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Rob Ford and Karen Stintz argue over whether he phoned her

Just when we thought city hall couldn’t get any more childish, Rob Ford and Karen Stintz decide to stand in the same room and trade tweenage insults through the press. The background: this week, Ford publicly scorned the TTC’s recent $50-million, sole-sourced contract for the newsstands, bakeries and cafés in the subway system; Stintz says she twice tried to call the mayor to discuss the deal, but never heard back. Yesterday, when Stintz found out the mayor was holding an impromptu press conference, she hustled to Ford’s office to observe. After a Ford staffer asked why she crashed the scrum, she replied, in pitch-perfect passive aggression, “I just want to hear what the mayor has to say. I don’t hear from him directly.” For his part, Ford vowed he left a message for Stintz as soon as he heard about the deal and offered to show reporters his cellphone history, triumphantly declaring, “cellphones don’t lie.” Maybe they don’t, but it seems like at least one of these politicians is fibbing. [Globe and Mail]

(Images: Rob Ford, Christopher Drost; Karen Stintz, Mike Beltzner)

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More evidence of a new era at the TTC: cellphone service on subway platforms is in; maroon jackets are out

(Image: Markian Lozowchuk)

As soon as Andy Byford took the helm of the TTC in March, the changes began. He opted for a beefed up title—“CEO” rather than “general manager,” like those who held the position before him—to mark a symbolic change. He publicly chided staff for customer service embarrassments. He installed fancy hand dryers in station washrooms. Seven months into his tenure, the evolution continues. Here, three more signs that the TTC is moving into a new phase (we can only hope it’s a phase with less crowded streetcars).

Cellphone service is coming to subway stations
The old regime: Save for a few brief above-ground segments, subway riders operate in a digital blackhole.
The new regime: Officials estimate most stations will have service within two years. Some of the signals will likely bleed into the tunnels, making texting on the train a possibility, at least downtown where the stations are close together.
Is it a good thing? Though many will complain about feeling surrounded by loud talkers, it’ll be great to notify  friends or colleagues in the event of (inevitable) subway-induced tardiness. Of course, the TTC could just try to keep the trains on schedule.

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Q&A: Wind Mobile CEO Anthony Lacavera, the man that’s battling big telecom

He’s been trading punches with the three big telecom companies for years. He’s just won a huge battle. Here’s what’s in it for you

Anthony Lacavera

(Image: Mark Peckmezian)

When you launched Wind Mobile in 2009, you were a folk hero to disgruntled cellphone customers. Today, Canadians still pay some of the highest rates in the world, and customer service in the industry is as miserable as ever. What went wrong? Did you sell out?
Nothing went wrong. But when you’re competing against a 30-year entrenched oligopoly in Bell, Rogers and Telus, you encounter some obstacles.

Like what?
Where do I start? All three have failed to fully cooperate with the government’s requirement that they allow us to put our equipment on their towers, so we had to build our own. But the worst roadblock was the big three lobbying the CRTC to block our launch in 2009. They claimed that Wind was foreign controlled because my main investor was Egyptian. The CRTC shut us down for two months. I had 700 employees and zero revenue. We burned through tens of millions of dollars. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which dismissed it in April.

How did you celebrate the ruling?
I took my girlfriend, Kimberly, to Paris. She’s a shoe freak, so we went to a Christian Louboutin show.

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Jesse Brown: Shouldn’t we be more concerned about our privacy?

Every trip to the mall, every phone call, every email can be stored and potentially used against us in the future

OverexposedWhat’s your privacy worth? According to a recent study by the German Institute for Economic Research, less than 66 cents. The Institute presented moviegoers in Berlin with a choice when they purchased film tickets online. They could buy them from a theatre that demanded their cellphone numbers, which could be used however the theatre pleased, or, for the same price, they could buy a ticket from a theatre that didn’t ask for any personal information. Eighty three per cent of patrons chose the latter. The next batch of customers was presented with the same choice, only this time the privacy-friendly theatre charged a little bit extra—half a euro, or 66 cents Canadian. Sales dropped to 31 per cent. The lesson? We may prefer privacy, but we’re not really willing to pay for it.

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Bell Mobility faces a class-action lawsuit over its pre-paid wireless services

Bad news for Bell Mobility and parent company BCE: they have been served with a $100-million class-action lawsuit over wireless services—a division that has been a cash cow for the company in recent months. Bell Mobility customer Celia Sankar says expiry dates on pre-paid wireless services are illegal, arguing that the payments are defined as “gift cards” under Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act and therefore shouldn’t have a best-before date that allows the company to seize unused credits. If the class-action suit is allowed to proceed, Sankar will represent anyone in Ontario who has used Bell Mobility, Virgin Mobile Canada and Solo Mobile pre-paid wireless services since May 4, 2010 (i.e., a boatload of people).
[Canadian Press]

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The weirdest mayoralty ever—the inside story of Rob Ford’s city hall

Loyal councillors have defied him. His approval ratings have plummeted. And his powerful Conservative backers are nervous. How did it all go so wrong? The strange story of Rob Ford’s city hall

The Incredible Shrinking Mayor

On Newstalk 1010, the sly strains of the Hollies hit “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” offered the first clue. Then morning host Jerry Agar burst on the air with a surprise announcement: Rob Ford and his councillor sibling Doug were taking over the station’s Sunday afternoon talk-fest, The City. For the once-staid CFRB, landing the boisterous brother act that Margaret Atwood had puckishly dubbed the “twin Ford mayors” was clearly a coup, but that didn’t answer the more obvious question: why on earth would the Fords want to spend two more hours a week in front of an open microphone when they were hardly suffering from a lack of media exposure?

Rob Ford, after all, ranks as one of the most compelling and exhaustively chronicled figures in Canadian politics, adored and despised with equal gusto. His every pronouncement seems to turn into front-page fodder, his every grimace and belly scratch catalogued by rapt photographers. And who could forget the YouTube footage of comedian Mary Walsh arriving in his driveway, decked out with a velvet breastplate and a plastic sword?

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Andy Byford writes an icy memo to TTC employees


The TTC has had a few customer service embarrassments over the last few years (workers texting on the road, leaving their routes to pick up snacks and so on) but two within a few days is pretty bad. Last week, a TTC driver was videoed using a cellphone while piloting a subway, then days later, another was caught reading a newspaper while driving a streetcar. TTC chief exec and tough-talking clean freak Andy Byford is not happy about the blunders and released a scathing memo to staff this morning, voicing his displeasure.

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A new BlackBerry exhibit showcases primitive RIM products (no, not the PlayBook)

With RIM-bashing at a high (naturally, we’ve done our share), sometimes we need a reminder that Research In Motion still has fans—and die-hard ones, too. Starting this week, tech enthusiast and curator Syd Bolton will celebrate the 13-year history of the BlackBerry in an exhibit at the Personal Computer Museum in Brantford. Bolton, who also owns Canada’s largest collection of video games, has gathered more than 20 BlackBerrys, including the delightfully archaic 850, which ran on two AA batteries and displayed eight lines of text. We admit, it’s nice to see BlackBerry getting some love—but museums tend to show relics from the past. Which makes it feel like BlackBerry has already been relegated to cellphone history. Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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Jesse Brown: Why smart phones in the classroom equals smarter kids

Fears of cyber-cheating and sexting in school are so last year

Gadget Goes to SchoolWhen Dalton McGuinty suggested in September 2010 that cellphones and tablets might have useful educational applications, he was savaged by both the press and his political opponents. The Toronto Sun called the idea a “terrible” surrender to already tech-addled kids who want to use gadgets only for Facebook. The National Post likened it to welcoming cigarettes and sharp objects into class. Even Wired magazine panned the idea of gadgets in school as “premature,” citing the potential for distraction, cyber-cheating and a digital divide between kids with the latest gear and kids without. The Ontario Tories picked up all the outrage and ran with it, slamming the notion as “absurd,” a prime example of just how out of touch McGuinty was, and asking, “Shouldn’t our kids be learning math and science instead?” They went on to suggest that if McGuinty gets his way, we will soon have “sexting” in our classrooms.

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Reaction roundup: What the city’s sports (and business) writers are saying about the MLSE deal

Sure, the fact that Bell Canada and Rogers have teamed up to purchase Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment is old news now, but the full implications of the deal remain to be seen. For our part, we’re wondering if the Toronto Maple Leafs will be slapped with absurd roaming charges on the road, or whether fans will have to purchase beer by following a series of annoying prompts on their cellphones. Of course, there’s also the tricky matter of whether or not the $1.32-billion purchase will turn out to be a good thing or a bad thing for Toronto sports teams—and, by extension, their fans—when it comes to the business of winning and losing. We round up what the city’s sportswriter corps is saying on the matter, after the jump.

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Toronto writer Alexandra Molotkow shares the secrets of her cybersexual education

I’m among the first generation to come of age on the Internet. By 13, I was an expert at chat room sex, spotting cyber-pervs and hiding my secret life from my parents

My Cybersexual Education

In 1997, when I was in Grade 6, my friends and I sat at the back of the classroom and talked about sex. We would speculate on what it felt like and place bets on how old we’d be when we finally lost our virginity. We would make fun of the way orgasms sounded in movies and imagine what celebrities’ sex lives involved. Later, at home, we’d reconvene on ICQ, one of the Internet’s first major instant messaging systems, which allowed us to have conversations we wouldn’t want our parents overhearing. That was what the Internet was to us: pretty much what a tree house would have been a few years earlier.

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Jesse Brown: how big wireless companies, the banks, and even the actors’ union are keeping our mobile bills the highest in the world

Give Us Your MoneyGetting gouged by cellphone providers is such a routine part of life in Canada that it barely seems worth complaining about. Yet we complain all the time. We trade tales of shocking bills and awful customer service at every opportunity. We complain to friends and we complain to strangers. I complain professionally. To be a technology journalist in Canada is to constantly feed the nation’s seething consumer outrage.

Yes, Canadians pay higher monthly wireless bills than citizens of any other country, according to a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Yes, our data roaming fees are higher than those in any other country, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Yes, a cartel of three carriers—Bell, Rogers and Telus—still controls 95 per cent of our market, despite the emergence of budget providers Wind, Public and Mobilicity. And yes, text message fees in Canada are ridiculously marked up, by as much as 4,900 per cent, according to academic estimates. Each story solidifies our right to kvetch. We truly are the most screwed-over cellphone users in the world.

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Rob Ford distracts masses from real issues by making more bad life choices 

Yesterday, news broke that police chief Bill Blair could be risking his career—oh, never mind. Rob Fords been caught using his mobile phone while driving again. The Globe and Mail interviewed a woman who said she saw the mayor breaking the law near Dundas West and Spadina. You may recall that the last time was Ford was busted (in the same area) was in the midst of one of his administration’s shakiest months to date. Ford was facing mounting opposition to the core services review, and then, all of a sudden, he’s caught on his cellphone behind the wheel (not to mention allegedly flipping off a mother and daughter). While it’s disappointing that the mayor’s bad habits are (temporarily) deflecting attention away from another rough patch for his administration, we have to wonder if this is all part of some ingenious scheme—you know, the good ol’ go-out-and-do-something-stupid-to-distract-people trick. Of course, it’s also nice to have a friend who can do it for you. Read the entire story [Globe and Mail] »

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My Digital Sabbath: how one writer learned to stop checking Facebook and love life offline

My Digital Sabbath

I can’t say specifically which fabulous new technology made me decide I needed a break from all fabulous new technologies. For years I had been blissfully work-playing and play-working in the miasma of plugged-in life, writing magazine columns while live-streaming baseball games and listening to music and IMing and playing online chess and checking my email every two minutes, and not worrying whether performing five or six tasks simultaneously might limit my ability to perform any of them adequately. Maybe it was the iPad, a device designed, as far as I can tell, to allow you to watch television while you’re watching television. A friend told me about trying to talk to her teenage son while he was on his iPhone. “Why are you always looking at that thing when I’m trying to talk to you?” she asked. He answered: “Where do you think I learned it from, Mom?”

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Cell service on the subway: good news may be coming in the fall 

More than a year has passed since the TTC announced it was going to try to bring cellphone service to the subway. Back then, then–TTC chair Adam Giambrone declared that Toronto commuters would be able to talk, text and surf by mid-2012, but the transit system has essentially been mum on the issue since then. Yesterday, however, MobileSyrup, a blog about mobile news for Canadians, reported that TTC Director of Communications Brad Ross had said the process is moving forward—right now, the commission is in the procurement stage—and that the TTC would likely share more definitive news in the fall. We hope the news is that we’ll no longer have to wait to cross the Don Valley to update Twitter anymore (though we do enjoy watching transit riders frantically reach for their BlackBerrys as they roll out of the underground and into the 3G-friendly open air). Read the entire story [MobileSyrup] »

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