City council voted May 23 to renew a much-debated fixed telephone line contract with Northwestel.
The contract locks the city into another three years at a total cost of $756,000.
The city’s previous contract with Northwestel expired in February.
The decision comes after debate about the virtues and drawbacks of moving to an internet-based VoIP phone system.
Moving to VoIP would have allowed other service providers to bid on the contract and might have saved the city money, council heard. But upgrading the infrastructure to accommodate the new system would require “significant cost commitment in both time and resources,” city staff said, and the city decided to stick with landline service.
City staff investigating the change said the current network at city hall “wasn’t robust enough” to accommodate VoIP.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu said the city is behind in terms of phone technology, but the new Northwestel deal is what the city needs right now.
“Regardless of what happens, at this point, we still need fixed telephone lines,” Curteanu said.
“I’m really glad we took some time to review this before we made up our minds,” she said. “I’m comfortable now to approve a three-year contract.”
Coun. Samson Hartland questioned why the city was dealing with this issue now.
“We’ve known the agreement was coming to an end,” he said.
Northwestel is the only fixed phone line service provider.
“We don’t have a second prospect out there … so for me, sole-sourcing in this situation is exactly what we should be doing,” said Coun. Roslyn Woodcock.
“I find it unfortunate that we find ourselves in this position … it’s nothing against Northwestel, it’s just that we find ourselves sole-sourcing a lot lately,” Hartland said.
Hartland, who has previously objected to the sole-source contract, was the only vote against.
With the decision made, councillors said they would be considering VoIP in the future.
“There (could) be a real cost savings here if we can budget for the infrastructure,” said Mayor Dan Curtis. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot of choice here.”
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