Plan to funnel money to NorthwesTel from Bell's Astral Media
broadcasting deal violates rules
YELLOWKNIFE, July 30, 2012 /CNW/ - To ensure competition takes hold in
Canada's North for consumers to reap long-term benefits, the federal
communications regulator must turn down NorthwesTel's attempt to funnel
$40-million from its parent company in a bid to thwart competition.
"This is nothing short of a shell game by NorthwesTel and its owner Bell
Canada to move money around in a last gasp attempt to keep competition
and innovation out of the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut,"
said Samer Bishay, president of both Ice Wireless and Iristel, two
Canadian companies partnering to knock down the last telecom monopoly
walls in North America.
In Yellowknife today inspecting ICE Wireless facilities, Mr. Bishay
said: "NorthwesTel's monopoly is officially at an end. It's just too
bad NorthwesTel refuses to realize that and insists on acting in a
predatory manner towards competitors instead of serving customers
better. We are in the North because we see great opportunity.
Telecommunications service here is the equivalent of telecommunications
service in Africa - ten years ago. It is time to end the subsidies to
NorthwesTel and let competition drive innovation and improved customer
service so the North can be treated more like the rest of Canada."
Bell Canada has purchased Astral Media and is looking for approval from
the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to
close the deal. To gain approval on broadcasting deals, the CRTC
requires new owners to spend new money on "public benefits" to the
broadcasting system, not telecommunications carriers. Public benefits
money is also intended for third parties, like independent producers,
not corporate subsidiaries like NorthwesTel.
But earlier this month, NorthwesTel announced a five-year wireless
network upgrade with a significant portion tied to the CRTC allowing
Bell to funnel $40 million of the "public benefits" from the Astral
Media deal to NorthwesTel. Without this $40 million, NorthwesTel
threatens to pull back network modernization in smaller Northern
"This is an attempt to stifle competition by trying to move public
benefits money into Bell's subsidiary NorthwesTel," said Cameron Zubko,
ICE's Vice President Corporate Development. "Once again NorthwesTel is
proposing to use public money to keep out competition, just like they
have always done. Apparently $20 million a year from the CRTC's
National Contribution Fund is not enough.
"This latest ploy flies in the face the spirit and intent of the public
benefits policy which is to benefit the broadcasting system generally
and the communities served. Last I checked, neither Astral nor Bell had
radio or TV systems in Canada's North," Mr. Zubko added.
Mr. Bishay said he expects the CRTC to see through the Bell-NorthwesTel
public benefits scheme, but if not he urges the commission to make sure
competitors have full and fair access to NorthwesTel's upgraded network
in a timely manner.
"Bell and her offspring like NorthwesTel have a long history of stalling
competitors and making the conditions of access so onerous that there
is no way for third parties to build competitive businesses. Access
delayed is access denied. In May when it opened the North's
telecommunications market, the CRTC made it clear it wanted the
benefits of competition in Canada's North and we are confident the
commission will hold NorthwesTel's feet to the fire," Mr. Bishay said.
Both he and Mr. Zubko urge citizens in Canada's North to write or call
the CRTC to tell the commission it is unfair for the incumbent phone
company to use public benefits money to stifle competition. The CRTC's
toll-free number is 1-877-249-CRTC (2782) and the website is www.crtc.gc.ca
Privately-held Iristel, which is a major shareholder in ICE, has been
licensed by the CRTC as a carrier since 2000. It is one of the largest
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service providers in Canada with a
coast-to-coast network. Iristel will now be competing with NorthwesTel
in a range of telephone services including VoIP and wholesale long
Meanwhile, Ice Wireless' network is set to expand dramatically in the
coming months across the North and compete aggressively with Bell
Mobility. New data services will be rolled out, including high-speed 3G
data, in the coming months and local cellular coverage will be expanded
in larger communities.
Together, ICE and Iristel will provide a viable bundled communications
solution to Canada's northern communities for a range of telephony
services. Iristel has already received orders for more than a million
monthly wholesale long distance minutes into NorthwesTel's service area
which will be delivered via ICE's northern-based network. The two
companies are already offering VoIP phones for purchase and
installation from Ice Wireless retail stores and other authorized
dealers in Yellowknife and in select markets by the end of the summer.
Established in 1999, Iristel Inc. ("Iristel") was granted a carrier
license by the Canadian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) in 2000 and
is one of Canada's largest VoIP service providers with a coast-to-coast
network. Iristel offers a complete portfolio of IP services in Canada,
including hosted IP PBX, virtual faxing, virtual roaming, and global IP
trunking products and services. For more information please visit www.iristel.ca.
Established in 1999, Ice Wireless ("ICE") is a telephone and internet
company that provides service to rural and remote communities in
northern Canada. ICE provides a full range of affordable and leading
edge voice, video and data services, including GSM cellular, to
Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, Aklavik, Behchoko and Whitehorse. In
terms of population, the Ice Wireless network covers 70% of the
Northwest Territories and 78% of the Yukon. ICE cellular customers can
use their phones across Canada through a roaming agreement with Rogers
Wireless and Fido. For more information please visit www.icewireless.ca.
SOURCE: Iristel Inc.
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