of long distance charges, and without making an appointment in advance.
This poses an enormous and imminent threat to all the long distance telephone companies. This 1990s threat to the conventional telephone companies is reminiscent of the threat, posed in the late 1800s, to the mainstream telecommunications companies of the day — the wealthy and powerful telegraph companies, such as Western Union — by a new and unimpressive technology then struggling to survive, invented by an obscure Scottish teacher of deaf children. In 1878 Western Union had an opportunity to buy that patent for a measly $100,000, but, failing to recognize the threat, refused. In the 1990s, Western Union is a faint shadow of what it once was, because its senior management could not see the shape of the future.
Postscript, written 15 July 1998:
In today's The Globe and Mail, this sentence appears on page B21: "We can bypass the telephone company." It was attributed to Paul Lum, general manager of Vancouver-based Internet Gateway Corporation, an Internet service provider.
Reference: Internet Gateway Corporation
Mr. Lum was not discussing long distance service; he was talking about the local link between the customer (the end-user) and the Internet, a link which now almost always is supplied by the local telephone company through a copper twisted-pair line. [My connection to the Internet today is through a copper twisted-pair telephone circuit. I wonder what it will be ten years from now. Even five years...]
The Globe article was mainly about WaveRider Communications Incorporated of Salmon Arm, British Columbia, which has developed a wireless telecommunications device as a solution to the Last Mile Problem — the communications link between the telephone company's local exchange and the customer's home or office.
Reference: WaveRider Communications Incorporated
WaveRider makes a high-speed modem that allows users to access the Internet without wires. WaveRider's device, known as the NCL135, uses radio waves to provide a communications link that operates at speed of about a megabit per second. The NCL135 is suited for bigger organizations which otherwise often would use a T1 line leased from the telephone company for about $2,000 to $3,000 (Canadian) a month.
WaveRider is now developing a modem device designed to provide wireless Internet access to individual homes and small businesses in the North American market. This Last Mile Solution can be hooked directly to the parallel port in personal computers.
Reference: Last Mile Solution
Being wireless (radio) it needs no metallic connection — no wires — between the computer and the local telephone company's system. The customer's computer can be up to seven kilometres from the ISP's wireless base station — in other words, the ISP's base station covers a circular area about 7 km in radius. It is expected to be available by the end of 1998, to be leased to customers through Internet service providers for around $25 (Canadian) per month. (All of these prices are before sales tax.) Its top transmission speed is 135 kilobits per second, more than twice as fast as the 57.6 kilobits per second speed of the top-of-the-line modems now available for use with personal computers. That rental rate of around $25 a month compares well with the cost of a second telephone line into a home whose residents want two separate lines, one for Internet access for hours at a time, and the other for regular telephone service. [For comparison, my home telephone line now costs exactly $25.00 per month (plus 15% HST).]
So the telephone companies now are threatened on two fronts, long distance and local service. In the local telephone service market [technically known as the Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs)] the threat has been hovering on the distant horizon for years, in the form of cable television companies which have been talking about using their coaxial cable distribution systems to get into the business of supplying local telephone service in competition with the established telephone companies such as MT&T.
This has always been a sort of some-day-we-will-get-around-to-it-but-not-right-now discussion. Now, and suddenly, there is an entirely new threat, from this wireless modem, which does not have to wait for the cable TV companies to spend the large amounts of money required to convert their one-way coaxial systems to the two-way operation necessary for them to be able to offer local telephone service. Later in 1999, any ISP (Internet service provider) can decide to make this service available in Halifax, or Bridgewater, or Sydney, or Antigonish, or Wolfville, without any massive rebuilding of pole-mounted cable TV lines, and any customer who wants to can lease one of these wireless modems. It will be that easy, and that inexpensive (compared to the alternatives), to "bypass the telephone company" for local service — at least for Internet access. But when Internet access is obtained, can digital telephone service be far behind?
Sometimes I wonder if today's local telephone companies feel like the streetcar companies of the early 1920s, watching the inexorable rise of competition from automobiles. In 1920, Nova Scotia had electric railway (streetcar) lines providing frequent, low-cost passenger transportation in Halifax, Sydney - Glace Bay, Yarmouth, and Trenton - New Glasgow - Stellarton - Westville. By 1950, all had disappeared forever.
11 August 1998:
The rise of the Internet has brought into vogue a more efficient method for transmitting phone calls... Using so-called "packet technology," voice and data is translated into a digital format and then broken into smaller pieces, which take the most efficient routes to the receiving end, where the information is reassembled. This method can be used across traditional copper wires, fiber-optic lines and via satellite... The more efficient Internet-based technique is getting the attention of Bell Atlantic and other major phone companies...
Excerpted from "Bell Atlantic strike is flash point for wrenching technological change" in The San Francisco Chronicle, 10 August 1998.
|540 days remaining before 1 January 2000.|
While this was the first for a newspaper edited in Nova Scotia, The Globe and Mail's National Edition, including the 25,000 or so copies printed in Nova Scotia, had placed the Year 2000 computer problem at the top of its front page as early as 4 February 1998, when the headline at the top of page A1 read:
Ignoring computer problem should mean
no loans or insurance, business group says
Annapolis Valley Radio Ltd.
29 Oakdene Avenue
Kentville, Nova Scotia B4N 1H5