As the dust settles on the province's announcement that it has sold the telecommunications firm Ontera to Bell Aliant, questions are emerging about what the move from public to private hands will mean for employees and customers.
Ontera's history dates back to the early 1900s, when telegraph lines were installed along the Ontario Northland rail route. Over the years, the technology has transformed to telephone lines and fibre optics — but in many northern communities, Ontera is still the only option.
The mayor of Cochrane said he's worried customer bills will go up.
“Their vested interests are their shareholders,” Peter Politis said.
“And that is a critical thing to keep in mind when you are talking about your only capacity in IT and fibre optics being put into the hands of someone else's interests.”
There are also questions about what the sale means for Ontera employees.
A spokesperson for the union that represents ONTC workers said there are no details yet, but he expects there will be fewer positions down the road.
“That just turns those people's lives upside down,” Brian Kelly said. “So there is no certainty for those people.”
More questions from MPP Vic Fedeli
No one from Bell Aliant was available for an interview.
In an email, the company said it doesn't have any immediate plans to change Ontera services, and it's working with the ONTC and the union while it assesses the workload, skills and resources it needs.
Meanwhile, the MPP for Nipissing has questions about the sale of Ontera. The province says Bell Aliant purchased Ontera for $6 million in cash and an estimated $10 million in future revenue for the ONTC.
The province is also providing half of a $30 million dollar investment in telecommunications infrastructure in the north.
PC MPP Vic Fedeli said “there is a huge cost to Ontario Northland to put Ontera in the hands of Bell.”
“We will do a complete investigation at Queen's Park … to find out what it really cost the government of Ontario to divest Ontera.”
The ONTC's bus, rail and refurbishment divisions will stay together in a public company
Late last year the Auditor General examined the province's claims that it would save $265 million by divesting the ONTC. The report found the deal would actually cost the province $820 million if it went ahead with the entire plan.