Copy of letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
I am writing on behalf of the six members of the Yukon NDP Official Opposition caucus to indicate our conditional support for the application by BCE and NorthwesTel to utilize $40 million of the Astral Public Benefits package to enable the NorthwesTel Modernization Plan. Our support is conditional upon NorthwesTel meeting the timelines for service improvements contained in its Modernization Plan.
We believe the improvement and expansion of broadband high-speed Internet, mobile phone and data service and advanced calling features for landline phones for rural northern communities is both necessary and long overdue. Economic and educational opportunities, access to government services and communication for safety, social and entertainment purposes are all lessened for rural northern residents with services that are not on par with urban northern residents and most Canadians south of 60.
To be clear, we are not taking a position on BCE’s proposed acquisition of Astral. We are only indicating our conditional support for BCE and NorthwesTel to utilize $40 million of the Astral Public Benefits package if the Astral acquisition is completed.
We understand that other telecom providers have taken issue with this application for a variety of reasons. We support competition in the telecom industry and acknowledge those other providers’ legitimate concerns regarding access to NorthwesTel’s bulk transmission infrastructure. However, this application from BCE and NorthwesTel seems quite separate from the issue of bulk transmission. Furthermore, all components of the NorthwesTel Modernization Plan would benefit rural communities with small populations that are unlikely to provide lucrative markets for competing telecom services.
We also understand that others have taken issue with the BCE and NorthwesTel application on the grounds that the Astral Public Benefits package should be used in its entirety to support Canadian content producers. We are unequivocal in our support for proper government and private funding for Canadian content. However, utilizing $40 million of the Astral Public Benefits package to enable the NorthwesTel Modernization Plan is in the best interests of the rural northern communities that so desperately need service improvements.
In conclusion, we do not believe the application by BCE and NorthwesTel is perfect. It does not address many of the other legitimate telecommunications issues in the North. It does not provide for ongoing system maintenance and upgrades. And it does not guarantee affordable access to services that are far more expensive here than comparable services in the south. However, we believe it represents the best opportunity to bring necessary service improvements to rural northern communities by 2017. We therefore lend the application our conditional support.
Yukon NDP Official Opposition Caucus/Body