So Bell Aliant is going to apply to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission for permission to give non-profit organizations in this province the same kind of break on telephone rates that it's already giving similar organizations in other parts of Atlantic Canada.
This is all thanks to the volunteers who run the community centre in Red Head Cove, at the tip of the Bay de Verde Peninsula. They did without a phone for years but decided it was time to get one after a senior collapsed and died during a card game earlier this month, and they had no way of calling an ambulance.
Bell Aliant first offered them a special rate, then called back saying the special rate, though available in the rest of Atlantic Canada, does not apply in this province.
Why? The company explained it as a holdover from the past and promptly promised to fix it (it is the Christmas season after all).
How long it will take for the application to make its way through the system is anybody's guess. Regulators like the CRTC process requests at the customary institutional pace, which is notoriously slow.
The reason the community centre in Red Head Cove never had a phone in the first place was that they couldn't afford one. At the current rate, they will pay just over $800 a year. At the special rate, they would pay just under $400.
It doesn't sound like much, but for them it is. They run the centre with the money they make on their biweekly card games for seniors. That amounts to $50 per event, $400 a month. In the winter, they spend up to $500 a month just to heat the place.
Neighbouring Grates Cove used to have a phone at its community centre but got rid of it years ago, again because of the cost. After what happened in Red Head Cove, Grates Cove will likely have a discussion about reconnecting. A special rate will make the decision easier.
How much difference?
How much of a difference the special rate will make for other non-profit organizations in this province depends on factors as varied as the non-profit sector itself. Some can afford to swallow the current rate without too much of a hiccup. Others have different arrangements with different providers.
For most, a landline by Bell Aliant is no longer the only option. It is in Red Head Cove, which has no cell phone service.
Sure, non-profit organizations can use every break they can get, but should large organizations be given the same consideration ... ?
Penelope Rowe, executive director of the Community Sector Council, says the whole issue raises a number of interesting questions.
Where, as a provider like Bell Aliant, do you draw the line with special rates? Sure, non-profit organizations can use every break they can get, but should large organizations be given the same consideration as the small community centre at the end of the road?
If the CRTC asks itself the same question, will it be tempted to rule that the special rate be dropped instead of being expanded, in which case the rest of Atlantic Canada ends up losing instead of N.L. winning?
Should other utilities be approached for special rates as well? Newfoundland Power once was but declined, which is the reason community centres like the one in Red Head Cove have such horrendous heating bills.
Mary Lou Riggs, the treasurer of the volunteer board that runs the centre, says one way or the other the new phone will mean an extra push on fundraising. The centre already holds a number of dances each year to make up for the shortfall left by the limited income from the card games. It will simply have to do more.
The next event is their annual Christmas fair. Tables will rented out for $10 each, and soup will served for three bucks a bowl.