Is Bell coercing the federal government?

An ongoing dispute between Public Works and Government Services Canadaand Bell Canada, over a contract currently held by Telus Corp., raisesconcerns about telecom competition.

Imagine your boss firesyou and replaces you with someone who will accept 90 per cent of yoursalary. Then your replacement fails to deliver, so the boss asks you tocome back for a month on contract. After doing this several months,your replacement is still not up to snuff, and the boss asks you tocome back for yet another month. Do you tell the boss you’ll come backonly if the company will reinstate you full-time?

If so, you’re not alone.

Bell Canada did pretty much the same thing with the federal government, though you may think we’re comparing apples and oranges.

Lastyear, Telus Corp. was awarded a contract by Public Works and GovernmentServices Canada to provide telecommunications services to theDepartment of National Defence.

But Telus was unable to replaceBell services at some locations, so PWGSC asked Bell for monthlyextensions. Eventually, according to published reports, Bell askedPWGSC to renew its original five-year contract and to guarantee monthlyrevenue of at least $1.5 million.

Is it fair to compare Bell toan employee who lost his job, then is being asked to come back to workwithout a long-term contract?

Or is Bell trying to strong-arm the federal government into over-paying for services?

PWGSChas written a letter to the CRTC complaining a minimum revenueguarantee is “unjust” because the current contract with Bell allowsPWGSC to reduce and eliminate services to areas that no longer requirethem.

The big question is whether Telus is at fault for beingunable to ramp up service quickly enough to meet the terms of itscontract. Telus executives don’t think so. In a letter to the CRTC, VPregulatory affairs Ted Woodhead stated: “TELUS has experienced overthe last few months a number of cases where Bell Canada has refused toprovide services in customer transition situations. Bell Canadaincreasingly seems to be engaging in conduct apparently designed totake customers to the brink of termination, even actually refusingservice orders, to gain leverage in negotiations and discipline thecustomer.”

This raises a few questions. Did Bell try to make itdifficult for Telus to meet the terms of its contract? Is Telus tryingto blame Bell for being too slow to start up service? If you are atelecom manager for a large organization, would you do business withBell based on its behaviour?

Let us know what you think.

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