Atlantic Provinces Give Cut to Online Partner

An online service providing Internet access to selected government databases such as registry and property tax information is making life easier for users of the system in the Atlantic provinces. Of note is the fact that the vendor that built the service also paid for it, with the promise of a cut of the service fees later on.

Atlantic Canada Online (ACOL) is a fee-based service that lets users – mainly financial institutions, real-estate companies, law firms and selected individuals – retrieve, search, update and register information relating to things like properties, taxes and debts.

Under construction since 1996 by Unisys Canada, which committed as much as $10 million and five years work to the project, the network charges fees to financial services firms and banks that use the service, said Clyde Horner, ACOL coordinator in Halifax, N.S.

The system links Web sites to mainframes and servers in provincial agencies in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. The provinces have already put property registration systems online. Future plans include a property tax information system and a business registration system in Nova Scotia.

ACOL provides faster access to information, said Barb Heinrich, manager of national customer service at the Canadian Securities Registration System in Richmond, B.C., one of the largest users of ACOL. The company is using the service to help its clients register property information with local authorities.

Before ACOL, a manual system required lenders, using property as collateral for loans, to send representatives to a county registration office to investigate – sometimes in all of Nova Scotia’s 18 counties.

“From the government’s point of view, I now own an improved service without having the overhead of managing it,” said Don Scott, an ACOL project manager for New Brunswick’s provincial government.

Users register by depositing money with Unisys. When a transaction is done, Unisys withdraws a fixed amount from the deposit, keeping part of it and transferring the rest to a government account. The fee for online document registration is $7, and a search costs $5. – Jaikumar Vijayan