Northwestel files lawsuit against Orange Technology

Northwestel is suing a local Internet technology company for defamation, arguing that an owner of the company made libellous statements in an interview with media last year.

Northwestel is suing a local Internet technology company for defamation, arguing that an owner of the company made libellous statements in an interview with media last year.

The telecommunications provider alleges that Martin Lehner, co-owner of Orange Technology, knowingly made false claims about Northwestel to the CBC during an interview in November 2015.

Lehner was speaking about the redundant fibre-optic line that the Yukon government plans to build up the Dempster Highway. Northwestel aims to own and operate the line.

During the interview, Lehner claimed that a new fibre-optic line won’t solve all of the territory’s Internet problems. His company offers computer and network support to clients in the territory, and he said some of them experience frequent outages.

Northwestel filed a statement of claim with Yukon Supreme Court last Thursday, which quotes from Lehner’s interview.

According to the lawsuit, Lehner said one of his downtown Whitehorse clients experiences Internet outages lasting three to six minutes “about a dozen times a day on average.”

“This is not a problem of the fibre-optic line going south,” he said, according to Northwestel’s statement. “It is a problem with the last mile of delivery – the pair of wires that goes from their office to Northwestel’s office.”

He also said other clients in the McRae area have outages “every single day.”

“They’ve been told by Northwestel that there’s an issue with some of the infrastructure that delivers Internet in that area and there’s no plans to fix it at all….”

Northwestel disputes most of those claims. The company says it’s not true that a downtown customer experiences short outages about a dozen times a day, or that it’s received complaints about daily outages from customers in McRae.

Northwestel also alleges that Lehner knew he wasn’t telling the truth.

The company claims the interview is defamatory because it “discredits Northwestel by suggesting that it is unresponsive to complaints made by its clients.”

It also says Lehner’s statement exposes Northwestel to contempt and ridicule, damages its business and exposes it to possible sanctions from the CRTC, Canada’s telecommunications regulator.

Northwestel is seeking damages from Lehner and Orange Technology, including for “past and future loss of profit.”

In an interview with the News, Lehner refused to comment on the details of the case, but said the lawsuit was unexpected. He said he hadn’t heard anything about it until local reporters contacted him on Monday morning. He was served papers that afternoon.

“We do plan to be making a public statement in response once we’ve had a chance to discuss with the legal team,” Lehner said, adding that he hopes that will happen later this week.

Northwestel also refused to comment on the case.

But spokesperson Adriann Kennedy told the News in an email that the “vast majority” of issues reported to Northwestel are resolved within 24 hours.

“On top of resolving specific customer issues, we are proactive in improving our overall network,” she wrote. “In 2015, we invested over $1 million in improving the speed and reliability of our Whitehorse cable network.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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