The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission wants to hear what northerners think about NorthwesTel.
It’s all part of the commission’s ongoing review of the telco’s $273-million modernization plan.
“Canadians expect to have a choice of high-quality telecommunications services, regardless of where they live,” said Jean-Pierre Blais, chair of the CRTC, in a release. “Last year, we expressed concern about the services available to northern Canadians and required NorthwesTel to develop a plan to modernize its aging network.”
NorthwesTel came up with a plan that would have seen every one of the 96 communities it serves hooked up to high-speed Internet and 3G cellphone service.
In October the telco was forced to revise that plan after the CRTC scuttled a $3.4-billion deal for Bell Canada Enterprises – NorthwesTel’s parent company – to buy specialty TV and radio company Astral Media.
As part of the deal, Bell proposed giving NorthwesTel $40 million it was required to pay into a public benefits fund.
The move was met with derision by NorthwesTel’s competitors, who pointed out that the public benefits fund is supposed to be used to bolster Canadian broadcasting, and that NorthwesTel already receives $20.5 million a year from a CRTC fund to maintain its copper-line voice service.
The CRTC agreed in its decision to deny the deal.
A revised proposal for Bell to buy Astral no longer includes that $40 million for Northwestel’s modernization plan.
NorthwesTel is welcoming the request for comments, said spokesperson Emily Younker.
In the coming months the telco will release more information about its services and pricing so that its customers can get a better understanding of the issue, she said.
Information will include a revised modernization plan, which is due in January.
It’s seeking views on NorthwesTel’s modernization plan, its subsidy regime and the introduction of competition in the North.
After comments close, the commission will hold public hearings in Inuvik on June 17 and Whitehorse on June 19.