The North’s favourite whipping boy
June 19, 2013
The CRTC (Canada’s telecom and broadcast regulator) commences hearings on Northwestel’s modernization plans for northern communities. Northwestel is the company many northerners love to hate since everyone wants unlimited cheap bandwidth for free.
The CRTC hearings continue on June 19 and 20 in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Northwestel serves 120,000 people in the three northern territories and northernmost BC. In the west the company has a terrestrial fibre-optic and digital radio backbone network, while in the east it’s all satellite. The cost of providing a wholesale telephone line in Toronto $5.69/month; in Whitehorse and Yellowknife its $21.40 while in the remote communities its $59.44. Huge geography with a tiny population. The company is owned by BCE and has ~600 employees.
Key features of the Northwestel Plan include the following:
- $233M CAPEX investment over 5 years
- 99% of the northern population will have access to 4G wireless technology, enabling the use of smart phones and tablets across the North
- High Speed Internet (HSI) speeds will double or triple in 58 communities served by terrestrial networks, exceeding the targets set by the Commission
- More than 80% of the population will have access to Local Number Portability, meaning customers will be able to keep their telephone numbers when changing service providers
- 100% of the northern population will have access to enhanced calling features
- Two thirds of communities will see new switching equipment in the next five years, reducing the average switch age by half
- Backbone transport capacity will increase by 150%, strengthening overall network capabilities and further supporting competition
Northwestel’s wholesale rates are about 5 times higher than southern Canada.
Northwestel’s modernization plan seems reasonable. The antiquated CRTC rules that emphasize residential network access in an age of wireless mean there is plenty of scope for the regulator to mess up.
- Thandiwe Vela, "CRTC warned about the cost of telecom in the North", Globe and Mail, 18-Jun-2013, p.B3.