Telecom regulations failing Nunavut, GN tells CRTC

GN, GNWT, host of interveners weigh in on Northwestel plan


The CRTC is looking at Northwestel’s modernization plan. (FILE PHOTO)

The CRTC is looking at Northwestel’s modernization plan. (FILE PHOTO)

The Government of Nunavut, in an intervention to the CRTC on Northwestel’s $233-million modernization plan, said the current regulatory regime for telecommunications in the North is failing Nunavut.

In the intervention, submitted by the deputy minister of Community Government and Services, Roy Green, the GN also said Northwestel is failing to meet CRTC-mandated service objectives.

“The current telecommunications regulatory framework and price cap regime… has failed to produce its expected benefits to northern customers and failed to encourage the investments in infrastructure required to deliver those benefits,” the GN told the CRTC.

The GN is one of nearly 200 interveners who filed submissions to the CRTC on Northwestel’s revised modernization plan prior to the regulator’s deadline of May 9.

They’re all commenting on a revised modernization plan the regulator gave the CRTC this past Jan. 16.

Under it, Northwestel promises to provide better wireless smartphone and tablet access for 99 per cent of residents in its service area and upgrade internet access in 58 Northwest Territories and Yukon communities, but not in Nunavut.

The GN responded by telling the CRTC that under Northwestel’s plan, Nunavut would continue to lag far behind the rest of Canada and will not meet the CRTC’s stated goal of having all Canadians enjoy access to 5 Mbps internet download speeds by 2015.

“Northwestel has not taken actions or highlighted measures in their plan to achieve the commission’s goals or to find innovative or efficient ways to provide a level of service afforded to all other Canadians,” the GN said.

That’s because, the GN said, Northwestel’s plan does not provide for high speed internet improvements in Nunavut.

And its list of Nunavut communities that would received upgrades to 3G wireless is still confidential, making it impossible for the GN to offer much comment.

As for quality of service, the GN listed several occasions when government offices were left without phone service due to Northwestel errors:

• a five-day outage at GN offices in Gjoa Haven, when the company did not ship proper equipment for an equipment upgrade;

• service disruptions at the Clyde River culture school that “spanned over several weeks” due to improper hardware configurations; and

• disruptions to telephone service at GN’s offices in Cambridge Bay that continued for more than 30 days in December, 2012 due to a Northwestel hardware failure.

The GN also cited system-wide glitches that reveal the vulnerability of Nunavut’s satellite-dependent telecommunication network:

• a power failure in Whitehorse that knocked out internet, cell phone and landline service to many Northwestel customers in all three territories and northern British Columbia;

• the Telesat satellite fiasco of October 2011, when long distance calling, cell phones, internet, and ATM machines were knocked out of commission and most of Nunavut was cut off from the outside world for more than 12 hours.

The GN said this reveals that Nunavut’s telecom network is not “survivable.”

At the same time they noted that Northwestel used the term “survivability” to mean the maintenance of local calling during a territorial-wide network failure.

Also, the GN said Northwestel’s scrutiny of Northwestel’s modernization plan is just the start and that the improvement of Nunavut’s telecommunications system requires “…a viable, holistic and modern approach to the North…”

The CRTC will hold public hearings on Northwestel June 17 in Inuvik and June 19 in Whitehorse.

In addition to looking at Northwestel’s modernization plan, the CRTC will look at the northern regulatory regime, the company’s subsidy regime and the implementation of competition.

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