Telephone rates may rise

Northwestel is looking to raise rates. The telco has made an application to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to charge $2 more a month for local telephone service.

Northwestel is looking to raise rates.

The telco has made an application to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission to charge $2 more a month for local telephone service.

The commission is currently reviewing Northwestel’s regulatory framework.

Northwestel also asking the commission for a $4.8-million increase in its annual subsidy, up to $25.6 million from $20.8 million.

“It’s the same old, same old,” said Roger Rondeau, president of the Utilities Consumer Group. “Northwestel wants to increase their profits and hike the rates to consumer but they don’t want to share the burden as usual.”

The rates been remained frozen for the past few years and Northwestel contends that raising the rates will bring it closer to the cost of providing service, while still being priced below cost.

Landline service is priced the same everywhere in the Yukon and this $2 change will help balance the difference between Whitehorse and the communities, said Northwestel spokesperson Emily Yonker.

“In more remote communities the cost of providing service is just astronomical,” she said.

To offset some of the increased cost, Northwestel is proposing a rate reduction for the cost of teleconferencing to $0.17 from $0.35.

“That seems like a small change, but in the North teleconferencing is used a lot by businesses and individuals in remote communities,” said Yonker.

The telco is also looking to the commission to fund a Service Improvement Plan to bring things like call display, voicemail and call waiting to 29 remote communities, more than five of which are in the Yukon.

Call display and call blocking features are “an issue of privacy,” said Yonker. “It’s so important especially for small communities where harassment can become an issue.”

The Service Improvement Plan is something even Rondeau and his organization support.

“It’s the only good part about their application that I’ve seen,” he said.

The Utilities Consumer Group has also made submissions to the regulator as part of the review.

One issue it wants to see resolved is the lack of internet regulation in the North.

The commission currently doesn’t regulate the internet at all.

“We want to see something done with the wholesale rates to small outfits in the Yukon,” said Rondeau.

The “stranglehold” that Northwestel has on the internet has resulted in a lack of competition, he said.

“Ten years ago we had three internet providers here, now we’ve got one,” said Rondeau.

The public can also make submissions to the commission on this issue until August 22.

On October 4, the commission will be holding a public hearing in Yellowknife. (Josh Kerr)

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