The purchaser of the telecommunications arm of Ontario Northland will have to show how it plans to contribute to northern communities, according to the province. But some say, once Ontera is in private hands, it will be left up to the federal communications regulator to police the quality and affordability of the service.

Ontera provides telecom services to just 30,000 customers in a  200,000 square kilometres area, a daunting challenge that Infrastructure Ontario spokesperson Paulette Den Elzen said will have to be met by the company’s new owner.

Den Elzen may have proclaimed "no community served by Ontera will be left without communications services," but Ottawa telecom lawyer Monica Auer said that mandate could become more difficult if the company has to answer to potential shareholders with a differing agenda.

"How will these positive effects be measured," she asked. "When will they be measured? Who will measure them? When will the measurements be disclosed? And what do we do after the fact if those objectives aren't achieved?"

Auer noted the province can build requirements into the sale; however, it will be ultimately left up to the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission to regulate the service and respond to customer complaints.

And that’s an area where the CRTC doesn't have a great track record, Auer said.

"The difficulty is that becomes a year long process and, in the meantime, customers are looking for immediate solutions to their problems," she said.

Infrastructure Ontario said about a dozen companies have expressed an interest in purchasing Ontera so far. The company is expected to be in the hands of a new owner by early next year.