NorthwesTel’s Internet monopoly is slipping away

Over the years I've written dozens of columns about NorthwesTel. Seriously. Dozens. Some have been kind. Others… well, let’s just say I’m fortunate not to have been lynched long ago.

Over the years I’ve written dozens of columns about NorthwesTel.

Seriously. Dozens.

Some have been kind. Others… well, let’s just say I’m fortunate not to have been lynched long ago.

I’m honestly surprised that, when I bump into NorthwesTel’s VP of consumer and small business the odd morning at Starbucks, he still greets me politely and exchanges pleasantries (all the while gritting his teeth, of course).

If I were him, I’d probably slug me in the mouth.

Years of critical analysis aside, though, lately I’ve grown bored of the whole NorthwesTel thing.

Part of that’s because I can now see a future fast approaching when I’m finally able to fully terminate my business relationship with the company once and for all.

Perhaps it’s naive, but I believe we’ll have lower-cost and higher-quality internet competition in at least Whitehorse sooner rather than later.

Another thing is that I sort of feel sorry for the company these days. And simultaneous pity and loathing is a very strange feeling, so I try to avoid it.

The company is currently in a tough place.

The last few years its federal regulator, the CRTC, has really been getting on its case.

It’s like the stoner teenager’s parents kicked the lackadaisical lout out of its leisurely life in the basement to work for a living.

It has gotten to the point that NorthwesTel is actually spending real money on upgrading equipment and services in select small northern communities. (Exclamation mark!)

Then, just a few months back, at a chamber of commerce meeting, Yukon’s government delivered the whuppin’ of the new century to NorthwesTel’s already-tender heinie.

The government said, in a nutshell, something I’ve been explaining for years: “NorthwesTel, your service quality sucks and your prices are too high. Fix it.”

It’s nice of our elected officials to finally wise up to that fact. They’ve even established a new secretariat just to ride NorthwesTel ongoing.

The next few months promise to be particularly uncomfortable for NorthwesTel. The CRTC is hosting a couple of public barbecues (known as “hearings” in bureaucratese) at which NorthwesTel will certainly be grilled like a smokie on a hot summer day.

So now, to win the support of a public that largely hates it, the company is producing enough piteous tweets and hero-of-the-community news releases to make your head spin.

You know it’s bad when they have to trot out their CEO as a source of manufactured quotes in press releases and for public appearances.

Back in the day, when NorthwesTel had the run of the North, that guy was seen as rarely as a gay student at Vanier.

To top it all off, NorthwesTel has spent the last few weeks veritably grovelling for folks to sign a petition of support for it in the upcoming barbecues.

When’s the last time NorthwesTel asked any of us to sign anything other than our life away in a contract?

It all underlines one thing, though: the upcoming CRTC hearings are make-it-or-break-it events for the North’s incumbent telecommunications provider.

These events are like the ball to NorthwesTel as Cinderella, and the company is desperately afraid of having its glass slippers taken away.

So these days for NorthwesTel it’s either kiss major ass or kiss total monopoly good-bye.

Does it seem like I’m gloating? Sorry, I guess I am getting a bit carried away.

It’s just nice that finally, after all these years, there’s the prospect of change.

Just as the season outside is finally warming, the long, cold winter of NorthwesTel’s stranglehold on Internet in the North appears to be thawing.

Internet competition is probable, if not likely. Most northerners can begin to look forward to services and pricing more in line with the rest of Canada.

That’s what happened last year when we finally got telephone competition. New market entrant Iristel drove down the price of telephone service, at the same time improving its quality and capabilities.

To be honest, I just look forward to a time when I can forget about NorthwesTel.

We’re approaching an open internet market in the North. At the core of NorthwesTel’s current display of misdirected fear is the simple fact that it lacks the capacity for competition.

So the sooner the North’s internet spotlight gets stolen by a new player, the faster I can erase the sour taste of NorthwesTel from my mouth and get on with not feeling ripped off.

Andrew Robulack is an award-winning entrepreneur, writer and consultant specializing in using technology and the Internet to communicate. Read his blog at www.geeklife.ca.

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