For businesses in Canada’s North to create jobs for tomorrow’s economy, the region’s communications infrastructure must be upgraded in a competitive, innovative environment, not in the de facto monopoly atmosphere, a CRTC hearing has been told.
“We need jobs for today’s economy and tomorrow’s economy,” said Samer Bishay, President and CEO of both Iristel Inc. and ICE Wireless. “We need to build advanced communications infrastructure that plugs all Northerners into the rest of the world. And, as we’ve seen in the rest of Canada and in other parts of the world, it is healthy competition which delivers innovation and affordable prices.”
The incumbent telephone company, BCE-owned NorthwesTel Inc., has squandered millions of dollars of annual public subsidies with little upgrades in service, Mr. Bishay added. Simple things like call display are not available in most parts of the North and high-speed Internet, where available, is expensive.
“Though this hearing is formally called a Review of NorthwesTel’s Regulatory Framework and Modernization Plan, we think it boils down to two words: fairness and choice,” Mr. Bishay told the panel of commissioners from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
The hearings this week in Inuvik and Whitehorse come two years after the CRTC opened Canada’s North to telecommunications competition, ending – on paper, at least – NorthwesTel’s regulated monopoly in Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
At the time, the CRTC criticized NorthwesTel for its aging infrastructure and quality, reliability, and choice of services available to customers. It ordered the company to come up with a Modernization Plan that would lead to improved service and an atmosphere where competitors could enter and remain in the market.
The commission sent NorthwesTel back to the drawing board after submitting its first Modernization Plan. This hearing is scrutinizing the company’s second attempt and the high costs it charges competitors to carry traffic to Canada’s south.