Service providers, businesses and residents in the far north are going to get another chance to vent their frustration against the country’s biggest phone company.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said Thursday it will hold a public hearing next summer into the telecommunications services offered by Bell Canada’s Northwestel Inc. subsidiary.
The announcement comes exactly a year after the commission ended Northwestel’s monopoly on local phone service.
It also comes after protests over Northwestel’s proposed $273 million modernization plan, which was tied to Bell’s planned billion dollar acquisition of Astral Media. The commission killed that deal.
For example, last July the SSI Group, which provides wireless broadband and satellite service to the north, issued a press release complaining Northwestel “threatened” that if the Bell-Astral deal sank it wouldn’t improve telecom service. SSI has its own network but also buys backbone connectivity from Northwestel. It is fighting with Northwestel now before the commission on certain tariff rates.
Northwestel's initial proposed plan was a “blatant broadside attack on competition,” the SSI release also said.
Dean Proctor, chief development officer for SSI Group praised the CRTC’s move in an interview Thursday, saying its “something we’ve been waiting for for a while.”
In particular he’s pleased that the hearing won’t just focus on Northwestel but will broadly cover increasing telecom competition in the north including the cost of backbone transport.
“This is about how to properly address the communications needs of the north going forward and to make it a more hospitable place for telecom consumers.”
In a statement about the CRTC review Northwestelnsaid it is “proud of its long history of providing state-of-the-art communications across some of the most challenging terrain in the world.”
The statement also said the company will provide extensive information on its operations, including a revised modernization plan.
In announcing the review, CRCT chair Jean-Pierre Blais
said that "Canadians expect to have a choice of high-quality telecommunications services, regardless of where they live.
"Last year, we expressed concern about the services available to northern Canadians and required Northwestel to develop a plan to modernize its aging network.” A public consultation followed by hearings next June in Inuvik and Whitehorse “will allow us to conduct a comprehensive review of Northwestel’s services and its planned improvements."