The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission announced Thursday it is starting a public consultation on Northwestel's pricing, services and its plan to modernize.

"Canadians expect to have a choice of high-quality telecommunications services, regardless of where they live," said Jean-Pierre Blais, chairman of the CRTC, in a news release.

"Last year, we expressed concern about the services available to northern Canadians and required Northwestel to develop a plan to modernize its aging network. The consultation launched today will allow us to conduct a comprehensive review of Northwestel's services and its planned improvements."

Northwestel has proposed to make investments in its network to improve the availability of enhanced calling features and wireless and high-speed Internet services, among other initiatives.

Some people, such as Rick Steele of Whitehorse, say Northerners have some serious issues when it comes to Northwestel's quality, prices and variety of communication services.

"We have issues with educational and government services where the basic cost of bandwidth, which is about seven to 10 times what it is anywhere else in Canada, is actually choking off their ability to deliver education, health and other social services.

"It is a bottleneck and the bottleneck isn't that there is a limit on the amount of internet available. There is a lot of internet available. It is a bottleneck created by price."

The CRTC is seeking public comments on Northwestel's modernization plan, regulations, the subsidy regime to fund telecommunications services in the North, and the implementation of competition.

Written comments will be accepted until May 9 and the CRTC will hold public hearings June 17 in Inuvik, N.W.T., and June 19 in Whitehorse.