Cellphone woes

When Richard Lawrence tried to change his cellphone plan he was told he’d have to get a new phone number too. He discovered there is no such thing as number portability in the North.

When Richard Lawrence tried to change his cellphone plan he was told he’d have to get a new phone number too.

He discovered there is no such thing as number portability in the North. 

“This problem only relates to people that live in the 867 area code,” said Lawrence. “Anywhere else in Canada it’s not an issue.”

He wasn’t the only one who didn’t know this.

When he called his provider, Virgin Mobile, to resolve the problem, even support staff weren’t aware number portability was an issue in the North.

“My biggest grievance is not that they can do it for the rest of Canada, but they can’t do it up here,” he said. “I can understand why there would be certain limitations, but there should be a big card says, ‘because you live in the North, these are the things that you have to put up with.’”

Lawrence used a prepaid cellphone because he thought it would be the cheapest option, but it’s turned out to be an expensive mistake for the Whitehorse based IT consultant.

“It going to cost me a money that I didn’t realize I’d have to spend,” he said. “I have to get my business card reprinted and forward my number.

“I’m sure there will be a charge for that too.”

Virgin Mobile, a subsidiary of Bell Canada, didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

However, Northwestel, also owned by Bell, provided an explanation.

It boils down to cost.

“In order to support number portability we would need to get new hardware and new software and it would require a major switch upgrade,” said Emily Younker, corporate communications manager for the telco. “As of now, I can say it would cost millions to do, with an additional $500,000 annually to maintain the system in our operating area.”

It is something that Northwestel is considering.

It recently requested funding from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to implement number portability in some northern communities.

The commission is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

Meanwhile Lawrence remains frustrated.

“Basically, though we’re paying some of the highest cellular rates in Canada we’re getting some of the poorest service compared to what they’re getting down south,” he said.

Contact Josh Kerr at joshk@yukon-news.com