Northwestel slammed at CRTC hearings in Whitehorse
Commission reviewing the company's modernization plans
Northwestel's competitors are lining up to take shots at the northern phone company during CRTC hearings in Whitehorse.
The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission is reviewing Northwestel's modernization plan and the possible terms to allow competitors into the northern market.
There are so many shots being taken, it prompted Yukon government officials to quip the phone company has had to assume the position of a goaltender.
Economic development officials once again put forward their argument for competition in the telecommunications market.
Lisa Badenhorst, a government policy analyst, said Northwestel's arguments prove that point.
"The conclusion is reached that the company has reached a limit in its ability to justify providing certain services to customers. If this is indeed the case, the commission should consider the possibility that other providers might be able to find a business case where Northwestel cannot," she said.
The northern phone company will put its final arguments to the commission this afternoon.
Hay River First Nation built own network
SSI Micro of Yellowknife has been providing internet services since the 90s. Founder and CEO Jeff Phillipp told the commission if they were allowed access to Northwestel's network back then, competition would have kept systems up to date.
As it is, Phillipp says it's hard to provide good affordable service through Northwestel.
"Northwestel has not been a good corporate citizen. We do not have reasonable backbone rates into these communities," he said.
Another group, the K'atlodeeche First Nation, built its own local area network on its reserve in Hay River, N.W.T.
Lyle Fabian, the IT manager for the First Nation, says they want to lease that back to Northwestel because the company was supposed to provide that service.
"We saved them millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades and I think it's only fair that they lease a small portion of that infrastructure for them to meet their CRTC mandate," he said.
He says right now, their members are getting better service than the rest of Hay River. In addition, they've trained members to install and maintain the network.
Fabian believes other First Nations can build their own networks, which would provide better service than what is being offered now.
Northwestel says covering vast North a huge challenge
Northwestel has responded to its critics as the hearing wrapped up today. President and CEO Paul Flaherty notes there are very few customers spread over a huge territory.
"In the North where communities are small, building an access network is not a barrier to entry. This is particularly true when your services are wireless or Voip," he said.
"The transport network however spans great distances and covers very few end users. Competitors, however, require — as you heard several times yesterday — access to the transport network."
He went on to note subsidies would be needed to provide services to smaller communities.
Northwestel has also welcomed competition, but is appealing the CRTC's mandated rate of return.
It ruled the company could only recover 10 per cent of the cost it took to build the network through charges to its competitors. Northwestel feels that's low, while its competitors argue it could still come down.
The CRTC says it will have its ruling in the next few months and likely before Christmas.