ARCHIVED - Transcript - Prince George, BC - 1998/05/28
This page has been archived on the Web
Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.
Providing Content in Canada's Official Languages
Please note that the Official Languages Act requires that government publications be available in both official languages.
In order to meet some of the requirements under this Act, the Commission's transcripts will therefore be bilingual as to their covers, the listing of CRTC members and staff attending the hearings, and the table of contents.
However, the aforementioned publication is the recorded verbatim transcript and, as such, is transcribed in either of the official languages, depending on the language spoken by the participant at the hearing.
Service téléphonique dans les zones de desserte à coût élevé/
Service to High-Cost Serving Areas
CONSULTATION TENUE À:
Auberge Simon Fraser
600, rue Québec
Prince George (Colombie-Britannique)
Le 28 mai 1998
CONSULTATION HELD AT:
Simon Fraser Inn
600 Quebec Street
Prince George, British Columbia
28 May 1998
Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des
Canadian Radio-television and
Transcription / Transcript
Françoise Bertrand Présidente/Chairperson
Cindy Grauer Conseillère/Commissioner
Steve Delaney Gérante d'audience/
Carolyn Pinsky Conseillère juridique/
Marguerite Vogel Secrétaire/Secretary
TENUE À: HELD AT:
Auberge Simon Fraser Simon Fraser Inn
600, rue Québec 600 Quebec Street
Prince George (C.-B.) Prince George, B.C.
Le 28 mai 1998 28 May 1998
- iii -
TABLE DES MATIÈRES/TABLE OF CONTENTS
Présentation au nom de/Presentation on behalf of:
t Gareth Sherman 9
t Prince Rupert Development Commission 16
t Cariboo Regional District 25
t Residents of Manson Creek and Germansen Landing 29
t Pat Bennett 36
t Tatlayoko Think Tank 41
t Government of British Columbia 48
t Mark Aubrey 64
t Ruth Kuehl-Venn 73
t District of Fort St. James 81
t City of Williams Lake 89
t David Richardson 93
t Avery Richardson 104
t Yekooche First Nation 106
t David White 115
t Mike King (White Saddle Air Services) 118
t Gary Cowell 124
t Wendy Howe 132
t Dave and Rosemary Neads 135
t Peter and Roma Shaughnessy 142
t Randy MacDonald 147
t Luinda Bleackley 154
t Leslie Lamb and Ken Jansen 162
t Residents of Smither's Landing 167
t Xeni-Gwet'im First Nations government and 177
residents of the Nemaiah Valley
t Cathryn Wellner 183
t Florence Piché 191
t Jack Keyser 193
t University College of the Cariboo 196
t Simon Moses 211
t Canoe Creek Band 216
t B.C. Science Council, Central Interior/ 221
Williams Lake Community Access
t Louise Helbick 229
t GrassRoots Consulting Group in Williams Lake/ 232
Williams Lake and District Chamber of
t Steve Hilbert 241
t Residents of East Ootsa 247
t Lake Babine Nation 255
t Lake Babine Nation 257
t Crescent Spur Loos Community Association 268
t Telecommunication Workers Union 276
- iv -
TABLE DES MATIÈRES/TABLE OF CONTENTS
Présentation au nom de/Presentation on behalf of:
t Joe Cortese 281
t Focus North Society 294
t Blake Chipman 301
t In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua 305
t Jeff Welsh 316
t Eduardo Van Dijk 323
t Jean-Marc Lacasse 329
t Doctor Ellen Facey 339
t Donna Reel and Rick Careless 348
t North Central Municipal Association 356
t Cindy Charleyboy 359
t John Kerr 364
Réplique au nom de/Reply on behalf of:
t City Tel 379
t BC Tel 381
Prince George, British Columbia
--- Upon commencing on Thursday, May 28, 1998
at 09:05/L'audience débute le jeudi
28 mai 1998 à 09:05
THE CHAIRPERSON: If you allow me I will call our meeting to order. To all of you good morning. We are really pleased to be here.
My name is Françoise Bertrand. I am the Chair of the CRTC and I will be chairing this hearing. With me are Cindy Grauer, Commissioner for British Columbia and Yukon, whom you probably know already, Hearing Manager Steve Delaney, Legal Counsel Carolyn Pinsky and Hearing Secretary Marguerite Vogel.
Thank you for accepting our invitation. I would like to welcome the people who are joining us by video link in Prince Rupert and Vancouver; I see the Executive Director of Telecommunications Mr. Peter Vivian, who is with Mr. Paul Godin in Prince Rupert. So good morning to you and the intervenors there, and as well in Vancouver.
There are two telephone companies specially entrusted in the proceedings of the next day. It is the Prince Rupert City Telephone Company and, of course, BC Tel.
We are especially pleased to have the opportunity to hear your views on what is unquestionably a fundamental telecommunications issue. The more informal nature of this hearing is consistent with the Commission's objective as expressed in a document entitled "From Vision to Results at the CRTC" published in September 1997. We are here today in a spirit of dialogue with the public and the industry to hear your views about telephone service in high-cost serving areas in a more competitive environment.
More specifically, the transition from a monopoly to a competitive marketplace has brought rates for local telephone service much closer to the actual cost, and the cost is much higher in some areas than in others.
The Telecommunications Act expresses the need to "render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada." With this policy as both our starting point and our goal, it is now up to all of us to work together to maintain it. In other words, subscribers in high-cost serving areas, like subscribers in urban areas, must be able to reap the benefits of competition in terms of price, innovation and services provided. We also need to find ways of ensuring the greatest possible fairness in the competition for markets among telephone companies that are trying to improve their offerings while remaining competitive.
- For example, should the telephone companies and their competitors be required to provide telephone service to high-cost serving areas?
- Should there be subsidies for high-cost serving areas, and if so, what services should be eligible and how should the subsidies be financed?
- Are there more appropriate technologies for serving isolated or high-cost serving areas such as satellite or wireless technologies?
To enable as many people as possible to participate in the discussion, we will be holding three sessions today: this morning, this afternoon and tonight. We are still very open in terms of the exact time when we will be stopping for the break at lunch and dinner because we want to accommodate as many intervenors as possible. The time is yours. The allocated time is 10 minutes. We want you to take really all the time to explain to us what the situation is, your needs, your views on it; we are here to listen.
We will be asking questions in the case where we need clarification in terms of understanding more clearly, but really, la parole est à vous today and we want to hear from you and really listen carefully and learn.
Any views you might have also on Canadian content on television and New Media would be especially welcome because we will be holding hearings in September on Canadian content on television. In November, we will examine issues concerning New Media and the information highway. We had called for a round table that would have been separated from this hearing; only a few people have shown interest to talk about those issues. So we thought, instead of creating two separate fora, whenever you will come at the table and talk about the high-cost elements, if you want to take a few minutes to talk about the other issues, we will be very happy to listen to you.
Without further delay, I will ask Legal Counsel to explain how it is going to go in terms of procedure.
MS PINSKY: Thank you.
The Secretary will call upon individuals who have expressed a desire to speak at this hearing through advance registration at one of the Commission's offices. If there are others in attendance today who wish to appear but who haven't registered to do so, please speak with the Secretary, and we will try to accommodate you.
Any participant who is absent when called by the Secretary will be called again later. However, since we are unable to know how long each presentation will be and whether or not there will be any questions following, we are unable to know for sure when each person will appear. So each participant will be expected to follow the proceedings and be available when called upon.
As the Chair explained, in order to accommodate the maximum number of people, presenters will be limited to 10 minutes.
To make your representation, please come to the table at the front of the room when the Secretary calls you. Make sure the microphone is turned on when you speak, so that an accurate record can be produced by recording and transcription staff. When you finish speaking, please turn off the microphone so we don't get feedback noise.
For those participating by video or audio link, please follow the instructions of the telephone company representative in your location and please identify yourselves when you first begin speaking to assist the court reporter.
The oral representations made at this consultation will be transcribed and compiled in the record of this proceeding. Anyone wishing to obtain a copy of the transcript should make arrangements through the court reporter, who is seated across from me and will provide you the name of the contact of the court reporter.
I would remind everyone that, in addition to the oral representations at this consultation, it is possible to submit written comments to the Commission on the issues examined here prior to January 30th, 1999. Like the transcripts, these comments will form part of the record of this proceeding.
When the representations are finished, we will take a short break. The telephone company representatives will then have 15 minutes to respond to any comments made this morning on issues related to high-cost serving areas. The telephone company will also have the opportunity to address any comments made at this regional consultation in written comments to be filed by January 30th, 1999.
Can I ask the representatives of the telephone company to introduce themselves, please.
MR. BROOKS: Good morning. My name is Jim Brooks. I am representing BC Tel today and will be BC Tel's spokesperson.
Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Welcome.
In Prince Rupert...?
MR. B. KERR: My name is Bruce Kerr, General Manager of Prince Rupert City Telephones, and I will be representing Prince Rupert.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning and welcome.
MS PINSKY: I am sorry, could you please repeat your name? We didn't get it quite clearly here.
MR. B. KERR: Bruce Kerr.
MS PINSKY: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: In Vancouver, there was somebody who seemed to be --
MS PINSKY: Do we have someone in Vancouver who wants to introduce themselves?
MR. REID: Yes. It is Dale Reid, from BC Tel.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning and welcome.
MS PINSKY: Before I ask the Secretary to call the first participant, are there any preliminary points that need to be addressed? First, I will ask our participants here in Prince George.
MR. QUAIL: Yes. Good morning. I am Jim Quail, counsel for the B.C. Old Age Pensioners' Organization et al, appearing here for the record. I was in touch with your office in Vancouver the other day and was advised of the lengthy lineup of presentations. Given that, and given that our clients will be heard quite forcibly in the course of the proceedings, I am content to essentially be here as counsel representing them but I don't intend to make an oral presentation as such.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
MS PINSKY: Thank you.
Do we have any matters to be raised in Prince Rupert?
MR. VIVIAN: It is Peter Vivian here.
I wonder if you or the Chair could give us any guidance as to the order of presentations, as to when you would be calling on people in Prince Rupert.
THE CHAIRPERSON: It won't be long we will be able to give some precisions.
MS PINSKY: We will be calling upon participants -- I believe there has been a document circulated. Our first participant will be from Prince George and our second will be from Prince Rupert. Following that there are around 10 from -- actually, most of them are from Prince George following that.
MR. VIVIAN: Thank you.
MS PINSKY: Are there any matters to be raised in Vancouver?
Okay. Then I believe we are ready to begin. May I ask our Secretary to call the first participant, please.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you.
Our first participant this morning is Lynda Williams, appearing on behalf of Gareth Sherman, President of BC Community Networks.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning and welcome to your hearing.
MS WILLIAMS: Thank you. I am glad to be here.
I am here representing the British Columbia Community Networks Association, which represents over 100 community networks and community access programs at sites all over the province.
Just to explain a little about what those are, community networks were typically called "freenets" in their early days; some of them still are, some of them changed their names due to legal reasons due to copyright from our American freenet colleagues. They are all grassroots organizations that came into existence to create free public access to the Internet, mostly on a text basis.
CAP sites, who also belong to the Community Networking Association, are founded by grant money from Industry Canada. I am also on the CAP Committee in B.C. that awards those grants. Their task is to provide places where people can come and use the Internet in communities that might not otherwise have them or in the future possibly for communities that would not otherwise be served with a geographic or some other designation of community.
The B.C. CNA is very conscious of the wide discrepancies that exist in both the cost and availability of telecommunication services for all our members. It is something that many have wrestled with since the very earliest freenet days, working with things like party lines or just absolutely no connectivity of any kind. One of our members, when we solicited input for this, said that trying to get connectivity out to in this case the Kaslo Infonet was like trying to nail jell-o to a tree. BC Tel had gone from, two and a half years ago, saying maybe they could get a line in for $2,000 and $250 a month -- and that's for a 56k line -- to today telling them that it is technically impossible except for maybe some frame relay, and for that they would have to pay what the Lower Mainland would have to pay for a T1 connection. So there are quite sharp discrepancies which range from inequities of cost from four to a hundred times difference to just plain "You can't have it."
Our experience with the telecoms in different communities has been different. Some have been very helpful in spirit; in other places, we don't seem to have made a connection, but we have spoken with representatives of that industry and do appreciate some of their issues as well.
Rural communities and isolated communities were supposed to be one of the major beneficiaries of the information age, and it is really difficult for them as the Internet becomes the accepted standard means of communication for governments, corporations and individuals, a means to obtain education, a place where increasingly a lot of services and things that make your life more valuable or your economic potential growing -- it is increasingly frustrating to discover that they are not going to benefit from the very thing that was supposed to dissolve distance.
For rural communities, isolation is a deterrent to investment. Access to telecommunication services is increasingly essential. The same rural communities are typically denied equitable access to modern, affordable telecommunications infrastructure. From all over the province, from places like Kaslo, Powell River and Salt Spring Island, Ladysmith, our members have told us of their frustrations in trying to deal with these issues. They have recounted numerous examples of various problems. There are extreme variations in quality of service, inadequate infrastructure and steep disparities in costs, as I mentioned.
In the case of Valemount, I have a quote from the community net there, and they get to pay $3,700 for a 256k frame connection to the Internet backbone. I have been told that a 10-megabyte ATM connection could be had for $1,300 in Kelowna. That's 70 bits per dollar versus 7,682 bits per dollar, or 109 times more expensive.
We realize that market forces may be insufficient to fulfil the statutory obligations to ensure universal affordable access to telecommunication service, and the British Columbia Community Network Association feels very strongly that, if this proves to be the case, the CRTC must be prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve this goal.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Ms Williams.
May I ask, you were saying that, depending on the location, the attitude of the telephone company and the rapport that had been established were different. What are your observations? Where do you find that it is more helpful in addressing the kind of problems, even if it doesn't solve all the matters, but what are the elements that you see that are helpful to the communities you are representing here today?
MS WILLIAMS: I feel my experience has very much been a personal thing. There were places where there were personable managers, champions that appreciated that community network leaders are also community leaders and that a literate community is an educated customer and were very proactive or supportive. In other places it just didn't sort of reach the horizon of visibility because it didn't have a profile that made it look like business. So I think probably it was mostly the individual character of people that were involved.
THE CHAIRPERSON: You conclude by saying that you hope that the Commission will find a solution. You know that we are very dependent on solutions at the Commission, with the quality of suggestions we get from the public, and that's why we are on the road right now trying to meet with different citizens to hear about your views on how we should approach the situation.
So, in your view, in your experience, what kind of solutions would you see to that kind of situation?
MS WILLIAMS: The obvious one is subsidy; that is perhaps the one that makes the most sense to the telcos and people that are looking at cost disparities to develop the service.
There is also potential for research. These kinds of problems are encountered in many places. I work for the University of Northern British Columbia; I know the circumpolar community has issues of that sort. Maybe there are things that could be done of that nature.
I know that the British Columbia Networks Association and Telecommunities Canada, which is the federal version, of which I was a founding board member, would be very happy to look into those kinds of things. I know in the past there are things they have spoken about like things similar to the PLN initiative in B.C. where you are looking at coupling access to government services in some way; there were many ideas.
I am not sure if Telecommunities Canada has made a separate submission or not, but I really feel I would be exceeding my authority to put my personal suggestions forward in the name of the association I am representing, but I am sure Gary Sherman and the 100 communities he represents would be happy to submit something to you in writing before the -- what was the deadline?
MS PINSKY: January 30, 1999.
MS WILLIAMS: Okay. I will let BC CNA know that they should do that.
MS PINSKY: That would be very helpful.
MS WILLIAMS: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: We would like to move to Prince Rupert now. Our next presenter is Gloria Rendell, representing the Prince Rupert Development Commission. For the record, we have received the paper copies that you so kindly faxed this morning; so they are in our hands.
Go ahead, please.
MS RENDELL: Good morning. My name is Gloria Rendell and I am the Chairperson of the Prince Rupert Development Commission. I would like to present our vision for community competitiveness this morning.
The Prince Rupert Development Commission was formed in November of 1997 as a society from the City of Prince Rupert, who used to do the economic development commission work. Our objective as a commission is to promote economic opportunities as well as retain and enhance our current businesses.
Today we wish to describe the role --
MS PINSKY: Excuse me, I am sorry to interrupt, but our court reporter is indicating there is static and he is not able to transcribe accurately. Is there a way that we can get the technicianS perhaps in Prince Rupert to adjust that?
--- Technical difficulties/Problèmes techniques
MS PINSKY: Please proceed. I am sorry for the interruption.
MS RENDELL: Do you want me to start over from the beginning?
MS PINSKY: I think that would be appreciated, yes. Thank you.
MS RENDELL: My name is Gloria Rendell and I am the Chairperson of the Prince Rupert Development Commission, which is the economic development commission for the community. On my right I have Emon Hoey, who is a consultant. He will be answering any technical questions for me.
What I am going to present is our vision for community competitiveness.
Here is a little history about who we are. The Prince Rupert Development Commission was formed in November of 1997. It is a society which was set up by the City of Prince Rupert to do their economic development work. Our objective is to promote economic opportunities as well as retain and enhance our current businesses.
Today we wish to describe the role that telecommunication plays in support of economic development in remote communities.
City Tel is wholly owned by the City of Prince Rupert.
City Tel and economic development I guess basically started to come together about five years ago. The City of Prince Rupert took a long, hard look at what direction they should take with City Tel. The City, being in the business of running a municipality, agreed that they did not have the knowledge sufficient to make a decision of this magnitude and hired Emon Hoey as a consultant to take a look at their options and make recommendations.
After that report was received, the City concluded that City Tel could be an economic lever in the emerging information economy. Rather than sell City Tel, it was concluded that the City should retain ownership but needed to make a larger investment to make Prince Rupert a part of the digital economy. This would give us economic advantages that other small isolated communities could not afford.
Our technology is currently on par with that of larger communities in the area of switches and features. In addition, we are more advanced than most communities; we have just completed the installation of the ASTL here -- the ADSL, I am sorry, is just being completed in August of this coming year for Bell South. So Prince Rupert is well ahead of themselves in that area.
Prince Rupert is ahead, and we are looking at a serious lack of opportunities to offer competitive long-distance rates, which has limited the movement of business opportunities to this community. For example, BC Ferries is looking at the relocation of a part of their reservation system to Prince Rupert, the drawback being that long-distance rates, which are the majority of their calls, could affect the decision to move to another location with more affordable long-distance rates.
The digital economy is when and where economic life depends upon telecommunications and information technology. The realities of the digital economy is he who has the best telecom infrastructure wins. Telecommunications could be used as a geographic lever -- for example Moncton, New Brunswick. It has a highly developed telecommunications network and has attracted many large businesses.
Telecommunications is a business enabler, and we must remove the effects of long distance.
Our expectations of City Tel is to be Canada's best managed and most progressive independent telecommunications service provider; we want to be the best in that class.
We want to build a state-of-the-art local telecommunications network that is interconnected to the world -- an engine for economic development and job creation.
We want to bring the leading edge and world class telecommunications to the economy of Prince Rupert, particularly to residences, business, institutions, government and school.
We would like to be a model for other communities.
The City of Prince Rupert is making a commitment that City Tel will deliver to its customers a particular combination of values -- price, quality and service. There will be no need to reduce work force if increased revenues provide more with the same people. We know that we need to invest in modern infrastructure: fibre; move to the next generation of switching, which is completed; broadband technology; and, in 1999's budget, we are looking at digital mobile radio.
Our further expectations are to remove the effect of long distance, to place downward pressure on those rates, to open the door to all long-distance competitors, to remove the dependency on toll subsidy. We are not looking for a subsidy in any manner.
We are looking, as a business enabler, to provide big city voice, data/video services to our community.
We would like to create a living lab, attract world players to develop products and services here because we have the advanced infrastructure; we would like to increase investment in advanced applications to provide leading service packages to the community; we would like to establish partnerships and alliances with small to medium information processing companies; we would like to become the centre for electronic commerce testing, personal electronic services, multimedia dial tone and exploit new opportunities in directory assistance and operator services.
City Tel must become an important partner to economic development. Prince Rupert has some major advantages: the fact that we have a big city telecom infrastructure here now; the fact that City Tel, you can go to their doors immediately and they will listen to what you have to say and make adjustments to that; we are in fact a living lab; we have a plan to remove the effects of long distance; we would like to cost- compare or be lower than other options that are available.
The long-term economic viability of our community depends on Prince Rupert becoming a player in the digital economy. City Tel is a key asset in that economic race.
I am just going to elaborate a little bit on that. I think quite a few people in the northwest are certainly aware of the economic problems that Prince Rupert has and is in. So we would like to use the assets that we have to the biggest advantage that we can, and of course looking at that is City Tel and the fact that, if we open up the doors for competition, we will also be attracting other businesses which we need to develop our economy. That's the major key that we would like to state in our presentation, and it is that we would like to have the opportunity to have more competition, which will improve our economic base, which is currently in a decline.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much, and thank you for taking the time to come and make your presentation today.
I have one question. You mentioned here that you have a plan to remove the effects of distance and that the long-distance issue is a challenge for you.
Could you elaborate a bit on that?
MR. HOEY: If I may answer that question on behalf of The Economic Development Commission, our plan, quite frankly, is to remove the subsidies that are currently built into our long-distance rates, City Tel's long-distance rate. As you may be aware, Madam Chairperson, currently the Commission has struck a contribution rate under the new CAP regime of approximately five cents per minute for long distance, and we would like to get that down, quite frankly, to closest as we can to zero. Our view is that, as long as we continue the subsidies, it is not helpful to the community to remove the effects of distance.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you.
Are there any other particular challenges that you face that you would like to share with us in terms of our proceedings here with respect to high cost?
MR. HOEY: Madam Rendell identified that we currently, in the city of Prince Rupert, enjoy access to a new technology, ADSL, and as was identified in her presentation, Bell South, which is, as you know, a leading regional Bell operating company in the United States, has just recently announced that it is going to have ADSL sometime in the latter part of this year.
So we really believe that we have state-of-the-art local infrastructure. However, most of our difficulties is, as people in the local community are aware here, trying to get out of town. We have insufficient facilities between Prince Rupert and the BC Tel network currently, and that goes to tariffs. So we have a great deal of difficulty getting to BC Tel's ubiquity network, and that is a major difficulty for us now.
So, quite frankly, to use a term that's widely used here locally, we can't get out of town.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much. I don't have any further questions.
MR. HOEY: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant is Ted Armstrong.
MR. ARMSTRONG: Good morning.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning and welcome.
MR. ARMSTRONG: Thank you.
Firstly, thanks for having one of these in Prince George rather than just in Prince Rupert; so you get a compliment right off the bat. My name is Ted Armstrong. I am Chairman of the Cariboo Regional District.
In the spirit of the discussions under way today, the Cariboo Regional District is a 8.25 million-hectare high-cost serving area and, as such, the board of the Cariboo Regional District is extremely concerned with the outcome of the CRTC deliberations with respect to telecommunication service in high-cost service areas.
As telecommunication industry moves away from a monolistic world and learns to operate within a competitive one, steps must be taken to ensure that we do not create a two-tier telecommunication system. It is most unlikely that rural British Columbians will reap any of the benefits that will involve the new competitive reality, particularly with respect to local telephone service. All British Columbians, not just those in major urban centres, require access to high-quality telecommunications that we can afford now and in the years to come.
With each passing year high-quality telecommunications become more integral and essential in both our personal and business lives. Nowhere is this more true than in the rural portions of the province. CURT Regulations require telephone companies to offer service in high-cost areas such as ours, including extension of telephone services into new areas, upgrading services in existing areas.
Customers in rural communities do not generally enjoy the same level of telephone service as our urban neighbours to the south. It is imperative that we not be asked to pay more, for telecommunications can no longer be viewed as a luxury. In today's society, high-quality telecommunications is an essential service to which all British Columbians should have a fair and affordable access -- I should have put my glasses on.
That's it for me.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
I was asking Commissioner Grauer to show me where the communities that you are representing are located.
What I understand from your presentation is you have service in your region; what the problem is is you don't feel that it is to the quality or the array of services that you may have in high-density centres?
MR. ARMSTRONG: Yes.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I am not sure from your intervention whether you see competition as being an enabler or being the reverse of an enabler.
MR. ARMSTRONG: You probably have about three questions. My area starts at Hixon and goes south basically to 70 Mile, west to -- I can't remember the lake; just at the top of the hill before you go down to Bella Coola, and west to the Canim Lake area, in that area as well.
Some areas don't have phone services, some have party lines. To give an example, I am sure most of you fax either to your lawyers, your accountants and whatnot. A lot of areas don't have that access. So quite often it means a day or a two-day trip to come in to see your accountant or your lawyer, and they are not usually the kind of trips you want to make to start with. So, frankly, these types of things that urban areas take for granted are just not available.
I think it was mentioned earlier this morning that subsidies of some sort must be in there, because I just wrote down a few things that come out of these areas and we don't see a great amount of return from it, like forestry, mining, fishing, gas, oil, hydro power; all these things are taken out of this area, and our major complaint we get is that not many of these dollars ever get back. If it goes to either Victoria or Ottawa, it takes about 90 cents of every dollar to run through the process; in other words, if you get 10 cents on the dollar back, you will be doing very well.
That's a side, unfortunately.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Tell me, it is clear from your intervention that you figure a kind of solution around the subsidy scheme. Do you think from your experience and knowledge of your communities that there would be also a recognition that there might be a proportion of the cost that would be borne by the communities as well, by the individuals, or do you see the subsidy as being the entire response?
MR. ARMSTRONG: I would think the community would very positively respond "No, we are already paying what we feel is more than our share."
THE CHAIRPERSON: That's clear.
MR. ARMSTRONG: Okay.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant is Scott Muller.
MR. MULLER: Good morning.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning. Welcome.
MR. MULLER: Welcome to the --
THE CHAIRPERSON: It is always a bit strange, being from Ottawa, to say welcome to people from their region, but welcome to the hearing is what I mean.
MR. MULLER: Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
I am Scott Muller and I own an actual historic town site, a small site called Germansen Landing, but I am here to represent two very rural communities at the other end of the spectrum of the definition of "rural" that we have just been hearing. We are 100-year-old communities, and they are Manson Creek and Germansen Landing; they have approximately 100 year round people, but that population swells greatly in the summer. In the nomenclature of the CRTC notice we are definitely a high-cost remote area.
Our telecommunication needs are met by HF radio, which is high-frequency radio, out of Vancouver, or the YK MobilTel radio channel. So it is all radio at this point, not satellite.
First, I would like to explain, though, that I am not here to complain about our existing BC Tel service and I have only good to say regarding our provider. However, what I am looking for is the future which I think is descending upon us now and I am looking through the information this morning and I don't see any response so far from BC Tel that addresses our future needs.
It is gratifying to see in subsection 7 of the Telecommunications Act the words "reliable", "affordable" and particularly "high quality". In the new paradigm, what in a remote context was high quality 30 or even 10 years ago is no longer. The chief problems with our existing service are privacy, which is not available, accessibility -- frequently the radio channels are tied up for as many as a few hours at a time; also, if you have ever filled in an application and tried to have someone put in a RadioTel number, they just don't put it in; basically, you do not get called; you are sent a notice rather than called.
Further to accessibility, internationally, especially in the United States, where there are so many private phone companies, many of these companies cannot handle -- don't even know how to get into the system to find B.C. radio network.
Also, the inability to fax or use computer modems, and thus the inability to connect in general, that may mean credit card verifications, Interac is not available, or the Internet of course. This can result in some interesting situations.
We, a few years back, had a murder, and I found myself in my little store with the RCMP trying to use the radio phone to talk to their forensic pathologist, the accused and his family waiting in line to use the same non-private system of communication. Or you may have an HF connection where you will call and, because there is no automatic disconnect, when you call an answering machine, whether you leave a message or do not, that call is going to proceed until that answering machine cuts it off, which may be the length of the cassette tape in the machine. So it is not uncommon to have a 60-minute bill for a 30-second message, and of course then you go through the process of adjusting that. Or you will have a summer lineup where the operator starts assigning numbers -- "You are No. 5 after the lady who was No. 4, if you will please stay on the line."
Our children attend school by B.C. Correspondence -- note the irony there, correspondence school. At any rate, they are supposed to call their teachers. To do that, the teachers need to be familiar with a way to call them back. The net effect is they can't call their teachers. But, more to the point, more and more services do demand electronic data access -- I hear that coming out this morning, and it is probably generally recognized -- or they can no longer be offered in truly remote areas. Merchants cannot accept plastic without undue risk because they can't verify it. As a notary, or as a marriage licence issuer, which I am, I cannot function without at least a fax, and as a mining recorder, even 10 years ago we could handle mining business -- and we are the second most active placer mining area in British Columbia. This could be done by mail; no longer is that possible. The client must now wait for the computer to verify that his claim or whatever he is doing has been verified.
We also have a weather station there, and the very data that I send to the Prince George Flight Service Station or the Pacific Region in Vancouver Weather Office is not available to my own community because we are not on the Internet. The snow survey is not even published in written format any more.
So we can operate with only once per week mail or without town services such as schools, power, sewer, water or gas because alternatives which still maintain a reasonable lifestyle are available. This is not true with information technology. For anyone familiar with our options, basically, with the exception of MSAT, to get your own repeater or to have the Anacom Telesat system, it starts at a purchase price of around $25,000 and operating costs run upwards toward $1,000 per month, which is clearly in the realm of mining and logging companies, but not most individuals.
For those familiar with MSAT, it is acceptable for voice communication but it is a disaster for fax and it is absolutely impossible to use for Internet. So it is not a real option.
It is my belief, in the so-called post-modern information society, that the defining line between the haves and the have-nots is becoming access to information. For the average remote area person, radio links and/or high per-minute costs preclude entry. Over time, this will have the same significance as other historic changes such as the introduction of the telephone originally, rural electrification or even, in some sense, the industrial revolution.
Also like these earlier changes, and despite my bias against subsidization, some sort of high-cost service fund in whatever form seems necessary to allow remote communities to fully enter the 21st century and not be marginalized. What road access once represented to these communities, information access currently does. In this regard, I offer the following comments.
Number one, keep the atmosphere competitive. The goal should be to encourage true private enterprise, whether phone companies and/or small rural businesses, to service areas they normally could not through incentives such as your high-cost fund or favourable financing or perhaps something similar to the stumpage formulas used to determine costs in the logging industry, which vary from area to area depending on distance from market and so forth.
Two, let a percentage of these higher costs of service be borne by the customers in order to keep everyone aware of reality.
Three, accessability, at least in our very rural type setting, need not imply a town-type phone with town-type rates in every home, but rather some such system in each community. The goal is to provide voice and data privacy and information accessability to each community at a rate which ensures the system will be used and be useful. The community can best address the many options of structuring access once the service is available. I had experience with SpaceTel for a while until it went obsolete. We had it in a central location. It wasn't uncommon for helicopters to fly in with mining people just to use that private phone system. It wasn't so important that it was here or there but that it was somewhere.
Four, most rural customers -- I speak for ourselves at least -- would find it much more palatable and practical in the long run to bear high, perhaps one-time upfront costs of service rather than high ongoing per-minute rates, which doom the entire undertaking.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you. I was going to say I don't think I have any questions because you have been pretty comprehensive in your presentation. Thank you.
MR. MULLER: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant this morning is Pat Bennett.
MS BENNETT: Good morning everybody. It's Pat Bennett from Longworth. Longworth is a little community 70 miles east of Prince George. It is a rural community about 18 kilometres from Sinclair Mills, where the phone line ends. We don't have any phones.
Up until January 7th this year, 1998, we did indeed have a radio phone channel, but for some unknown reason BC Tel was given permission by the CRTC to remove this. So there we were -- no phones whatsoever at all. Okay.
We are an enterprising community; so we started writing letters and bombarding our MPs for telephone service please, telephone service. Meanwhile, we started hooking up whatever we could find, you know, mobile phones, cell phones, crazy aerials on roofs, anything. These work sometimes; it is just the "sometimes". They don't always work, they are very unreliable. If we have an emergency out there, a heart attack, a bad accident, it will take us at least 20 minutes to access this phone booth stuck out in Sinclair Mills near their community centre, and then it is 20 minutes back. Somebody with a heart attack is going to die there on the floor waiting for us to get back again.
Now, I know one or two people in the community do have auto-tel, but not many, and certainly most of us can't afford to go that route. What we need, what we have been asking for for over 10 years is a reliable phone service, you know, like other people have. And now we need it more than ever because some of us are in business and we have no access to the Net. We are totally chopped off from the world; the world is going on, and we are stuck way back here in never never land. It is just as bad as being without a road.
So I am suggesting that BC Tel get busy and start thinking about extending that phone line -- the posts are there -- the 18 kilometres to Longworth, please, if you don't mind.
The thing is, somebody said, "If you wait, you might get fibre optics next summer." That's lovely, but what are we supposed to do until next summer? And suppose somebody does have a misfortune out there, what are we supposed to do for emergency service if we can't get on to the radio channel -- and you often can't because it is busy -- or I can't get out on a cell phone? We just have no reliable service whatsoever at all. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Ms Bennett, it would be helpful for us if you would describe your community a bit, because we talked before the hearing, but it is not on the public record. Could you tell us --
MS BENNETT: It is a funny little community. It is a community of homesteaders; I think mine is probably one of the smallest and I have 23 acres. Most people are running 40 acres and more. There are different enterprises going on, like market gardening and cattle and horses and whatever.
Then, of course, people there have to supplement their salaries by going out tree planting or whatever to make a little extra money during the summer when you can, but nobody out there is very rich. It is just a community of people doing the best the can with what they have.
THE CHAIRPERSON: This morning, if I hear you correctly -- and that was a point that was discussed in Yukon where also there are regions not getting the service -- there is the necessity of having a basic service. Are you, knowing your community, recognizing first the necessity of a telephone for emergency as you are describing, but at the same time do you want access to the same kind of services that the more urban centres get?
I would like to qualify your request this morning. It is not only to get a telephone line.
MS BENNETT: I think the gentleman who spoke just ahead of me clarified it quite distinctly. We need now to get into the world. We have been left behind over there somewhere in the back streets, and now we want to join the rest of the world, please. We would like the Internet and we would like e-mail and we would like to be able to pick up a phone and talk to someone and know that that conversation was more or less private and that the whole darn community doesn't hear it, because sometimes, you know, you might like to say something in private.
We want to join the world now. We have done without any telephone service for a long time and now we want the full table, yes.
THE CHAIRPERSON: The full catastrophe, some say.
MS BENNETT: Yes, you got it.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Excuse me, Ms Bennett, but, in the solution you are seeing, from the knowledge of your community, do you see that your community would be prepared to bear some of the costs or do you see the subsidy proposal being the solution? Do you see like a sharing here?
MS BENNETT: Once upon a time, about three years ago, BC Tel proposed, if we were willing to put up -- more recently; this was last year, for Pete's sake. If we were willing to put up $10,000 per household, we could have telephones. But we don't have it, so we don't have phones.
A little later on, from somewhere I gathered the information that, if we could put up $1,000 per household, they would consider phones for us. We could probably handle that.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
MS BENNETT: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for having represented your community and taken the time to come and meet with us.
MS BENNETT: Well, thank you very much for the opportunity to express myself.
THE CHAIRPERSON: You sure did, and it was clear. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant this morning is Dale Kerr on behalf of the Tatlayoko Think Tank.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning and welcome.
MS D. KERR: Good morning. My name is Dale Kerr and I am half of the Tatlayoko Think Tank. The other half is my husband, John Kerr. We are registered interested parties to these hearings and have already presented to the Commission a very detailed written submission. I don't, this morning, intend to go into all those details.
I would like to raise some broader issues, but first off I would like to say thank you very much for changing the venue of these public hearings. I think it was in January, the first day of the ice storm back east, that I was speaking to Steven Delaney and saying, "Steven, we have just received notice that the hearings are going to be in Prince Rupert. Have you perhaps, being from Ontario, made a mistake and did you mean Prince George?", because while I recognize that Prince Rupert is a very beautiful town and I have been there often, to have the kind of participation that we see here today would not have been possible if the hearings had been there. For us it meant a seven-hour drive to get here today as opposed to fourteen hours to get to Prince Rupert. So thank you very much.
We see, the Tatlayoko Think Tank, a number of challenges to the CRTC. The first challenge perhaps is the ability of the CRTC to give equal consideration to the voices of ordinary people as well as to the voices of industry. We know that you are here today and you are listening, it is evident from the questions that you have already raised, but considering and acting upon what you are hearing is going to present you with a challenge.
To date we are aware that you have listened very carefully to the concerns of the telcos and have acted to deregulate many areas to address their needs to be competitive in a competitive world. We are hoping that you will give the same consideration to ordinary folks.
In this recent report card from the Public Workshop on Public Participation, I note item 10, which says that from the workshop held last June, which my husband and I were able to participate in in Ottawa, one of the items was individuals or smaller interest groups making representations to the Commission should be afforded the same consideration as those represented by experts or legal counsel. The Commission considers, the CRTC Action Statement says, that you will give the same weight to representations by individuals as you will to larger groups. So I am hoping that this in fact is true.
We are disappointed that, in terms of the proceedings, it is to the best of our knowledge that no full oral hearings are going to happen; by this I mean rigorous questioning by intervenors such as ourselves of parties such as BC Tel. We would urge that the Commission hold full legal hearings on this.
A second challenge that we see to the CRTC comes in the nature of your regulatory mandate. The Telecommunications Act says that there will be a social and economic balance available to people in Canada.
We have seen a lot of rhetoric coming as a result of the introduction of this Act. On the federal level, there has been the Speech from the Throne, the most recent one; there is a whole stack of Information Highway Advisory Council documents that have come through.
I guess we are mostly disappointed that the National Access Strategy which Industry Canada and others were supposed to have formulated by December of 1997 has now quietly disappeared. This was to set the policies and the action and the directions for equal and affordable access that the Telecommunications Act is saying is going to happen for us.
We are wondering if now, during these hearings, and as a result of these hearings, the CRTC isn't being given the responsibility of both acting as a regulatory body but also setting the policy that's going to be regulated, and we are really disappointed in our federal government that they didn't follow through with the National Access Strategy.
We hear rhetoric from our provincial governments. They have published and have been signatories to the Electronic Highway Accord. We have to wonder, again, if there is real meaning in this Accord. Unlike the Province of Saskatchewan, which has made an incredible presentation to the CRTC, our province isn't here today for these hearings, they haven't made a submission, and we are really disappointed.
We see another challenge. We have mentioned two challenges to the CRTC as a regulatory body and as acting on what you hear here today. We see a challenge to us as citizens as well to make our case to the CRTC.
We are fighting for our rights and we are also fighting for our lives, the lives of small communities and individuals. This is costing us dearly. It is costing us personally, it is costing us in time, it is costing us in energy, it is expensive, but I hope that the CRTC, the Commission, is getting the message that affordable universal access is vital to us because you see the number of people that are here today; and there are a number of people that we will be reading submissions for today who can't make it in person because of the costs that I mentioned, but it is vital to them.
As we go through these hearings, the issue is serving high-cost service areas. There's lots of talk about economic efficiencies and there's lots of attention to the industry concerns. Sometimes this attention is very narrow when we deal only with efficiencies and only with economics.
We would suggest that there is another form of analysis which should be done which takes into consideration multiple accounts, where the social and economic costs of people in communities have to be considered. It isn't enough just to talk about how much is it going to cost to lay a line or to put in fibre optics, but we also have to consider what are the costs if we don't have telephone access, if we don't have more than just basic telephone service in this day and age.
I mentioned earlier the ice storm back east this past winter. During that ice storm we had lots of evidence of Canadians pulling together to help people; Canadians from B.C., from all over the country helped people in eastern Canada. That's what being a Canadian is about -- we help each other.
I would suggest that, in considering high-cost service areas, the same approach be taken, that everybody helps across Canada for these areas. It is a lesson that we learn in small communities in rural areas; everybody helps or everybody loses. We don't want to see people in this country losing.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much.
As you say, I know you filed a paper with us which is very comprehensive, so I don't have any questions of clarification, but I do appreciate that you have come a long way and I know we will be seeing you throughout the day.
MS D. KERR: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I meant to tell you that B.C. has made representations; they are here this morning, the B.C. government, just for your information, if it has slipped your attention. And there is an application in front of us which we cannot comment on today about having a fuller hearing going into the next step after this round of public hearings that we are having in many cities, as you know, across the country.
I hear you talk about the rhetoric of some of the papers or commitments. It is much too soon to know what will be the result of our hearings and the elements we will be collecting as we go and the analysis, but one sure thing is the Commission is not about rhetoric, and the fact that we are coming all the way to the different communities is because it is an important issue to us and to all Canadians, and we want to really listen in terms of the solutions you may have in terms of addressing those questions.
MS D. KERR: Thank you very much. I was unaware that the Province would be here today. I guess, having seen the quality of the work from the submission for the Province of Saskatchewan, I was hopeful that our province would also do something like that.
I understand that you are not just about rhetoric and you do have many challenges in front of you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: We do as Canadians; it is a challenge that we can face together. Otherwise, it is impossible.
MS D. KERR: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter this morning is Debra Slaco, representing the Government of British Columbia.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning. It is hard for us to say welcome in your province, but I am sure many citizens that are here today are pleased that you are here, from what we heard just before you. So welcome to the hearing.
MS SLACO: Thank you and good morning. On behalf of the Government of British Columbia, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome Members of the Commission and Commission staff to British Columbia.
We appreciate that you have chosen to hold a series of public forums across the region so that all people have a chance to express their views on these issues, a matter of great concern to all of them, telecommunication services, or in some cases the lack thereof.
As you can see by today's turnout, this issue matters. Maintaining and upgrading and extending telephone service to rural residents across the province is fundamental to enabling all regions to participate and contribute not just to the wired worlds of tomorrow, but the real economic and social activities of today. It is impressive to see that so many British Columbians have taken the time and the expense to attend this hearing, but we are not surprised.
The Government of British Columbia has long been concerned with ensuring that affordable, adequate telecommunication services are available to all British Columbians. It is an issue we have championed before the Commission and in our dealings with the regional telephone companies for many years. In fact, it is 10 years since we raised this issue at a revenue requirement proceeding back when construction program materials were part of revenue requirement proceedings, when we had revenue requirement proceedings. We were told then that anyone in the province who wanted a phone had one. That wasn't the full picture then, and it isn't now.
The annual Construction Program Reviews became the forum, and we continued to try to get the telephone company and the Commission to focus on getting telephones to people and upgrading multi and party line services. We brought attention to this situation for rural and remote communities; a program was developed to adopt an individual line standard and eliminate party lines, and a program was proposed for extending services to unserved communities.
The provinces worked with all stakeholders in forging the Electronic Highway Accord and made universal affordable telecommunication services and facilities to communities and individuals a cornerstone of the accord. In that spirit, the provinces worked closely with BC Tel in attempting to accelerate the Rural Upgrade Program as well as extend services to unserved communities.
In addition, we have recently announced six telecom projects that will be funded through the IWP. The IWP is the Federal/Provincial Infrastructure Works Program. In B.C., which I believe is the only province to have done so, we managed to secure a small component of IWP funds to aid in extension of service projects. We have also facilitated an agreement between BC Tel and BC Hydro for special provisions where there is joint use of poles in the extension of service. This arrangement will significantly reduce the cost to telephone subscribers in getting service.
B.C. has been a leader in recognizing the needs of rural and remote communities and in enabling all regions of the province to participate in the knowledge-based economy and information society. The province leads the country in community network services and provision of public access sites. Ninety-seven per cent of British Columbians are served by a public library, and libraries provide a primary public access point to the information highway, with over 90 per cent of libraries having public access Internet stations.
The Provincial Learning Network is a telecommunications network that will link students and educators in 1,700 public schools, 22 post-secondary institutions and 20 community skill centres. The province recently announced an investment of $123 million for PL Net to bring educational programs to B.C. students through an information highway that will reach into schools throughout B.C. It will extend programs to students not traditionally served by post-secondary institutions, increase student and teacher access to learning resources and increase student and worker access to career information.
So we have been trying, and progress is being made; perhaps not fast enough and certainly not far enough for many of us. But today we are here to help you in your deliberations on the issues articulated in the public notice set out for this proceeding.
The era of convergence and rhetoric of the information highway brings a promise of new opportunities both economic and social to all those who have access and obviously poses threats to those that don't have access to telecommunication services. So too does the development of competition and reliance on market forces pose threats and opportunities.
Threats are most pronounced in the provision of rural and remote services, and special measures are likely warranted if we are to ensure that subsection 7(b) of the Telecom Act is realized for all Canadians, and that is, ensure that access to reliable and affordable telecommunication services of high quality to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada.
As part of the transition to a more competitive market for the delivery of telecommunication services, the Commission has approved a number of rate rebalancing and rate restructuring proposals to bring the price of local telephone service closer to cost. As a result of these initiatives, it can generally be said that subscribers in rural and remote areas have seen their local telephone rates increase by higher amounts, both absolute and relative, than their urban counterparts. While the new price cap regime will limit the rate increases over the next four years, the province is concerned that, at the end of the price cap period, further rate increases or changes to rating principles may threaten the affordability of access to telephone service in rural areas.
In the initial round of submissions made on May 1st, a number of proposals have been tabled to address the issue of maintaining affordable access in high-cost areas. First, we need to define a high-cost area and what is considered affordable. We need to know what it is worth. We need to know what the dollar value is and what it is we are trying to subsidize.
Based on the amount required, we can determine what the appropriate mechanism should be and how to collect and administer the funds, to whom and for what. Our analysis of these issues is still under way, and we expect to provide recommendations on these issues in our final comments in this proceeding. For now, we are guided by the belief that we need to balance simplicity of approach with detailed cost accounting in our search for reasonableness.
To ensure continued affordability, the province is of the view that a price ceiling, either absolute or relative, for instance perhaps no more than the highest urban rate, may be the starting point for defining what subscribers in high-cost areas should pay for telephone services. While we agree conceptually with the notion of portable subsidies that are competitively neutral, we continue to have doubts as to the meaningful applicability in situations in rural and remote communities.
At this time I would like to focus the Commission's attention on a particular aspect of the high-cost issue, namely the extension of service to unserved areas. As I have mentioned, it is an issue of particular concern to us and it requires a specific remedy.
The British Columbia Electronic Highway Accord identified access as a key goal and has undertaken initiatives to achieve it. Under the IWP, for the first time, telecom projects have been explicitly recognized as infrastructure projects eligible to receive financial aid. The good news and the bad news is that only seven communities are likely to benefit. Unfortunately, this is but a start, and the IWP is but a one-shot arrangement.
This proceeding gives us an opportunity to develop sustainable mechanisms to extend and maintain universal access to basic telephone service. According to the information filed by BC Tel during this proceeding, there are 83 serving areas in British Columbia that do not have telephone service. From our involvement in the Commission's Construction Program Reviews, we know that many of those areas include communities that have been requesting service for some years, and in some cases decades. So in many instances this is not the case of extending service to a new subdivision or to an individual who chooses to live at the end of the road, but rather it is providing an essential service to a community that has gone without for a long time.
Under the existing Service Extension Program Tariff for BC Tel, there is a joint formula for covering the costs associated with the initial construction of telecommunications facilities. The said formula provides that BC Tel pays the first $2,000 in construction costs per subscriber. For the next $9,000 of costs incurred, the subscriber pays 20 per cent, up to a maximum of $1,000, and BC Tel pays the rest. The subscriber is then responsible for all costs above $11,000.
The current cost-sharing formula has had limited success in addressing the concerns of unserved areas. When SEP was introduced in 1990, there were 61 identified areas without access to telephone service. Even though SEP has been used to provide service to some of the communities on that list, the number of identified areas without adequate telephone service continues to grow.
There are two main stumbling blocks to SEP's effectiveness. One is the Service Extension Program has no defined life or spending obligations; that is that communities or individuals initiate a request for service, the telephone company offers a quote, but then construction may not be undertaken for quite some time. This can be due to a number of factors, in part perhaps the time and efforts that it takes for communities to organize and get as many subscribers as possible willing to contribute, or there may be differing quotes offered by the telephone company over time either due to changes in the number of potential subscribers or the cost characteristics of the facilities.
And, finally, getting the specific area or community slated in conjunction with the company's overall planning and construction process. This process needs to be better organized.
The second major impediment under the service extension program is the ability of the community to come up with its share of the construction costs. In many cases, the subscribers are unable to afford the required customer contribution assessed for construction.
After reviewing the communities that have received telephone service under SEP, the province concludes that unless funds are available from other sources, it is unlikely the communities will be served if the required amount is much more than the $1,000 contribution per subscriber. Certainly few, if any, communities have been able to pay up to $2,000. It would seem, then, that any proposal designed to address the issue of unserved areas should take account of what a reasonable customer contribution should be.
After reviewing the submissions made to the proceeding on May 1st, the province is of the view that there is some recognition by parties in this proceeding that something can and should be done to address the concerns of providing service to unserved areas. The province supports the notion that an explicit fund be established to provide financial assistance to communities that are currently unserved.
While we will provide detailed comments at the conclusion of this proceeding, I would like to just sketch out the main elements of this type of funding approach.
In some ways it has some similarities to the approach proposed by TCI, Telus Communications, in its May 1st submission, in that we agree that such a fund could be designed to limit both the cost to the service provider as well as the cost to the individual subscribers.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Excuse me, Ms Slaco, just to let you be aware that you are past the 10 minutes, so if you can just summarize, as we have many intervenors.
MS SLACO: Okay.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I apologize, but just to give everybody a chance to be heard.
MS SLACO: This model, as I say, would essentially limit the amount per subscriber as well as to the company. Then, anything over that amount would be paid out of the service extension fund.
The province would also like to see that the process embody a requirement or obligation that a certain dollar amount be spent where there is already identified service requests or a set number of communities would be served on an annual basis.
We also believe this type of fund could be made available to competitive service providers through a bidding process.
Due to the small populations involved in many of these communities, we believe it would be uneconomic to provide the subsidy to more than one service provider in a defined geographic area.
We also believe that this type of a subsidy should be primarily targeted for communities rather than individuals.
In the province's view, a funding mechanism to aide the extension of service projects is in keeping with good economic and social policy. On a regional basis, using the geographic areas of the operating telephone companies, the required amount to serve areas which currently do not have telephone service is not overwhelming.
For BC Tel, using the information provided by the company, the cost of such an undertaking could be as little as three to $5 million annually, something less than 1 per cent of BC Tel's annual construction program.
Funds for such a program could likely be derived from the existing contribution fund for the remainder of the price cap period, or if this proceeding leads the Commission to conclude that some other form of collecting funds for subsidizing high-cost areas is required, then we would argue that a segment of those funds should be targeted specifically for extension of service.
We will be following this proceeding carefully and we will be submitting our conclusions and recommendations in final argument. We hope and expect that the determinations to be made in this proceeding will ensure that our goal of universal, affordable telecommunication services for communities and individuals will be a reality.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
For my information, since I am quite ignorant in geography -- not only of B.C., but even in Quebec I think I could get lost as well -- could you explain to me, when you are saying that presently 83 communities don't have access to any basic service even, what that represents as a totality in terms of percentage to the totality of the communities in B.C.? Those 83 communities represent how much of the population, for example? Are we talking 10 per cent of the population, 20 per cent, 2 per cent?
MS SLACO: No. It would be much smaller than that. It would be done in the matter of a few percentage, if that.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay.
MS SLACO: The 83 is the information that was provided by BC Tel in an interrogatory to this proceeding -- I believe it was interrogatory 101 or 104 -- where they defined it as "serving areas". So there are 84 areas that have been identified as unserved within which there are certain communities, some of which have been on the traditional SEP list for some years.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay.
In the presentation, and I had read also your written submission -- and thank you for participating actively in this proceeding today and also the whole process that we are putting in place; it is very helpful -- if there was to be any support that could be put in place, whether from the contributions you were referring to or a special subsidy, in your view, that should be given on a one...
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: A one-time only?
THE CHAIRPERSON: No. No. To only one party that there should not be competition in those areas. That's what I gather from your presentation.
MS SLACO: It's not so much that we don't think it should be; we don't think it is likely to happen. If you are talking about trying to get service to a community that may have 20 dwellings, 25 dwellings in it, the fact of having multiple providers wanting to get in and provide the service in the first place is probably doubtful.
Then, certainly, I think there are some questions if you are going to -- given that the only way to get service there in the first place is to subsidize it, the construction cost, it would seem rather silly to subsidize two different parties going into an attempt to link up 10 subscribers for one and 10 for another. It doesn't seem to make much sense given that there is likely to be some economies in having one provider do all 20 people or residents in that dwelling.
THE CHAIRPERSON: So in your view, for those communities, what is absolute is the service that would be provided and the access to competition, and what can bring competition should be sacrificed in exchange of making sure that a class of service would be provided is what your approach is?
MS SLACO: I think there are the two issues, of which, for the most part, I have only spoken today to the notion of the unserved areas. That's not to say that there shouldn't be other subsidies available with respect to maintaining a certain price for services in rural and remote communities and how competition and portable subsidies could work in terms of ongoing service.
But certainly in terms of financing the capital cost for the facilities to actually get communities linked, we think that's a separate issue that can be done through a separate fund.
THE CHAIRPERSON: So your approach is high-cost areas should have two definitions: one where there is no service at all; and then take care of the other, which is important as well.
Thank you very much for having participated and having come this morning.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant today is Mark Aubrey.
MR. AUBREY: Good morning.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning.
MR. AUBREY: I would like to thank the Commission for the opportunity to make a presentation.
I am representing my own company which is a heli-ski company based in Crescent Spur.
We have been in business for about eight years and we have a lodge based in Crescent Spur, which is a small community about 100 miles east of Prince George on Highway 16.
We have an international clientele coming for one-week packages to heli-ski with us in the Caribou and Rocky Mountains.
Our lodge is on private land and our ski runs are on Crown land.
During peak times we have eight employees. We have experienced steady growth over the past five years, and we have made significant capital investment in excess of half a million dollars in the last 10 years.
The key to our growth and investment is increasing our clientele base, and communications is a vital component.
I just want to talk a little bit about the history of our phone service. We personally started with a radio phone interconnect system that we put in at our own cost about eight years ago, and the cost for that was roughly $5,000. Approximately five years ago we were given landline service by BC Tel which has made a big improvement to our communications, but we feel now it is time to take the next step.
We are having problems with our communications now making connections to either the Internet or to other computers. Also, we make numerous calls during a week when we are operating for basic services like groceries and supplies to Prince George and McBride, and we feel it is reasonable that those should be local calls if that's our nearest suppliers, where they live.
One of the other problems is we are experiencing at times long stretches where our service is interrupted where we have no service at all.
I just want to expand on that a little bit, the disruption of service.
You can imagine if an existing phone system was down for seven to 10 days anywhere else in the province there would be a big issue, but that happened to us last year for more than seven days; we had absolutely no phone service.
The reasons we were given by BC Tel were problems with the radio link in our system, specifically the availability of replacement parts and the expertise to find out the problems. That would lead us to believe that this event is likely to repeat itself and there is the possibility that the system is obsolete and we will have more problems long term.
These periods of interrupted service have serious implications for us and our business. We lose potential clientele. You know, missing one call in our business is significant.
Also, safety. The nature of heli-skiing, there are some safety issues and we need to maintain contact with outside resources.
I believe one of the ways to solve that is there is a fibre optic line running through our area, and connecting to that would eliminate the radio link and help our situation.
I just want to talk a little bit about small business and ourselves in general.
We have been told for a long time that there is a need to diversify our economy and move away from a big resource base into small businesses, self-employed alternative industries. One of the keys of this transformation will be reliable communications to the outside world.
I would say that fairly accurately describes what we are going through right now. I think the problem is not that we recognize that, but convincing BC Tel to provide these services.
I don't like to point fingers at anybody, but it appears that there is a prevailing attitude that if we choose to live or build businesses in rural areas that we should pretty much be happy with any level of service that's provided. This attitude is shown with an unwillingness to provide local calling to PG or McBride. In essence, I probably call outside of my exchange 10 times as often as I make calls within my exchange.
It is shown, you know, in running a fibre optic line through the valley, in part, on poles and equipment that is being paid for for me, but with my taxes, and from all indications having no intention of connecting our exchange to it.
It is also showing in allowing us to be without service for long periods of time. We were told during this last time that they would get to it the next time a repairman was in the area and that we just have to be patient. Well, that's unacceptable. I think the largest hurdle in this communication that we need to overcome is this attitude of, you know: Just be happy with what you have because you live out in the bush.
I would just like to give a quick example. It took us a long time to convince BC Tel to actually put a pay phone in our lodge. Now that they have put a pay phone in there, I'm sure that they would -- you know, all the calls are overseas. I'm sure they are gaining quite a bit of revenue from that one pay phone. But now they won't put one in that will take a credit card. So each step of the way there seems to be a little bit of a fight.
The other issue that we are starting to deal with more and more is the access to the Internet. We do have a Web site and we are booking quite a bit of our clientele off the Internet, but we can't access it directly. Again, it is this radio link problem. All our e-mail responses have to be faxed to us. We can't communicate with other computers; faxing to another computer fax is a problem. Even if we could access the Internet we would be doing it all on long-distance rates. Because of this there is undoubtedly business opportunities that are passing us by.
As well, again on the safety issue, we subscribe to an avalanche information exchange. It is an integral part of our safety program, and we have to have that information faxed to us when we need it.
But we can't solve all these problems on our own. We need co-operation from BC Tel. I think part of that will be they will need to maintain the subsidies that we have been talking about. I think one of the main ways of solving this is to connect us through this fibre optic line.
Finally, I would just like to say we have made long-term commitment to the area. We are providing jobs that didn't exist here before. The growth and viability of our company can be helped by the following. We would ask the Commission to use any means within its mandate to encourage BC Tel to provide local calls to McBride and PG and encourage them to connect our exchange to this fibre optic line, which would give us better access to the Internet and less disruption of service.
On a personal note, I have lived in Crescent Spur for almost 30 years and I have seen all these services slowly come. We have the road; we have hydro power; we finally got the phone lines. All these services are important to the people that live there. It is not just a business thing, but if we want people to live in these areas we have to provide them with some services. One of the ways people make decisions where they are going to live is what services are available, so if they are not available you won't see these areas grow and prosper.
So any of the points I have mentioned I think, while they will benefit me and my company, will also benefit other people that want to live in Crescent Spur, make it more attractive to other families and to other businesses.
I would like to thank you for considering my remarks.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much. I just have one question.
You have a landline now. How close is your lodge to a community?
MR. AUBREY: It is in the old existing community. Crescent Spur is a rural community that's spread out over about 10 or 15 miles. We have an acreage and our lodge site is on the acreage.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: How many people live there?
MR. AUBREY: There is roughly 30 to 50 people in the area, I would suspect. We did put in our system under this rural program and are paying for our percentage of it through a taxation scheme based on property values. So we are paying our part of that. We are paying a significant share of this program ourselves.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: On a going-forward basis for enhanced services, would you also see that there would be further cost sharing with that?
MR. AUBREY: I'm not sure. I would have to consider all the options there. One of the things that I think needs to be looked at is: When the original service was put in, who was monitoring the decisions on what type of equipment to put in? My feeling is that this radio link that gives us so much problem, I would really like to know where they found that: Why they made the decision to put that in?
When it broke down last fall, they were talking about having to get people out of the States to fix this thing. To me that seems like, you know, we need to look at why that was even part of the system if it is that difficult to work with.
I think the solution to us is connecting us to the fibre optic line. I think we have contributed already by paying for some of the poles that that line is going through, and my feeling is that BC Tel, or whoever is the provider, should be connecting us to that. It's not like we are asking them to run a fibre optic line to us; it's already there and it should be connected.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much.
Thank you for coming.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter this morning is -- I have either John or Dale Kerr on behalf of Ruth Kuehl-Venn.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning.
MR. J. KERR: Good morning. Thank you very much.
The Tatlayoko Think Tank has been asked to advocate on a variety of people from around the province. There are about 20 people that have sent us submissions because they can't be because they live too far away or because it costs too much.
I would like to thank you for being here.
When a friend of mine told me that the hearings were going to be moved here I told him that I would wear my top hat, which I will do.
Because I'm going to be wearing many hats today, I thought it appropriate maybe to use that as a prop because at the end of the day I will be speaking as John Kerr private citizen, so maybe it will be important for me at least to understand who I am when I'm wearing my hat and when I'm not.
I think we all need a levity. This has been a little stressful, at least getting here.
I'm reading on behalf of a neighbour of mine, a nurse at the nursing station about 35 kilometres away.
"I have lived in rural areas most of my life. It was the mid-1960's before telephones came to our area in eastern Ontario (100 miles from the nation's capital of Ottawa)."
And it occurred to me immediately that I have forgotten to hand these outs. I have copies for everybody. In my excitement I forgot to do that.
"A party line system was installed. Thirty years later it is still a party line system. There are no long distance charges within the immediate local area and to a small town of 900 people 25 miles away. The nearest city is 50 miles away and all calls are long distance. Appointments for medical or any other services, or any business calls cost. Folks cannot access any of the services that people living in larger areas take for granted with telephone service.
I now live in a rural area in central British Columbia, working for the federal government providing health services to a very diverse area. We are 150 miles from the nearest hospital. We are able to call within our local area with no long distance charges. In Vancouver, or Prince George or Williams Lake, one is able to call more than one prefix number without long distance charges applying. That is not so here. Every time I pick up the phone to make an appointment, speak with a doctor or access any health service, a long distance charge applies. This restricts many of our clients. They do not have the financial resources to spend long periods of time on long distance calls to access health services. Also, many do not have the social ability to be able to speed the process up, as they are elderly or have second-language difficulties.
There are people who live in our area who have no phones. The main reason is the cost factor and they do not have the financial resources of their own to pay. There are others who have no phones because they have moved just up the road from their previous residence and after 6 months are still waiting on BC Tel to instal some wire and their phone.
I have a new clinic and operate with one phone line to serve 3 or 4 different individuals, who work within the same facility. There is no fax access. We need several lines to cope with the communication load. These are not available because there are not enough lines and equipment in the area to give us the service we require.
We have no internet access due to the lack of lines available. Services such as call waiting are not available to us. Cel phones do not operate in our area. These are services that the majority of people in the province take for granted. Business is not conducted only in the cities. A good portion of our economy is based on what goes on in rural areas - from ranching to logging to tourism.
We already pay long distance fees for every minute of telephone time used to make business calls. There are no banks or insurance companies, etc. in Tatla Lake. We pay more for food, propane, clothing and so on, because of the distance we live from major centers. People who live in rural areas do provide valuable products for those who live in major centers, and contribute our share to the local, provincial and federal economies.
We already receive lesser services, although, paying the same and more for the privilege of having a communication system. Why should we pay more for lesser service than others in the country?"
I think the message here is probably the same that we heard from the previous speaker: Be happy with what you have. Nobody questions the huge economic subsidy that it costs to put cities in place. I think we need to begin questioning those kinds of expenditures from our government purse.
I think on behalf of Ruth I would make one other closing point. It is interesting to note -- and I'm thinking back to Ms Slaco's comments about system extensions into rural areas -- we notice a lot of the times that those unserved areas, those places where those phones, and you were questioning the population, are native communities.
I think we, as a society, have to look at the message we have sent to native people in this province. Is this systemic racism? Why is it that most of the native communities in this province have less service than other communities? We have to be aware that that is an issue that is here.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for this representation of Ms Kuehl-Venn.
Tell me, is the community that she is from a native community itself?
MR. J. KERR: The community that she is from is the same community that I live in. This is Tatla Lake; I live in Tatlayoko, 35 miles south. We all live in the same community. There is 100 of us on the telephone exchange.
Ruth's services also a number of native communities in and around the area. You have your map there. You can look south down to Nemaiah Valley, which is along the east side of Chilko Lake. Nemaiah has no phone service at all. They have some sort of weird microwave system that doesn't work. It's impossible to get a hold of the Chief at Nemaiah ever.
There also is service through the clinic into the Alexis Creek Band at Redstone and that's the community of Puntzi/Chilanko Forks just to the east of Tatla Lake. So Ruth serves that community also.
The population of the Chilcotin is approximately 4,000. A little over half of that population is native; about 55 per cent. It's very difficult to answer it community by community.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes.
MR. J. KERR: But the area that I live in and speak most informedly of is the Chilcotin.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Where there is a strong presence of native --
MR. J. KERR: Where there is a strong presence of native people and not a lot of adequate telephone service.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
I would now propose that we take a 10-minute break to allow our court reporter and ourselves a little rest, and we will be back.
MR. J. KERR: Thank you.
--- Recessed at 10:55/Suspension à 10:55
--- Resumed at 11:00/Reprise à 11:00
THE CHAIRPERSON: We will really try, as we go on, to be even briefer in our own questioning, to just make it questions for clarification, so please don't be offended by that. It is really to make sure that you are not sitting there too long and waiting for your time to intervene.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant is Jim Togyi, Mayor of the District of Fort St. James.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning.
MR. TOGYI: Good morning, Madam Chair, Members of the Panel.
My name is Jim Togyi. I am the Mayor of the District of Fort St. James.
After listening to some of the presentations of small remote communities, I feel like going home. Certainly they are not there that often, Fort St. James.
My purpose of being here is to present the Commission with a request for cellular service in Fort St. James and the area, more specifically the area north of Fort St. James, which includes some of the presenters sites, such as Manson Creek and Germansen Landing.
I will stick to the written word, so I hopefully will save some time.
Fort St. James is the oldest established community in British Columbia dating back to 1806. It was established as a fur trading centre for the Hudson's Bay Company. Today it is a thriving community of close to 6,000 people, with the forest industry as the primary employment provider.
Just to explain the number 6,000, the community itself is about 2,200-2,300 people. There are about 4,800 people within a five-mile radius, which is sort of a tourist area by the town of Fort St. James. There are several small native reserves, about four of them, within about 30 miles of the town centre, and there are communities such as Manson Creek, Germansen, Leo Creek that point north that fall into that 6,000 number, which the people -- that make Fort St. James their destination.
As Highway 16 runs west from Prince George to Prince Rupert, it makes Fort St. James and area a relatively isolated region. It is linked to Vanderhoof 60 km always by Highway 27. Both Vanderhoof and Prince George serve as supply centres to our community.
Service to our isolated town has always been a problem. In recent years BC Telephone, BC Hydro and Pacific Northern Gas have eliminated resident personnel and replacement services are provided by personnel commuting from points south, equipped with cellular phones, which become useless once leaving Vanderhoof travelling north.
Because of the substantial increase in the use of natural gas, both in the industrial and residential sectors, Pacific Northern Gas reinstated their serviceman position in the community. And I may add that it was a great relief to the community as there is a lot of danger and we had experienced some failures of service in the community.
In the late 1970s the only way to obtain television service was for the local residents to do it themselves. A non-profit society was formed and a tower erected in order to receive and transmit television signals from satellite. This has been a huge success and we now receive eight channels of programming with a reasonably good signal. This system is supplied with a budget of $110,000 per year or roughly $27.50 per household per year from local taxation. We have been unable to attract a television company to our area because we are such a low-cost provider. Their cost to consumers would be approximately $30 per month per household for the same service.
We have thought of doing that for cell service. Unfortunately, that's totally unacceptable and out of our range of...
--- Power failure/Panne de courant
THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Shall we continue? Do you know where -- yes. Okay. Fine.
MR. TOGYI: Thank you.
For the past six months, the Council of the District of Fort St. James has been actively pursing the installation of cellular telephone service for our area. We have contacted BC Tel Mobility and...
--- Power failure/Panne de courant
THE CHAIRPERSON: We are back on line.
MR. TOGYI: For the past six months, the Council of the District of Fort St. James has been actively pursing the installation of cellular telephone service for our area. We have contacted BC Tel Mobility and Cantel and have been told that we are not in their expansion plans in the foreseeable future. The reasons given are that we are too isolated and too small a market. We note that on the BC Tel Mobility service map are other small communities. Market areas such as Burns Lake, Mackenzie and Chetwynd are serviced.
Current market conditions of lower profit and increased competition will likely mean that cellular service will not be provided to Fort St. James in the near future.
In order to show that Fort St. James is a viable market for cellular service, the district initiated a petition of the area residents to determine the extent of support for the service. The petition listed the actual rates that would be charged so that those signing would fully understand the implications.
A copy of the petition is enclosed for your perusal in my package. A total of 469 people signed the petition. Each person was informed of the cost before signing so they understood the implications. We believe the 469 signatures represent an opportunity for a customer base whereby a service provider could make a profit. Copies of supporting letters from local businesses and area chambers of commerce are also included in the package.
Just briefly, existing facilities.
Both BC Telephone and Cantel have cited high costs to put in a cellular site, ranging from half a million to $1 million, as a major detriment to expanding service to Fort St. James.
B.C. Rail currently has a microwave tower in Fort St. James on top of Murray Ridge. This tower is one of four from Fort St. James to Lovell Cove, providing service to these areas. The tower is currently at or near its capacity so it is unlikely that any expansion could take place.
The Fort St. James TV Society is erecting a new 100-foot tower as we speak on Mount Dickinson near the town centre. The tower will be available for rental by a cellular provider. This arrangement will relieve the cellular provider of the costs of a tower. The only costs would be for the equipment necessary. I believe it is significant still, the equipment alone.
Fort St. James is serviced by many companies from all parts of the province. Most of these companies use cell phones for their delivery vehicles, and their phones are out of service to our areas once they leave Vanderhoof heading north. Our local Chamber of Commerce has noted an increase in enquiries from out of town suppliers asking whether we will be serviced in the future.
Fort St. James is also the gateway to a large wilderness area used by many outdoor recreational enthusiasts including hunting, fishing, as well as skiing and snowmobiling. Many have enquired about obtaining cell service for safety reasons. Many have indicated that their prime reason for wanting the service is the fact they use the wilderness on a regular basis.
I would like to talk just briefly about subsidies.
We feel subsidies should be provided for isolated and small market areas in order to attract and retain businesses to our area. BC Tel and Cantel believe that cellular is an add-on service over and above basic telephone services and that the customer should pay full rates. We do not question the approach from private companies, however, we feel that we need to provide services such as cellular in order to make our area attractive to outside businesses.
Subsidies would have to come from some level of government, otherwise we will be forever isolated from what Canadians in large urban centres with modern amenities take for granted every day.
In conclusion, subsidies may be required to provide cellular services to high cost service areas, otherwise cellular providers may not find it cost-efficient to establish the service. The subsidies should be for construction only. Local residents expect to pay the same rates as other areas do.
The construction subsidy could be in the form of low interest or zero interest loans. They could also be in the form of an outright grant or a tax concession. For receiving the subsidy, the service provider should be required to provide service for a stated minimum length of time.
Other technologies that we have investigated include wireless technology and satellite technology. Both would require some form of subsidy in order to be cost-effective. Again, the subsidies would be in the form of construction subsidies, low interest or zero interest loans, grants or tax concessions.
We thank you for your time in considering our proposals.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Mayor. Thank you for coming here this morning and thank you for your patience with the technology, not cellular but basic power.
Thank you very much.
MR. TOGYI: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant is Neil McLean.
Is Mr. McLean here?
We will recall him a little later.
Then I would like to invite Ray Woods, Mayor of the City of Williams Lake to come forward.
MR. WOODS: Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning.
MR. WOODS: It is good to be with you today and I really do appreciate that you have changed the venue from Prince Rupert to Prince George.
As Mayor of a small city, population approximately 11,400, serving the great Chilcotin area as well as other Central Cariboo communities, I have a concern for the provision of good, affordable telephone service for all the Cariboo. Our people need these services such as fax, Internet, call forwarding, call waiting and a repair service that we can count on at a price we can afford.
The issue facing the CRTC is how to make sure people in high-cost serving areas -- all of the Cariboo Chilcotin -- get the telephone service they need now and in the future.
What will happen if the CRTC does not act on behalf of all Canadians? Rural rates will go up and service will go down. Our economy will suffer as businesses move to where the services are. A high-quality, affordable service is vitally important for the Cariboo Chilcotin.
The thrust of this proposal will see local business telephone rates increase in small communities and decrease in larger communities. Historically, telephone rates have been tied to the number of local phones listed. Phone subscribers in small communities have local rates that are somewhat lower than subscribers in larger communities. It is my understanding that BC Tel wants to reduce, if not eliminate, this concept. BC Tell is suggesting their costs are higher per subscriber in small communities and want to tie rates more closely to their costs.
We urge CRTC to move slowly in allowing BC Tel to raise rates in smaller communities. If BC Tel is allowed to raise the local rates in small communities, there will be no competitors available in the early stages to offer an alternate competitive service. Increased phone costs will affect the competitiveness of our community to attract and hold on to businesses.
The CRTC has acknowledged that the market model for telecommunications does not address the issues of people living outside the urban areas. Major competitors are not interested in providing local service anywhere in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
When you look at the economy of British Columbia, we, in the Cariboo Chilcotin, are suppliers of natural resources -- logging, mining, ranching -- which greatly enrich all the people of our province. I believe that in recognition of our contribution to all Canadians via our natural resources, a subsidy for the provision of telecommunications should be provided to the Cariboo Chilcotin residents.
I would urge you to consider these issues very thoughtfully and carefully as they have the capability of affecting our area substantially.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Mr. Woods.
In your view, and knowing your communities, although you are supporting an idea of a subsidy, do you see some partnership with the communities themselves or do you see the idea of the subsidy being really taking care of all the extra costs?
MR. WOODS: I think there are possibilities either way.
My concern is basically for the wellbeing of the Cariboo Chilcotin, because as the great Chilcotin is able to communicate that benefits our cities. There are sort of three communities, three municipalities in the Cariboo: Williams Lake, Quesnel and 100 Mile House, and we really benefit from the rural people and their services and their ability to make a living.
I would have to say I'm probably one of the least qualified people to be here today. I am used to maybe communicating one-on-one a little bit better and the great world of communications is a little bit beyond my technical skills. But I feel that the resources that come from our area are huge benefits to the rest of British Columbia and there has to be some way of prorating, or doing something, so that the people in rural areas can get the type of service they need. I think it is really vital.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for having participated. Really, although you feel that you are not the best person, you were certainly a very good representative of your community.
MR. WOODS: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenters this morning are Avery Richardson and David Richardson.
Could they come forward please.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning.
MR. D. RICHARDSON: Good morning.
My name is David Richardson and I'm a computer resource teacher from Anne Stevenson Secondary School in Williams Lake, the same community that Ray Woods is Mayor of.
I am also a rural resident. I live about 40 kilometres outside of Williams Lake and I have fun with party lines.
I'm going to put a hat on here because -- you will get this just in a second. If you can't see it, it says "Microsoft" on it.
A little abstract.
While the CRTC decision to encourage competition in the local phone market is aimed at reducing prices and ending local monopolies, forces are at work which may monopolize some aspects of the very market it wishes to deregulate.
There are many frustrations using a party line in the "backwoods" of British Columbia. Being a manager for a Williams Lake rep hockey team and using 1930's technology to attempt to do your job can be very frustrating.
Rural education is not on an equal footing with urban education when it comes to equality of access to the Internet. Reliable rural Internet access is vital to creating opportunities that will keep young people at home and attract business. Migration to cities may no longer be necessary with "wired" communities. There is an opportunity to moderate the transfer of wealth from resource-based communities to maintain huge urban infrastructures.
Now I will get into the fun part: The Microsoft Bill and the end of competition.
Imagine a world ringed by 288 low orbital satellites owned by private business, part of a giant Godzilla-like monopoly of telecommunications. Imagine this private business capable, for a price, of providing high-speed Internet access to anyone in the world. Now, imagine this private business owned by Bill Gates, the man being sued by 20 States and the federal government in the United States for unfair competition; and the McCaws, the same family that brings you -- at least us in British Columbia -- Canucks and Grizzlie stew. Imagine no more; this science fiction nightmare is coming to a location near you very soon and it doesn't make any difference where you live.
George Orwell had it wrong. It is not Big Brother we have to worry about, but Big Bill and the Microsoft juggernaut.
What is the CRTC going to do about this monopoly of the bandwidth?
"The Teledesic Network will consist of 288 operational satellites divided into 12 planes, each with 24 satellites. As the satellite planes orbit north-to-south and south-to-north, the Earth rotates underneath."
What did the CRTC do about the invasion of the U.S. digital TV satellites? Not much. It reacted too late. The technology moved faster than policy. Only in 1998 are the two Canadian digital TV services starting to make inroads on the U.S. digital TV services that hundreds of thousands of Canadians are using.
Once again, CRTC policy will be outmanoeuvred by advancing technology. The Bill Gates-McCaw Teledesic communications satellite system will be in place serving rural areas of the entire world before the CRTC can come up with a viable policy to provide rural Canada with a secure access to telecommunications technology. Will there be a competing Canadian satellite system or is the CRTC secretly in collusion with the Microsoft Bill?
Cancom and DirecPC are providing some services to Canada's rural education community, but how long will they be in place and will they be able to compete with Teledesic? The Teledesic network will be able to download data at up to 64 megabits per second. DirecPC, by caparison, downloads -- again, that's a maximum for most schools -- at 400 kilobits per second.
Local phone service, local telecommunication service is now deregulated -- Telecom Decision CRTC 97-8. It is open to competition. But does this mean simply replacing one monopoly with another? I'm looking into the future here, but I'm very concerned about Microsoft and what is going to happen.
We can sit here in Prince George and in a detached, intellectual, industrial revolution mindset contemplate the effects of competition in high-cost service areas. We can realize that competition in high-cost service areas is like military intelligence: non-existent. I shouldn't say that right now in the Canadian situation. Or we can switch onto the post analog head space of the digital revolution and think different, like the reinvented Volkswagen Beetle or like the rebirth of the MacIntosh i-mac computer.
Let us go back to the future and realize that HCSAs are a unique telecommunications niche and we must think differently about them.
Rural Canada needs subsidization for telecommunications; call it a high-cost service fund, a technological transfer or whatever. The implementation date of January 1, 2000 for any safeguards or mechanisms required to address the issue of service to HCSAs is reasonable. The Teledesic target is 2003, so we have to get this going. However, any safeguard or mechanism must be upgraded or revisited frequently. Technological change moves extremely quickly and the CRTC needs to be able to react.
Now I'm taking off my Microsoft hat because I don't want to advertise too much.
What is it like being the manager of a rep hockey team in a rural community that still has party lines and that still does not provide complete and competitive phone service? Let us just call it phone challenged or digitally challenged, just like sometimes people call me follically challenged.
I spend hundreds of dollars on more expensive long-distance calls, and I am handicapped by interruption by the party line during the conversations I have with fellow managers around the province. "What is a party line", they ask. "Is that one of those escort services or are you really calling from the 1930s?"
There are already several disadvantages playing rep hockey in a small community such as Williams Lake. The amount and expense of travelling long distances in the winter, the lack of good local competition and the gastronomic challenge of eating in a different town every weekend. It would be nice to have phone service equivalent to urban areas.
Now, what I do for a living: rural education.
The school district in which I teach, School District 27, Cariboo Chilcotin, is the size of Switzerland. It has some of the most remote rural schools in the country. We have Internet service in several schools, but must pay a premium to our friendly telco, BC Tel, over geographically smaller districts that have thousands more students.
My school, for example, pays $2,400 a year just for two business lines that BC Tel is charging us so we can get a 56K frame relay connection, which isn't really bad, but they also charge us $40,000 a year because we have to have service in 100 Mile and Williams Lake, and I think that's unfair.
The British Columbia Provincial Learning Network, PLN, will solve some of these problems by providing 56K connections to some of our remote schools for a reasonable price, but the district will still have to pay for the service.
PLN has been announced about five times by the provincial government and we haven't seen anything in our district yet. PLN needs to actually come out of the woodwork and actually do something.
How far will PLN go in providing permanent Internet access to remote rural communities remains to be seen. This is one area in which the CRTC can mandate or encourage partnerships between provincial governments, school districts, local communities and telcos, as this is not being done. This is being done in total isolation and it's just not happening in the classroom. If there is an Internet pipe coming into a remote location, it should be a shared resource.
BC Tel is installing fibre optic lines in several RUP, rural upgrades, around the province. The problem is that local users will not gain the benefit of the potential of fibre optic technology because the lines are not designed for local users.
We have a line going along Horsefly Road, fibre optic cable. We are not going to be able to tap into that as local residents.
The school in which I teach in Williams Lake is very close to the fibre ring that runs around the province. Several local mills and other businesses are connected directly to the fibre line, but none of the schools in Williams Lake are. Where are their priorities?
What about the future? Rural B.C. towns are notorious for sending their best and brightest to the "big smoke" in Vancouver or Victoria or other major cities. Do we want the same thing to happen with telecommunications? Do we want all the telecommunications wizards wandering around places like Seattle, Vancouver, Ottawa, Boston, Cupertino, or do we create a place for Internet merlins to be anywhere they want?
We have an opportunity to break the industrial revolution mould of forcing everyone to move and live and work in giant megalopolises where huge infrastructure is required to serve the masses. If sufficient and reliable bandwidth can be provided to rural Canada, we will be able to provide young people, small businesses and larger organizations the option of staying or locating in rural areas. This starts with the education system.
I recently made a pilgrimage to the new Microsoft mecca in Redmond, Washington where they have romantic names like building 10 and building 14 for all the edifices on the campus. By the way, they have building 1, 2, 3 and so on. There is surveillance every second and everywhere. Strangely, they have a piece of the original Berlin Wall in the cafeteria building. Why the Berlin Wall? It is an interesting technological metaphor. Microsoft represents together the symbolic liberation of the mind through limitless creativity and the ruthless dictatorship of big business greed through the centralization of one man's obsession.
The Berlin Wall that must be scaled with respect to rural Canada in this case is equitable access to the Internet and telecommunications resources. If all the major bandwidth remains trapped within the confines of the city and the centralization of a big business monopoly, we lose an opportunity.
Yes, we need a subsidy for rural Canada. We need a high-cost service fund. There is an opportunity to moderate the transfer of wealth from resource based communities to maintain huge urban infrastructures. If even a small percentage of the population transfers from urban areas or decides to stay in rural communities because of the possibility of setting up and maintaining computer or technology-based cottage industries, the knowledge-based revolution of the late 20th Century will have served a unique purpose. It will have reversed, for the first time since the industrial revolution, the flow of people and resources from rural Canada.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
MR. A. RICHARDSON: Go ahead.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. A. RICHARDSON: No. You can ask him questions and stuff. I will wait until --
THE CHAIRPERSON: Have you got something to --
MR. A. RICHARDSON: I have a separate --
THE CHAIRPERSON: Oh, you have a separate presentation. Okay.
I was about to say that it is a very vibrant presentation and certainly presented with some humour, but still very much to the point. Thank you.
It is helpful. All the time when we talked about the competitive framework leading to the decisions last year to open local competition, we have always stressed all along the way the importance of opening not strictly for local basic service but really for the full array of services. I guess it is a vibrant presentation towards that perspective. Thank you.
MR. D. RICHARDSON: Thanks.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: For the record, we will now hear from Avery Richardson.
MR. A. RICHARDSON: I'm currently working for the Tatlayoko Think Tank, doing a number of computer-related things. But I'm not representing them; I'm just sort of speaking for myself mostly.
I have been really lucky to be employed by the Tatlayoko Think Tank with funding from Industry Canada's Community Access program and the Cariboo Chilcotin Community Skills Centre.
I have been providing technical support, teaching locals computer and Internet skills and working on the community Web site. I would never have had these opportunities without the low-speed data lines that the Tatlayoko Think Tank has managed to bring to the Chilcotin.
Basically, the problem is that without access to telecommunications young people can't obtain the skills to have jobs in information technology and also there are no jobs out in rural areas for computer-related stuff. Mostly it is in big cities, so the people that do have the skills move on to the big cities and the people that remain in rural communities don't have the access to gain the skills.
Just recently there was an article in the paper about how high-tech industries in B.C. have surpassed the forest industry in terms of employment, and the sort of economy-shifts from being a resourced-based economy to sort of an information technology-based economy. Rural communities, unless they have the access to the telecommunications services, they will just sort of die with no source of income.
It's really important for young Canadians and everybody else who lives in rural areas to have access to the Internet and stuff for other reasons too. Where I live, I can't walk to the library or youth centre, but if I didn't have a party line and I had access to some kind of service like ISDN or ADSL, I would be able to access libraries on the Internet and go on IRC chat and stuff.
Since I'm only 16 -- I have just got my driver's licence -- I'm really sort of trapped at home. That's why it is really important for young people to have access to telecommunications because if you are in a rural area, you are kind of stranded there.
Also, to a lot of people living in isolated areas, American TV that they might get on their satellite dish gives sort of a biased, distorted view of the world, but if you have Internet access, it has the potential to give people the opportunity to communicate and exchange ideas freely. Unfortunately, it tends to be only the rich people who live in urban areas who have access to the Internet most of the time. Although there is some access in rural areas, it doesn't compare to what people in major centres have the opportunity to do.
So that's about it.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Richardson. Thank you.
Thank you both.
THE SECRETARY: The next two presenters on our list are speaking to us from Vancouver.
Can we confirm that we have our hook-up to Vancouver?
MR. MALCOLMSON: Good morning.
My name is John Malcolmson and I'm here representing the Yekooche First Nation at this hearing.
We have titled our presentation "There is No Dial Tone Again" for reasons that should become more apparent as I move through the presentation.
The Yekooche First Nation.
In the Carrier language Yekooche literally means the people of Yeko, the Yekooche kao or traditional territory. Known to the Department of Indian Affairs as the Yekooche First Nation, the community presently has about 180 official members and approximately 70 additional non-official members.
Most of these people live in the main village site at Yekooche, which is officially known as the village of Portage, a 192-hectare reserve approximately 70 kilometres west of the town of Fort St. James. Access into the Yekooche community comes primarily through a 77-kilometre drive up the Cunningham Forestry Road outside of the -- from the town of Fort St. James.
Why are we here today before the CRTC? We are here for basically three reasons.
Currently, the Yekooche First Nation does not have reliable basic telephone service. That's the first reason.
The second reason is that there are no current plans for such reliable basic telephone services to be extended into the community.
Thirdly, it is our view, on the basis of a review of the brief filed by the telephone companies, that the direction proposed in this brief is not one which will rectify this problem. Indeed, we have the worry that it will worsen an already bad situation and make it more difficult for our First Nation to achieve its goal of reliable basic telephone service.
The predominant focus of the proposal, as we read it, filed by BC Tel and others, is one of allowing regular market forces an enhanced role in determining how telephone services are funded and provided in remote or high-cost areas, while at the same time reducing explicit subsidies for the provision of such service.
We, with the Yekooche First Nation, see little in this approach or proposal that would address the specific problems that Yekooche currently has with its phone system. We don't see anything in this proposal which would increase the likelihood that the Yekooche would, in the near or foreseeable future, have secure access to basic telephone service like most of the rest of the province or country.
We are also of the view that, if followed, this approach will likely perpetuate the continued exclusion of communities like Yekooche from access to these types of services. So it is for this underlying reason that we have come here today in order to lend our community's voice to those who reject these proposed steps to further deregulation along this type of path.
What has been the phone experience of Yekooche First Nation?
Unlike the remote cottage area owners that are referenced in the phone company's submission, the people of Yekooche live on their land year in and year out, as they have from time immemorial. At no time has this community had reliable, regular telephone service from BC Tel. In its place Yekooche has had forced reliance on a radio or microwave phone set up that is totally unreliable during weather disturbances or in other adverse climatic situations. We also have been given to understand unofficially that the telephone company has plans to phase these types of radio phone linkages out over the short term.
Over the years Yekooche has made a number of efforts to gain regular phone service for the community. In every instance we have been told that the cost of providing land-based telephone infrastructure into the village would have to be borne by the village and its inhabitants as it was deemed to be too expensive given the expected revenue return to the company.
At the same time, the policy of the Department of Indian Affairs, which does have fiduciary responsibility for the welfare of the Yekooche First Nation and its members, is that it will not provide capital funding for the extension of such service into remote communities like Yekooche.
Given this approach by the phone company and the policy of the federal Department of Indian Affairs, the Yekooche community would have to spend out of its own meagre resources what we estimate to be approximately three-quarters of a million dollars in order to provide a basic, reliable service.
Just to put that figure in perspective, such an amount is equivalent to twice the total annual income of the entire community from all sources of revenue. It is absolutely prohibitive.
The implications of the lack of reliable phone service are many.
The current microwave-based system means the community can and is routinely cut off from outside communication for hours, for days, and sometimes several days at a stretch. The primary importance here is the issue of community health and safety. Lack of access to basic phone services has and continues to leave the community particularly vulnerable in cases of medical emergency.
In other situations and at other times, there have been law and order situations within the community that would have required the timely intervention of the police. However, without reliable telephone services the community has often been unable to contact police, thus placing itself and its safety and security at further risk.
Another factor is the issue that Yekooche is a First Nation also involved in the B.C. Treaty Commission process. That is my regular role when I am not attending hearings like this is to work as a treaty negotiator.
The lack of regular phone service and reliable phone service into the community has created a host of problems in: relaying treaty information in and out of the community; in getting timely feedback to negotiators on critical treaty issues; as well as, and perhaps most importantly, in keeping the community itself fully abreast of up-to-date treaty developments.
Apart from all of these particular issues, there is the general and simple fact that with the current situation the Yekooche community members lack regular access to an amenity that most Canadians have come to take for granted. This basic fact alone, we feel, reflects continuing marginalization from the mainstream of Canadian community life and interaction. It is this very marginalization that the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples has signalled as requiring urgent action at all levels of Canadian society, whether it be business, government or other social institutions. Indeed, it is this very marginalization that brings us before the CRTC today.
Requests of the regulator.
I don't come to you as an expert in telephone service or an expert in the latest or developing technology that is overtaking this area. We have come simply to present that we feel the CRTC needs to act to represent the interests of small isolated communities like Yekooche by dealing in a concrete way with the issues, the concerns and the predicament of this community.
Yekooche was not a group that clamoured to have increased phone competition when it was introduced. The Yekooche is not a group that has in any way benefited from the service changes and the expanding range of options for service that have been brought by deregulation of this sector. We feel that Yekooche is a community that has been negatively impacted by the decision of the CRTC to allow these very changes, and the impact is primarily one of not seeing our goal of getting regular, reliable basic phone service into the community. That goal recedes further into the distance as phone companies continue to maintain pressure to eliminate subsidies and to further the process of deregulation.
This is not consumer-friendly deregulation and competition when socially isolated and economically disadvantaged groups like Yekooche are not even allowed the opportunity to become regular consumers of the service in the first place. It is not consumer-friendly deregulation and competition when groups like Yekooche see the goal of reliable phone service fall further from view.
We feel, therefore, that at no time should the regulator allow phone companies to remove themselves from obligations to provide and subsidize basic telephone service that's reliable into remote communities like Yekoochee. The health, safety and welfare of the people of Yekooche requires that they not be continually ignored in the interests of service deregulation. We thank you for the opportunity to present these views on behalf of Yekoochee and the community members, and hope that you will take them seriously.
Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much for appearing today. Could you tell me, do you know if Yekooche is one of the, I think it's 83 communities that have been identified by BC Tel as unserved?
MR. MALCOLMSON: It may well be. I don't know the precise answer to that question. It may well be on that list, but I am not aware as to whether the Province of British Columbia, as a matter of policy, includes First Nation communities, First Nation reserves, on that list, because First Nations are the constitutional responsibility of the federal government.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much. That's all.
MR. MALCOLMSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Still in Vancouver, our next presenter is Graeme Drew.
VANCOUVER OPERATOR (Michelle): Excuse me, Madam Chairman, Graeme Drew is not in the room.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Michelle. We will recall Mr. Drew later in the proceeding.
I would then like to come back to Prince George and call David White.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning.
MR. WHITE: Good morning. I guess we are still in the morning.
Unlike some of the other speakers ahead of me, I was offered telephone service. I guess my dilemma is, affordability of telephone service.
I live in Fraser Lake, to be more precise, south side of François Lake, which is approximately 15 kilometres from Fraser Lake, south.
In January of 1997, we put in hydro. Prior to that, we generated our own. At that time, I phoned BC Tel to initiate phone service as well. The hydro bill was $88,000 to put it in. Our costs, through grants and so forth, we ended up -- there were three of us that paid $5,900 a piece.
When I contacted BC Tel, I told them that we are three kilometres from the nearest phone line. I asked them what the cost would be. I was told $100. I found that hard to believe, but I accepted that. But there were no poles in the ground at that time and, due to winter conditions and, then in the spring, high water, et cetera, et cetera, they had told me to contact them when the poles were in the ground and hydro wires were strung.
So in April of 1997, I phoned them back when the poles were in. I again re-stated that I was three kilometres from the nearest phone line, wanted to know what the cost would be, and again I was quoted $100. So I initiated the work order -- I didn't initiate the work order, but I asked them to put the phone line in.
About three weeks later, I received a call -- that was at my business that we have in Fraser Lake. I received a call and the lady at the other end said, "Mr. White, do you realize that you are three kilometres from the nearest phone line?". "Yes." "Well, we are going to have to do a site survey." So, anyway, fine. Roughly eight weeks later, we got a quote in the mail. There was two of us who applied for a phone line; there is only two permanent residents where I live. There will be no more development on that side of the lake. It's in a protected area now.
Anyway, the quote came back at $44,000 for a phone line, which is roughly half the cost. I don't know how BC Tel does the math through the $11,000, but at $44,000 I don't know what it is. Anyway, it ended up that it was $25,000 for two phone lines, to bring it in, which is totally unaffordable to me.
If three people hooked up to that line, it was $4,000. And if four people hooked up, it was $1,000 a piece. Even at a $1,000, it's high, but I would accept that, and seeing as how there is only two permanent residents there. There is also six summer cabins. All the people that own those are from Surrey, down south, anyway.
I offered -- you know, $12,500 a piece is unaffordable. I offered BC Tel to put in four lines. I would pay $2,000 and my neighbour would pay $2,000. Their comment back to me was that they have to hook up to that line, and they have to initiate the costs -- or the order -- to have a phone installed, and the phone has to be installed before they would do the work.
So I am sitting with no phone. I have been sitting with no phone for five years there. And we are three kilometres, we have power. BC Tel has put in 40 per cent of the grants with hydro, to initiate that. Like, you talk about affordability, I don't know how BC Tel can put that kind of money in and then just let it sit as well.
So, anyway, that's my dilemma and my story. I don't know what the answer is, but I would certainly like a phone.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for sharing your experience. Certainly there is an obvious need for you to get not only enhanced services, but just basic service.
MR. WHITE: Also, Fraser Lake is one of those other communities that is not served by cellular as well. I guess we are just too small. We are in-between Burns Lake and Vanderhoof and we are in a dead area. And there is no plans for the future of even putting in cellular, so we are stuck.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. I hope a solution is found soon. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next participant is either John or Dale Kerr, on behalf of Mike King.
MR. J. KERR: The Tatlayoko Think Tank is presenting on behalf of Mike King of White Saddle Air Services. I will go right into his letter.
We have been operating a multi-million dollar helicopter and fixed wing charter company here since 1977, and have always been plagued with a lack of telephone service. We have tried HF single-side band radiophones through Vancouver Radio operator, VHF radiophone system through BC Telephone Chilanko channel. After we experienced tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue due to the over crowded BC Tel channels, we installed our own interconnect system.
This one-line system, which has cost us approximately $28,000, supplies service to four families as well as our helicopter business. The problem with this system is that we only have one line, as it is a radiophone in which everyone that has a radio or scanner can listen to all our calls. For instance, in 1990 a government employee approached me in Williams Lake, telling me that he was pleased to hear that we were doing so well on paying for our new helicopter. Someone was listening to our radiophone calls to our bank on a portable radio and passed on our banking information to whomever would listen to him in the bar that night.
Our helicopter charter company operates the only helicopter in a 180-kilometre radius of Tatla Lake, B.C. Our work mainly consists of forest fire suppression duties, mainly initial attack, air ambulance, search and rescue, and film production. Our company has paid over $20,000 just in radiophone license fees since we arrived here in 1968. Our company and its employees have also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes since White Saddle was established in 1961. None of our employees have a normal phone either.
White Saddle Aid Services has never received any grants, loans, or funding of any kind from government agency or BC Tel for any of our business ventures or telephone systems.
In the past two years, we were involved in two major movie productions that were filmed at our base at Bluff Lake. Sony Corporation, along with Tristar Pictures, based in Los Angeles, filmed a major part of the movie "Seven Years in Tibet" with Brad Pitt at our base. We had approximately 120 people, which included the complete film crew, living at our base for about two months. This was a $76 million dollar budget movie in which approximately $7 million was spent in B.C. They employed about 25 local Chilcotin residents, as well as 100 other B.C. resident film makers. The helicopter costs were approximately $1 million, which went to several B.C. based helicopter operators. The reason that they picked Bluff Lake over any other location in the world is that the mountains here look like the Himalayas and related mountain climbing films are much easier to make here than in China or Tibet.
The phone system they had to use to run this multi-million dollar production was a joke. The radios would not work when it rained and therefore all calls had to be made when it was dry. Antennas had to be moved several times during the day to keep either the phone or fax working.
No one was impressed with the telephone service, or lack of it, that we had. They had three satellite phones in the camp as well, but they did not work several hours in the day when the satellites went behind the mountains. This production requested 15 separate phone and fax lines to keep in contact with the studio in Los Angeles, the production headquarters in London England, the director's office in Paris France, and the bond company in Argentina.
During July and August of 1997, scenes from the Walt Disney major movie production "Kundun" were filmed out of our base at Bluff Lake. We were responsible for hiring all the extras for the scenes, since the Walk Disney crew wanted to hire all local First Nations people as extras. We attempted to coordinate this for them, but since we had a wet August, our makeshift phone system was not operating properly and we eventually gave up. We had to drive from house to house, attempting to find the 30 extras required for the scenes, and ended up with all local Tatla Lake and area residents. The Disney crew went away happy, not knowing the hardships we went through trying to communicate with and coordinate the "local talent".
The Ministry of Forests, Cariboo Fire Centre, our main customer, became frustrated with our phone system, and we eventually had to buy another batch of radios with the BCFS frequencies installed. The ministry normally sent us faxes of the maps for the locations of the fires, also they would send us billing information over the fax. B.C. Helicopter Textron and Transport Canada are using e-mail and faxes for informing their customers of service difficulties, bogus parts, airworthiness directives, new products, and related operational problems in the aircraft industry.
Several years ago, we contacted BC Tel with regards to phone forwarding when we were away from our base. We then went to Victoria, thinking all of our calls would be forwarded to our cellular phone. Much to our surprise, we received calls only from our Tatla Lake neighbours. We did not receive any long distance calls, as we were to find out from BC Tel that we never would have proper phone forwarding because the system in Tatla Lake switchboard was too old and not capable of forwarding long distance calls.
Now we get to the meat of this story.
We were approached last month by Tristar Pictures of Los Angeles, California, who were looking for a location to film the movie "Vertical Descent", March and April 1999. The filming would require 175-person camp at our base in Bluff Lake. This camp would need to be fully operational for March and April 1999, and would require water, electricity, sewer systems, and telephone and fax communications. We can provide all these services now, minus the telephone system. At this point in time, the production company is also looking at Mount Cook in New Zealand as a location for the same movie. The only advantage that the New Zealand location has over B.C. is the fact that they have a modern telephone system in New Zealand. If they come to B.C., the film company plans on spending approximately $25 million here, which would include the hiring of a large number of locals, as well as 40 to 50 First Nations People as extras. The producer has asked what is the status of local phone system here, and we told him that we would make it work, as we do not want this production to go to New Zealand.
However, under the current BC Tel timeframe for construction -- and this is the IWP money that Ms Slaco spoke of earlier -- the necessary infrastructure won't be in place in time to meet the needs of this movie.
Do you have any questions?
THE CHAIRPERSON: No. Thank you very much.
MR. J. KERR: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I am going to call two presenters to come up at the same time. They have consented to come to the table together, but for clarity of the record, they will be making separate presentations. Gary Cowell and Wendy Howe, please.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
MR. COWELL: Good afternoon.
First, I would like to thank the Commission for changing its venue from Prince Rupert to Prince George and thus allowing us the opportunity of participating in this.
I am Gary Cowell and I am representing the community of Dome Creek, which is situated 188 kilometres east of Prince George, off Highway 16. Dome Creek is one of two communities, the other being Crescent Spur, which is served by the Loos Telephone exchange. The Loos exchange falls into the classification of a High-Cost Serving Area.
The Loos exchange has a total of 45 subscribers. Any communications we need to have with our school district, doctors, dentists, businesses, or non-emergency RCMP calls, are done with toll calls. This means that all of our calls, with the exception of our 44 neighbours, are on a mileage basis.
I will give you a brief outline of our history here.
In the late seventies and early eighties, the people of our communities got together and determined to see about being serviced by both BC Hydro and BC Tel. At the time of our initial meetings, BC Tel assured us that they would be willing partners in this endeavour. However, as we progressed, and it became apparent that our communities were indeed going to be successful in our bid for these services, BC Tel acquired seriously cold feet, and ultimately backed out. They opted instead to try and impose a wireless system upon us, with CRTC Public Notice No. 1989-45, and with that, the difference approaches collided.
When the residents of Dome Creek/Crescent Spur finally brought hydro in, we bought and paid for the poles. This cost was borne by what was later to become the peoples of the Loos exchange.
When you look at costs -- and we look at it this way -- after a 10- to 14- year struggle involving local residents, the regional district, CRTC, BC Tel, and the associated bevy of researchers, lawyers and support staff -- and the cost of that I would hate to add up -- BC Tel finally had to provide our communities with a landline service.
When it actually did bring the service to our communities, BC Tel was faced with additional costs because of pole height, which was engineered for carrying hydro only, additional line clearing, raising existing lines, and installing longer poles. Had BC Tel brought their service at the same time as hydro was installed, they would have had the benefit of a broader cost-sharing scheme that involved local residents, BC Hydro, rural electrification grants and other agencies. We residents have had to carry the brunt of these additional costs. It is bad enough paying for our own mistakes, but it is quite bothersome to pay for the mistakes of other people. So when we were subjected to BC Tel's whining about the high cost of bringing service to our community, we do have to view the tears as those of being from a crocodile.
Since the arrival of local phone service, we have been paying these inflated construction costs through our mileage charges. We are denied equal access, indeed it has only been in the last few years that we have had access to BC Tel's own rate plans.
We would now like to access what is referred to as a community of interest. BC Tel conducted a four-month survey of exchange-to-exchange calls. The result was that something in the neighbourhood of 70-plus per cent of our subscribers call Prince George. Of course this community of interest is well beyond the 40-mile range of the Neighbourhood Calling Plan or NCP. And NCP is the criteria for those subscribers who fail to meet the Extended Local Calling criteria. This, in short, means that we, once again, don't fit anywhere for toll relief, and it's back to our 44 neighbours.
With the stringing of fibre optics right by our door -- and it's about a 160-mile strand to link Prince George with the rest of Canada -- and the construction of a facility for switching these fibre optics smack in-between our communities, it has us thinking about the World Wide Web. We like to refer to this nice new building as our Loos Sub Exchange.
It is with considerable interest that we note that almost all correspondence these days is in conjunction with an e-mail address. Albeit our schools, BC Tel or CRTC itself, an e-mail address is a part of doing business. Dome Creek wants to be part of that business. Crescent Spur wants to be part of it. I want to be part of it. We all here would like to be part of it.
Now, we cannot bear the brunt of the Prince George to Canada fibre optic link. But the short drop from the Loos exchange to what we call the Loos Sub exchange shouldn't, by comparison, be too much to ask.
Now, it would seem not only logical, but cost-effective, to provide enhanced service to the Loos exchange while the crews are in place, here and now. This would be, from our point of view, preferable to proceeding down that well worn path of lawyers, hearings and, most of all, cost of time, the time for all of us, to obtain this information highway.
How do we defray the cost of providing Loos, and other high-cost service areas, with service? That is the question.
Locally, one of the easiest ways is as suggested, is to link this high-cost service area, Loos, while you are in the area, while you are on the doorstep. Waiting till some other time will only cause for larger costs. The cost of upgrades never goes down, so the cheapest time is now while the crews are there.
It would seem to me that it is apparent that there are different categories of high-cost service areas, as well, as there is a difference in the cost of supplying services to rural Ontario and Québec, as versus the cost of services to rural Saskatchewan and B.C., as versus the rural services in Nunavit or Northwest Territories. Yet all of these areas are a proud part of our nation, and equal citizens of it.
With the advent of deregulation, many servers have come onstream without having had the pleasure of exposure to high-cost service areas. I don't think they should be denied this pleasure, especially in Canada that has a history of large land and small population. Perhaps these new communication companies should be obliged to experience some of the technical costs associated with rural and remote areas. Perhaps a certain percentage of their service should be made up of some high-cost service areas to help spread the burden.
Another alternative would be to spread the cost amongst all users. Now, at first blush it may not appear fair, nor appropriate, that the citizenry of the large urban areas, or the share prices of large communication companies, should share the cost of high-cost service areas. But at the same time, it is not only the Canadian way but the right way.
Is this a subsidy? Of course it is. It is my contention that everybody has to live somewhere, and at one time or another, wherever we live, there is a cost to being there, and you are going to need a hand. It has always been like that.
It is doubtful that your high-cost service areas will ever need outside help or the army because of ice storms. It is doubtful your high-cost service areas will ever need outside help or from the army because of massive flooding. It is doubtful your high-cost service areas will be looking about for help in the advent of a massive earthquake. In Canada, when outside help is required, it is provided. That is the way it is done.
Now, we suggest that our local phone company should not only provide service to Loos, but because the technology is in our yard, we should have the option of the Internet, home shopping, cable television, indeed anything that will come out of the end of a fibre optic cable. This would allow the phone company to establish a protocol, establish infrastructure, and ready them to provide in perhaps larger areas in these fields.
As for our little exchange, what would cover these costs? An off-hand suggestion is to establish, at what we call our Loos Sub Exchange, a toll booth on the information highway that now goes right through our yard. A fee per electronic exchange of users who use the highway would help defray the cost of giving the service to the people whose yard it is in. This way nobody has to take a large bite of cost, but we all take a little.
This may not be an answer for all high-cost serving areas, but it certainly would help the communities that are strung out beside the e-mail highway.
In summation, we feel that denying rural and remote Canada access to the world of information, in this the beginning of a new century, is tantamount to committing "intellectual apartheid". With the information highway going right through our yard, we feel it would be both morally and fundamentally wrong to not provide both an off and on ramp for our community. The cost of this stretch of highway has been justified. I think it would be unjustifiable to deny us access to it.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Do you need to present the next presenter?
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter is Wendy Howe.
MS HOWE: Thank you.
As chairperson for the Dome Creek Elementary Parent Advisory Committee, I have been trying for some time to get our little school on line. We are a school in School District #57, which serves communities from McKenzie to Valemount. I understand the school of Dome Creek is the only school not on line at this time. School District #57 has a service, "On Line 57", which posts on the net, newsy items about schools, job postings and informations relating to teaching topics. Formerly, this information was distributed through the district bulletin weekly. You guessed it. We are the only school in this district unable to receive this information due to these changes.
I have been told by people at BC Tel that it would be too expensive for them to absorb the cost of providing free long distance dialling in order for us to access Internet services at our school. Therefore, it is not on any present plan. We are not even eligible for their service, Sympatico.
After listening to Paul Martin's promise that every school in Canada, no matter the size or the location, will be on line, I was thrilled. Just a little while ago, Paul Ramsey, Education Minister for B.C., promised the same thing. The Prime Minister has made similar promises.
As you are probably aware, BC Tel has spent the last two years putting fibre optics along Yellowhead Highway 16, from Prince George to Tete Jaune, going right by the communities of Crescent Spur and Dome Creek.
Your -- the CRTC -- mandate states that:
"...to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada."
It seems to me that BC Tel will have to provide us with Internet services. I don't believe that the cost will be too high, as most of the work is done. It will just be the cost of the fibre optics.
Another topic near and dear to our hearts with BC Tel is local, toll free, dialling. When our phone went in, December of 1993, BC Tel led us to believe that in about a year they would look over the calls being made from our exchange and decide if we would be eligible for local calling to either Prince George or McBride. The numbers were overwhelmingly in favour of Prince George being the calling area. After many letters and phone calls, BC Tel told us the CRTC wouldn't allow local calling.
Presently, Dome Creek Elementary spends approximately $100 a month on the phone calls outside of the School District #57's 1-800 number.
I understand that these hearings are about finding ways for phone companies to provide us with services at a reasonable rate, yet provide the servers with a profit. Coupled with this, we need to consider providing equal opportunities to all Canadians including the students of Dome Creek School. This could be done by offering free dialling to a local major centre, thereby making available the Internet connections enjoyed by all other students of B.C.
Thank you for your time.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Ms Howe.
For those of you who wonder when we will have lunch, I would propose that we would continue until one o'clock, and then we would stop from one to two.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenters today are Dave and Rosemary Neads.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
MR. NEADS: Rosemary can't make it.
First of all, I would like to thank you for changing the venue from Prince Rupert to Prince George. It has made it possible to be here today.
Like a lot of people, I travelled quite a distance, so it is an eight-hour drive for me to come to these hearings and I appreciate the opportunity to do that. I think that's a metaphor, both for the geography and the size of British Columbia, and also for the size and scope of the problem that we are facing here, because it was interesting to hear some of the earlier speakers -- and I will be hitting on some of the same themes, but it is very consistent in the messaging that is coming out here, I think.
For me, I think one of the things that I thought that the Commission was trying to do by introducing competition in the marketplace was, to provide an ability for service and product to reach down to rural communities and out into the society. There is an achilles heel in that, and I think one of the key messages that I am going to try and hit on today is that if you don't have the infrastructure in place -- and I keep hearing it over and over here, if you don't have the poles, you don't have the cable, you don't have the switching, that service doesn't go there. And consistent with that is the ability to service that infrastructure. The way the thing is structured now, it seems that that is not going to happen because it is not cost-effective to provide that infrastructure. So you are going to get the continuation of the urban/rural split, and it is actually going to do the opposite, I think, to some of your intention here, which is to allow people in rural communities -- you have to realize that half of B.C. doesn't live in the lower mainland, half of B.C. lives outside the lower mainland, and another proportion of that doesn't live in Williams Lake or Hundred Mile, it lives even more remote than that.
I will not take a lot of time, but I do want to give you a little personal vignette.
I am a small businessman and I am here to represent myself and two other small business entities that work in the West Chilcotin. That's about 350 kilometres west of Williams Lake, right up against the backside of the Coast Mountains before you drop down into Bella Coola.
We are in a situation there where -- I am a consultant, I work in forestry issues, I work both provincially and regionally in my own community. The other business person I am here to represent is a rancher, he is into organic beef and organic ranching, he is also involved in the timber industry. The other person that asked me to make some comments today is a local artist, he is a sculptor and a painter, he also now is branching out in the gallery work and doing shows in the pacific northwest and throughout the interior of the province. So, you can imagine, you learn a lot about politics in a very small community when you have three growing businesses -- I have 14 years invested in my business -- and we all have to do this over one telephone line. And it's a party line.
Technically, you know, faxes, modems, we do some pretty interesting things out there. We flip switches and we put the fax machine on, and we flip switches off, and then I phone up Lee and I say, "I have a conference call from six to seven tonight, can I have the phone?" He says, "Yes, okay, I will make arrangements in my schedule." And these are the kind of personal things that we have to go through, and it is becoming a very serious roadblock to the ability for us to conduct our businesses.
We are actually in a place now where we may be forced to make some decisions about do we stay where we are. Some of us are 20-year residents, some of us are 30-year residents, and it gets back to this larger social issue of, are we going to be forced to move to the larger centre and then become a burden on that infrastructure which is already taxed? We will be another car in the traffic jam, another person demanding police services, another person demanding hospital and fire. We don't make those demands on the system at the moment. We are outside of that purview and we don't mind that.
But when it comes to economic survival and a chance to move our economy away from resource base, which is where we need to go into the 21st century, we are going to run out of -- not necessarily totally, but we need to be looking to that information ability to be service providers and participate in that economy. If I am forced uprooting me and my family, my neighbours, and change because of that blockage, I think that would be a sad thing. I think it's counterproductive.
So that's just, kind of, a little vignette from a personal perspective.
In terms of a solution, I know this is a cost issue. This may be simplistic, but from discussions we have had, it seems to me that when you introduce competition for long distance, you are taking away a major source of revenue for a company like BC Tel. And those companies and that competition, if it is taking out the gravy, it should be throwing some meat back into the stew.
So, one way to assess as to how much of the revenue stream that competitive companies are using gets put back into BC Tel so that they can then, in turn, maintain the structure and the function and the servicing of it, would be to come up with a set of service indicators.
Basic ones like, first of all, have you got service. Second of all, is it multi-party or is it single party. What kind of quality of service do you have there: voice, data, that sort of thing. And once you have these filters in place, then you can determine what your need is, then you can go back to the marketplace and say, okay, if you guys want to participate and make use of the long distance dollars and the urban market and redistribute that profit, there is an obligation here, there is a social obligation to put that back in. That would have to be tracked, back through the company, to make sure it is targeted to those areas that fall out, in the first place, as needing, because you have a bottom here that has to be brought up. I know people that can't even get phone service within communities.
So I would just like to suggest that as one way in order to make sure that the revenue is there to do that, to put a universal fund in place, to put in place some service indicators, so that we can start to provide the basic service out there and the land bases necessary. Because I would sure hate to have to give up my lifestyle and my investment. I know my neighbour would hate to do that. This is a very real personal situation. And I hear, this morning, it is happening in spades all over. I would really urge the Commission to take a serious look at making sure that rural services are provided, because I think when you look at it from a full cost accounting perspective, we will gain more by providing those services to people like myself than we will lose.
I didn't make a formal written presentation, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I have seven pictures here, so maybe that is seven thousand words. I only have one set. What these are, are actual pictures of the phone line that services our small community. And since these pictures were taken, they have propped some of the poles up, but you can see, they are falling over, they are rotten.
I am going to leave these with you --
THE CHAIRPERSON: You mean after having the ice storm.
MR. NEADS: No, no.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Back east we have many poles and trees on the earth like that, but it is because of the ice storm.
MR. NEADS: Yes. But the army didn't come in and fix these. These are 50 years old. These are 50 years old, so I would like to present to you these photos. Please take a moment to look at them.
THE CHAIRPERSON: We will, I promise. Thank you very much for having taken the time to come and meet with us.
MR. NEADS: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter is either John or Dale Kerr, on behalf of Peter and Roma Shaughnessy.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Welcome, again.
MS D. KERR: Hello, again.
It is a pleasure for me to make this presentation. Peter and Roma are my next door neighbours.
We are residents of Tatlayoko Valley in the Chilcotin area of British Columbia using a rural telephone exchange, (250) 476. We use BC Tel's telephone service for personal, social and business purposes. We want to express our opinion in regard to the availability of competitively priced basic service and, particularly, long distance rates.
We are running a small residential construction business and to us, the telecommunications service is an expensive but necessary tool that we rely on and use every day. Doing business in this area is already difficult and costly. We are at a distinct disadvantage in competing with businesses from urban centers. Almost every call that we make for business purposes is long distance. All of our suppliers, subcontractors, inspectors and financial services, etc. are located in the 392 or 398 exchange, which is in Williams Lake. This long distance. There are no such services available within our local calling area. Our competitors are able to make local calls to these services and also have access to competitive long distance service providers, as well as the full range of BC Tel's services.
We have been hearing in recent years about the availability of competitive telecommunication services in other areas of the province, but it has become apparent that we cannot access these services because of antiquated equipment in use in our exchange. We also cannot use many of the additional services that are advertised by BC Tel, over and above the basic service.
We encounter similar expenses when we make calls for personal reasons, calls that people in urban areas take for granted and that do not incur a long distance charge. For example, making an appointment with our doctor, dentist or veterinarian, to call our school district office, to call the public health unit, the emergency department of the nearest hospital, the R.C.M.P., the bank, the accountant, to make an appointment to have a vehicle serviced, to enquire about any form of educational services, to reserve a train ticket or a hotel room, to "price shop" prior to making the 175-mile drive to the nearest town, Williams Lake, and the list goes on and on.
Communication with family and friends is extremely important to everyone. Our two children will be attending Grades 11 and 12 in Williams Lake, in September 1998, because these grades aren't available at our local school. The standard practice is that Grade 11 and 12 students board in Williams Lake during the week and they come home for the weekend. It is common knowledge how crucial good communication is in raising teenagers, but rural families face, again, the difficulty of long distance charges to talk with their children. Important issues come up in teenagers' lives that need to be talked about "right now", they can't wait until the weekend. And even when there are no pressing "issues", most teenagers, who are living away from home to complete high school, benefit greatly from hearing an "I love you" from their parents over the phone.
There are many members in our community who don't have telephone service at all. Their children cannot call home to relay information regarding their education, or to get advice or just a "hug over the phone". Something as simple as a child inviting a friend over to play becomes impossible. Trying to communicate with the "phoneless" members of our community is extremely difficult due to the distances and gravel roads that are perpetually in poor condition. For a moment, try to picture what your life would be like without a telephone.
Rural areas, like ours, are the source of most of our province's resources, which provide the base for British Columbia's economy. Many urban residents rely on those very resources for their livelihoods. Yet rural people are getting the short end of the stick when it comes to services that our urban counterparts take for granted.
The criteria you used in making the decision to deregulate the telecommunications industry may have been a perfect fit for the bulk of the province. However, it certainly is not a fitting decision for us. Living in a rural area can have many benefits and, conversely, many challenges. But it is the economics of living here that is, by far, the greatest challenge. Please do not make it any more difficult for us.
Please ensure that all residents of all rural areas have equal and equitable access to telecommunications services.
Do not allow our phone rates to be increased until we have access to BC Tel's competitors, as well as full access to all of the services that BC Tel has to offer.
Please instruct BC Tel that calls to our nearest place of business will be local calls.
We thank you for your time.
Peter Shaughnessy, Roma Shaughnessy.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for your presentation.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter today is Randy MacDonald.
MR. MacDONALD: Good afternoon.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon, Mr. MacDonald.
MR. MacDONALD: My name is Randy MacDonald. I come from Dunster, a small community east of McBride, about 250 kilometres east of here on Highway 16 between Prince George and Jasper. Actually, we live in Croydon, the next station on the CNR east of Dunster, but our post office and store and the school that children attend are at Dunster, about 10 kilometres away.
Dunster has telephone service and the lines go from there towards Croydon, but stop about two kilometres from our place. The telephone lines are on BC Hydro poles and these poles go past our home and the other homes in the Croydon community who would like phone service, so there would not be a problem of having to install poles on which to hang the lines. It is not difficult --
THE CHAIRPERSON: Could you slow down, just a little bit. I am French speaking. I speak English, but I am a bit slower than others, so would you please -- it would help me.
MR. MacDONALD: I figured you would be hungry, maybe, so --
THE CHAIRPERSON: We are, but we will go until one o'clock. I am sorry. Thank you.
MR. MacDONALD: A group of us at Croydon, representing about ten households, have been trying for years to get BC Tel to extend their service and this has been our difficulty.
I have inquired about phone service a few times over the past ten years or so. The result of the inquiries leaves me frustrated and with a cost quote that is too expensive for my income.
We are presently working on another quote proposal with BC Tel and are hopeful that we are in a more positive position than previously.
I would like to tell you about some of the difficulties in living without a phone, and about the difficulties of trying to get telephone into our community.
When we want to use a regular telephone, we can go to our neighbour and use the one in his barn or go into his house and interrupt his household. We can also go to the phone booth at the Dunster store or to other friends' homes. We have two small children who need to be watched when we use the phone. We need to find the time and pay for the gas. We need to have all pertinent information with us regarding the call and/or calls we are making. And in the case of phoning from a phone booth, there is no area to speak of to set your papers.
If, as is the case more often than not, the person we are calling is not in, we have to adjust our schedule to make another call. Sometimes we can use only so much of our neighbours' time because they are on party lines. If we have personal calls, we generally use the phone booth at the store, in the hopes that no one is listening as they walk in the store door approximately five feet away. The best time to call is often in the evening, usually when our children are getting ready for bed. It is also a judgment call as to the cost effectiveness of calling family in the middle of the day when it is the most expensive airtime, but I am already at the phone making business calls; or should I drive home, and back out to a phone again in the evening to take advantage of lower rates, but pay for the extra gas.
My wife is a nurse and there are times when the hospital or health unit cannot contact her. We have people who have been seriously ill and in critical situations and needed, or may need, immediate help. There is no 911 for us.
We have people trying to operate businesses who have to work away from home at times because they need access to good communications. I cannot explain the frustration of looking two kilometres down the road, to where phone service ends, and being told our place is not economical.
I am telling you this because I know, from experience, most people really don't understand how difficult it can be without a phone. If you would just think of us occasionally when you use the phone and have information at your fingertips, where you can wait to be connected, can call back or be called back, where you can call the hospital, fire or police or just phone family on a whim. This does not even apply to accessing the information highway.
Almost as frustrating as not having a phone is the process of trying to get a phone. Again, trying to explain to people our situation is sometimes next to impossible. They get a vision in their head that you must need a helicopter to get to your home. For example, I recently inquired about Fido's cellular service. The Vancouver representative was ready to sign me up for service immediately. When I explained that our area might not qualify, and maybe she should check it out, I was referred on to someone in Toronto who was able to verify that in fact our area was not serviceable.
Even in our own region people seem to think, well, you are just too far removed, never thinking that in the great scheme of things McBride, Valemount, Prince George and many other places are equally far removed when compared to lower mainland.
I have dealt over the years with the CRTC, provincial and federal governments and BC Tel, with very little success, the exception being the Regional District Office in Prince George which has done everything in their power and more to give me support and help.
BC Tel is slow to respond to our inquiries and there is never one person we can deal with but a number of people in different offices in Prince George and Kelowna, none of whom seem to know what the others have said or are doing. One of the most common reactions I receive from BC Tel employees is that BC Tel is a private business and, as such, tries to make a profit, the implication being if you live in a location BC Tel deems expensive to serve, that you are out of luck unless you are able to pay a large amount.
Also, at the government level, I have been passed from one agency to another, no one having quite the right information I need and then finding out at a later date that they did have pertinent information but didn't realize it would affect me. For example, I have been referred to Industry Canada and the Community Access Program, neither of which seem to apply to our situation. I recently found out, though, that Industry Canada's infrastructure program and CAP program funds might be used to aid in bringing telephone service to rural areas without existing lines.
I have read articles about Internet accessibility in small communities, how important it is, in this day and age, that everyone deserves access. Then I think of our struggle for someone to acknowledge that we don't even have a phone.
I hope you understand this presentation. It is not as complete and well researched or thought out as I might prefer. This frustrating process of trying to put together our case, raise a family and work, and all the while trying to understand various agencies' mandates, what programs or opportunities they may be offering, is almost impossible when you don't have a basic phone.
As a result, some of my submission might seem ill-informed or lack complete understanding of the situation. But I do know that you have a real opportunity to make a difference in rural life in Canada.
When I worked for the railway, I used to work grain branch lines and see homestead after homestead abandoned, small towns that were once important communities struggling to survive. Rural Canada is sick, maybe dying, but I have seen one small thing that can contribute to at least starting to bring people back. That is the same opportunity to communicate as in the city.
I believe your recommendations here can, and will, have a real effect on Canadian rural life. If we miss small opportunities like this, a very large part of Canada's soul might be lost.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. It is helping us understand the importance of finding solutions. Thank you for participating.
MR. MacDONALD: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter is either John or Dale Kerr, on behalf of Luinda Bleackley.
MR. J. KERR: Good morning.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon now.
MR. J. KERR: Good morning, again.
Out of respect for you -- it hadn't occurred to me that English might be your second language, and that gives me an excuse to slow down because the last time I got back, Dale said, "Slow down, you are reading too fast." So I will make an effort to slow down. I think we are all aware of the time and the fact that there is such a long line of people behind us.
Scott and Luinda are new friends of ours. They live on the Sunshine Coast. They do the same thing we do. We are Internet service providers, so are they.
We are responding to the CRTC's request for input with regard to High-Cost Telecommunications services in Rural areas. We bring two points of view. First, from a personal perspective, we are involved with the Ponderosa community on Anderson Lake. It is an area currently only serviced by radio phone. Secondly, from a business perspective, we run an Internet service for our non-urban community on the Sunshine Coast.
The Sunshine Coast is just north of Vancouver.
Through our businesses, we are aware of the hunger for bandwidth as an economic driver in the community.
Part of this is a family story. We, the middle generation, are living the wired lifestyle. We are Internet Service Providers in our semi-rural community. My father, the older generation, is living the unplugged lifestyle. He lives off-grid and with no phone service in the Ponderosa community at Anderson Lake. He can accommodate and compensate for being off-grid. However, having no phone service is a handicap and a hardship. He uses radio phone, but if he had access to a reasonably priced regular phone service, he would jump at the chance.
Everything we say about Ponderosa applies equally well to McGillivray Falls and other residents living along the length of Anderson Lake. The communities at each end of Anderson Lake have access to telephone land lines, but communities, such as Ponderosa, along the lake do not.
At Anderson Lake, over 60 people share one radio phone channel. Alternate sources of phone connection, such as a satellite link, are prohibitively high in cost. Not having access to reasonably priced phone service means that it is difficult to get in touch with residents at Ponderosa. It is difficult for them to phone out: the radio service is noisy and the signal is subject to station drift, the customer equipment is not modern or reliable. And, it is very difficult to phone in: the radio channel is often busy; being off-grid, the power is only on for a few hours a day, hence the phone is only on a few hours a day; and the connection is unreliable.
It means simple things like making a doctor's appointment by phone is an accomplishment, not an automatic action. As it is an isolated area -- the road was blocked by snow for two months one year ago -- communications technology can make a big difference in quality of life: access to resource people, access to medical information, access to Internet, access to financial and commercial transactions without having to go in person. All these things we take for granted living closer to the urban hub become much more important as you move further out from the populated areas.
As a general trend, I see the work environment changing from companies employing staff, to many of us working as independent "consultants" on contract. For this trend to be possible, we need access to several telecommunications technologies. An increasing number of us can choose where we live, because we take our work with us and work remotely. This opportunity for economic development is stymied if there isn't basic phone service. No phone, no fax, no e-mail, no on-line access to Web sites means no business.
Industry Canada has an "E-COM" task force working on the regulatory and conceptual framework for on-line commerce. They are trying to create the legislation required for electronic signatures that enable financial transactions on line and legal transactions on line. This Industry task force is aiming to have its work done before the end of the year. It means that in the very near future, we expect to see legislation empowering electronic signatures. With that will come an increase in business transacted on line. The trend jusy surges ahead. Good telecommunications service, broadband and voice are needed to take part in the information society. To empower these truly rural areas, you must have good phone service.
Our Internet business was the first non-urban ISP to offer services in B.C. We have seen the effect on our community that access to the Internet provides. The first thing we discovered was the surprising number of hidden world-class experts living in the Sunshine Coast. These were professionals and consultants who lived on the coast for lifestyle, but did their business elsewhere. They were our "early adopters" because they needed Internet connections with colleagues and clients.
Then we started to see high-tech professionals moving to the Coast from Vancouver and other major urban centres. They needed Internet access for their software and technology projects. They bring income into the community. They are usually young, with families, and make positive contributions to community life.
Then we started to see local Sunshine Coast residents developing skills in the new Internet technologies. Along with this, local businesses started exploring how to use the "Net" for their business. Now when people move to the Coast, they get hydro, telephone and Internet access all arranged as basic necessary services. The biggest complaint we have from our customers is they want more bandwidth. Our customers are quick to tell us how much Internet service, how much bandwidth they can get in Vancouver, and they absolutely expect it to be the same outside of the urban core.
I think the real challenge facing the CRTC is how to ensure that bandwidth reaches into the rural areas. The draw to the city is no longer jobs, but bandwidth. If you have the bandwidth, the high-tech jobs will follow it. As a software developer and an ISP, we chose where we wanted to live, not the company we wanted to work for. We chose to live in a place where we could raise a family, be part of a neighbourhood, and contribute to our community. If the infrastructure is there to support this trend, B.C.'s small communities will share in the benefits of information technology.
Vancouver has become such a high-cost place to live that we were told that 80 per cent of interested high-tech recruits didn't commit to living there. If we are not to continue losing those people, skills and jobs to Oregon and other places, there has to be home for high-tech businesses outside of the major urban core. Telecommunications is only one of the key requirements for knowledge-based and high-tech businesses.
There are existing and emerging telecommunications technologies which are suitable for rural areas. These include spread spectrum wireless, LMCS, and Teledesic. These are all broadband solutions capable of carrying voice, data and video. Currently 20 per cent of traffic carried by telephone is data, and 80 per cent is voice. At the recent conference of the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, John Macdonald, president of Bell Canada, said he expects to see that ratio reversed within five years.
As Internet providers, we have seen the distance barriers break down through access to global Internet connections. At the same time, we believe that global access helps create stronger geographic communities. There is some synergy about the cross-connection within a geographic community, so that when you get on line and can talk to anyone anywhere, it's the e-mail from my neighbour that I open first.
In summary, I am speaking to two specific objectives of the Canadian Telecommunications Policy:
"(b) to render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada and
(h) to respond to the economic and social requirements of users of telecommunications services."
Clearly there are some areas in B.C. which do not have even basic phone service. I would hope that some provision is made to include these remote high-cost areas, so that they can enjoy the same access to telecommunications that the rest of us take for granted. With this access comes social, educational, and economic opportunities. The structure of our social organizations is changing so rapidly that anyone who doesn't have access to the Internet will be disadvantaged, and any community without access will be lost a vital energizer.
Thank you very much for this opportunity. Luinda and Scott Bleackley, Sunshine Net Inc.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. They didn't put their e-mail address.
MR. J. KERR: No, they didn't. I could give it to you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Excuse me.
Mr. Kerr, perhaps you would like to just stay where you are because next on the list is either you or Dale, on behalf of Leslie Lamb and Ken Jansen.
MR. J. KERR: I will take a moment and grab that presentation.
MR. J. KERR: These are very close friends of mine who have given me the authority to speak on their behalf.
THE CHAIRPERSON: You are a very fortunate man. You have many friends.
MR. J. KERR: Ken and Leslie have spent, off and on, four years in Papua, New Guinea. They are part of that great network of people we refer to as NGOs. Leslie is a school teacher in a school, and Ken has put together the Kleena Kleene resource board.
We request the Tatlayoko Think Tank to speak on our behalf. In summary, some of our concerns are:
The increasing rate of monthly phone rental services.
The cost of long distance rates. The best rate we were able to receive is about $0.14 to $0.17/min., whereas other areas are much lower, on a regularly consistent basis.
You will all remember the little cow picture that I passed out.
Long distance rates apply to the nearby telephone exchange of Anahim Lake, where 24-hour medical, policing, towing and other essential services are on hand.
The inability to access a "911" number. It seems simple to most people.
The ability to access competition. Services, such as "call forwarding", are not available. Nor are other competitive options.
The ability to rent additional telephone lines is extremely cumbersome, expensive and usually unavailable.
Interestingly enough, less than a year after the RUP was completed in our exchange, my neighbours are now being told that they can't get an additional phone line. That's less than a year after the RUP was done.
Basic repair service in Kleena Kleene is irregular, requiring numerous requests and long waits, resulting frequently in less than satisfactory results.
In closing, Ken and Leslie say: "We understand that we are entitled to telecommunication services and technology on an equitable basis with other Canadians. We have listed only several of our access concerns. Please add them to the list of others who would wish to have access to fair and equitable rates and services as do the majority of citizens. Ken Jansen and Leslie Lamb.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Kerr.
We will now break for lunch. It is five minutes to one, we will be back at a quarter to two.
--- Recessed for lunch at 12:55/Suspension pour le
déjeuner à 12:55
--- Resumed at 13:59/Reprise à 13:59
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
I see Prince Rupert, so you are still connected. Hello. How are you? You seem quite alone. You should come here; we are quite a crowd here.
What about Vancouver? Are they still connected? Are they? I don't see --
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Yes, we are. Vancouver is here.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Great.
I hope everybody had a good lunch and have lots of energy for the afternoon, and I would ask Madame la Secrétaire to present our next intervenor.
MS PINSKY: Sorry, before we ask the first presenter, perhaps we can ask for preliminary matters.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Oh, excuse me.
MS PINSKY: Okay. If there are no preliminary matters, we can go to our first presenter.
THE CHAIRPERSON: So can you introduce the first intervenor, please.
MS D. KERR: I think what was being asked of us was whether or not we were going to continue to make the presentations on behalf of people who have registered today. We are so very pleased with the number of people who are actually here in the room that we don't want to inconvenience people who might, if we were to keep reading the presentations in, be sitting here till eleven o'clock.
We know the distances that people have travelled to get here today. At the same time we are extremely concerned that the people who did register, and whose submissions we have, have those put into the official record.
I think, in terms of all of the people who we still have our names on the list to speak for, there is only one that does not have a written submission, and we would like to still be able to speak to that person's concerns, but I think it is more important that we hear a variety of voices, and we really want to make sure that everyone who has come here for these hearings has this opportunity to speak.
So, as long as we can be certain that the people who have their submissions given to us to present have those officially recorded, then, when those hames come up we will just say, "Go ahead, record them", and we really want to hear what other people have to say.
MR. J. KERR: It is my understanding that we still have or that I as an individual have the last slot. Am I correct?
MS PINSKY: That's correct, yes.
MR. J. KERR: At whatever time at night that may happen.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for your understanding, and you can be assured that not only will it be recorded, but we will read all of them. Thank you very much.
MR. J. KERR: Thank you.
LA PRÉSIDENTE: Madame la Secrétaire.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter is Charlie Wilson.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon, Mr. Wilson.
MR. WILSON: Good afternoon.
My name is Charlie Wilson. First of all, I would like to thank the Members of the CRTC for the opportunity to speak to you and the opportunity to speak on a reasonably short notice.
I am speaking on behalf of the residents of Smither's Landing on Babine Lake, some of which are in the audience today. We can very easily be defined as a high-cost area.
I am going to speak to you specifically about telecommunications at Smither's Landing, and I would like to divide my presentation into three areas: I would like to describe to you where we are and our relationship to the rest of northern B.C.; I would like to describe to you the people of Smither's Landing and to some degree the people of Babine Lake; and I would like to speak to you of where we see our needs for telecommunications at Smither's Landing, and to a degree to the rest of the lake. So I would like to delve into it.
Babine Lake is approximately 250 kilometres to the west of us. It is a very large lake. It is the largest natural lake in British Columbia -- over 150 kilometres long. There are four access points to that lake, and I would like to just briefly describe those access points and the communities that are involved in them.
The first access point is Pendleton Bay. It is a very small community; I believe there are only two or three permanent residences there and maybe ten seasonal. I could be corrected on that, I am not certain of that. It is the most southerly community on Babine and it really isn't part of this discussion. It is very isolated, and there are no phone and no electrical facilities there. It is accessed through Burns Lake, a drive of approximately 50 kilometres.
The second area, a little bit to the north of Pendleton Bay, is the Granisle Topley area. This is accessed through Topley on Highway 16, approximately a 40-kilometre drive. It has telephone and it has hydro. It is a collection of three communities with a total population of 300 to 400 people. Granisle itself is the remnants of a mining town; approximately 30 years ago it was initiated. The mines have shut down, the community continues to struggle to exist. Nearby it is a small collection of homes and fishing lodges at Topley Landing. Between these two communities there is a First Nations' community with a population of probably 150 to 200.
The next community, and specifically the one that I am speaking of, is Smither's Landing. This is also accessed from Highway 16 but from Smithers, approximately a 65-kilometre drive. It has electricity but it does not have telephone. There are five full-time residences and approximately 70 seasonal residences. In addition, there are two lodges that provide facilities for visitors.
The fourth and last access point is Fort Babine. Fort Babine is a First Nations community. It is accessed through the Smither's Landing Road, approximately 40 kilometres further up the road. There are approximately 35 families in this community. It has a school, a band office, a health nurse and a lodge to serve the tourists, and there is a number of logging camps adjacent to it.
Each one of these communities is spaced approximately 35 kilometres apart along the lake, Pendleton Bay being the most southerly and Fort Babine the most northerly. There is no road that parallels the lake to connect these communities. The only connection between these communities is the power line, and the power line runs from Granisle through to Fort Babine, and on its way it services Smither's Landing, it services a community that I haven't mentioned, a little seasonal community called Five-Mile that has approximately 30 cottages and no access, but it has power, and ultimately it goes to Fort Babine.
Along that route there is a new First Nations community that is in the planning stages. I believe the pronunciation is Neod'ats. It is approximately midway between Granisle and Smither's Landing, and it is my understanding that they are looking at putting in upwards of 100 homes in the next year or so.
The people of Smither's Landing is a very stable community. We have a very low turnover in our population, granted our seasonal population, and even our non-seasonal population. The people of Smither's Landing come from all walks of life; we come from professional to blue collar, from young business people to retired people. Basically, we are the basis of the economic engine in Canada; we are that type of people.
We come from varied backgrounds but our interests are all the same; our interests are to live in the north and our interest is to be, at least for part of our life, as close to nature as we can, and Babine fulfils those needs for us.
So our cabins are a very major portion of our lives, and it is not a seasonal use. Our cabins are used 12 months of the year, all of them; in fact, if you go out there in the middle of the winter, you will probably see more people there then than you will in the middle of the summer, using the snow as a recreation. So I guess my emphasis is that this is not a seasonal -- go there for three months in the summertime and never go back to the lake again. We use our cabins all year round.
Many of the people of Smither's Landing in the cottages are reaching a stage when we want to spend more of our time at the lake; in fact, some of us are looking at our cabins becoming our permanent residences. There are some of us who would love to be able to work out there, to run our businesses from our cottages, but without communications we physically can't do that; we need to have the communications. We also need to have the safety and the social aspects of better communications out there.
Presently, our telephone system is two auto-tels, and of course they are very costly, they are marginally effective and they preclude the use of fax and preclude the use of Internet, both of which, for most businesses now, are pretty much mandatory.
I discussed the telephone processes and plans with the Regional Access Facility Manager for BC Tel, and he was the one that informed me that there is a First Nations community going in and that service is going to be provided to it. He indicated to me that there is a plan to extend that service out to Smither's Landing.
He also informed me that they are looking at a telephone system for Fort Babine, which is much beyond us. That phone system they are planning for Fort Babine is not a land line phone; they are planning, apparently, to put in a satellite link. If they do that, then there is a gap in the telephone service; there is a gap between where we are located and Fort Babine, and there are a number of cottages along there, 30 to 40 cottages along there, and there are some logging camps.
If they continue with this process, I would think that the way to go would be a land line right through, following the power line, right that way, and then provide telephone access for everybody.
A lot of us, and First Nations included, are being bypassed by the information highway. And although most of us at Smither's Landing have homes where we are connected to telephone and we are connected to the information highway, we don't have that same facility available to us at Babine and certainly the First Nations people don't have that facility. We certainly would love to have access to it, both from a social aspect and from a business point of view.
Everybody is concerned about the fact of "Are you 21st century ready? Is your computer ready?" We don't have a phone system. We are not even 19th century equipped for the electronics and we would like to catch up.
The last point I would like to make to you is the funding processes.
It is my understanding that funding for this type of thing comes from four potential sources -- there may be more; I haven't had a great deal of time to research this, but I understand that funding comes from BC Tel's Service Extension Program, from the Federal/Provincial Infrastructure Grant Program, from the Electronic Highway Enabling Fund that BC Tel and BC Hydro co-sponsor, and from customer contributions.
In reading through BC Tel's requirements for participation and funding, they talk about the need for a specific number of principal premises which, as best I can find defined, is that it must be your permanent home. I am not sure how that is measured. Most of the people that are in the summer colony that we are in spend in excess of 100 days a year at their cabin. That's a long time, and I don't know why that would not qualify as some level of residency.
I guess I also would question why we should have to qualify for residency. We are attempting to purchase a product from BC Tel. Why would we have to show qualification for purchasing that product? I have difficulty understanding that.
I understand also that there is funding assistance for communities remote like we are to get grants from the Federal/Provincial Infrastructure Grant Program. It is my understanding that, without these grants in place, we could be facing upwards of $10,000 per user of cost, and obviously we can't afford that; nobody can afford that. Not only that, I don't think it is particularly fair.
On behalf of the people of the north end of Babine Lake, I would request that, if you have any influence at all in the continuation of these funds, for us, please exercise that influence.
I indicated to you earlier that I was concerned about the two types of phone systems that BC Tel are looking at, a land line potentially up to Smither's Landing and then a satellite system at Fort Babine. I believe that there has to be more planning done. It is our money that is going to be used to put these in, and I am a little bit concerned that, regardless of what ministry it is coming from, if Aboriginal Affairs is putting up money to run a phone line on the ground part way and then a satellite line at the far end, and then the non-aboriginal community sponsoring another piece of it halfway in between, there should be a better plan in place.
I don't believe the planning has been done. In the brief discussions I have had with BC Tel, it is my opinion that they haven't done the planning. I think that they need to look at all methods of funding for this thing.
In closing, I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak on behalf of the residents of Babine Lake and specifically Smither's Landing. We are very well rounded and we are a very stable community. We would like to add to our enjoyment of Babine, we would like to allay some of the safety aspects of being that far away from facilities and we would like to have the same communications that everybody else in Canada has. We can't do this by ourselves, so we certainly would ask your assistance.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Wilson.
MR. WILSON: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I think you were very clear. Thank you for the geography lesson as well. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: We have a number of presenters that arrived on a bus from Williams Lake. They have consented to come to the table in groups of three; they will each present separately, but we are cutting down on travel time here.
Ms Wellner has also indicated that I should name the first people to come up, and this would be George Colgate, Cathryn Wellner and Florence Piché. Cathryn indicated that I should indicate who is on deck too so that the next group can be ready. So we have Jack Keyser, Debbie Demare and Uli Augustin on deck.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Welcome to the three of you.
THE SECRETARY: Mr. Colgate, would you start, please.
MR. COLGATE: I live in the Nemaiah Valley, which is approximately two and a half to three hours west of Williams Lake by pick-up truck if the roads are good. I am representing the Xeni-Gwet'im First Nations government and other non-native residents in the valley.
I would like to start this by reading a letter that I wrote to BC Telephone Company in 1994; nothing much has changed since then.
As you are probably aware, Nemaiah Valley is a remote community of about 300 people. It consists of approximately 60 personal residences, a school, an Indian band office, a store and several small ranches and tourist facilities. Until about two years ago communication to the outside world was exclusively via BC Tel radio phone system, which was marginal at best. For over 10 years we put up with this system, but finally, modern business being what it is, we had to purchase our own system having fax capabilities. The drawbacks to this system, however, are that, (a), it has only one line to operate both telephone and fax, and its cost is excessive, being in the order of $20,000 per line. The Nemaiah Valley band office now has 15 full-time people and has only one phone line. The local provincial school also has a problem since they still rely upon the BC Tel radio phone system, which is very unreliable. Several local people are now using a private system developed by CP Electronics of Williams Lake, which is less costly but not too much more reliable than BC Tel's radio phone system.
The demand for a modern telephone communications system in Nemaiah Valley has been steadily increasing over the last several years. The systems currently in place are no longer suitable, being either too costly to provide adequate service or so unreliable that they are impractical for business purposes. We therefore ask BC Tel to provide a telephone system to Nemaiah Valley which would have a Williams Lake or Alexis Creek number allowing us to call Williams Lake without being charged long distance. The Extended Area Radio Telephone Service (EARS) Program would probably not be satisfactory because of its high charge for local calls. A Kamloops company, Province-wide Communications Limited, has recently quoted us a system which we believe may be adequate for a cost of approximately $250,000 for 24 lines. If BC Tel could install a system similar to this under their Service Extension Program, which I understand provides $10,000 per station, very little extra money would be required and Nemaiah Valley would have an adequate communications system.
Your timely response to this application will be greatly appreciated." (As read)
As a result of this letter, a couple of guys came out from BC Tel, did a report and basically reported that it was too expensive to put a telephone system into Nemaiah.
A couple of years ago I got involved in the Cariboo Economic Action Forum, met a few other people from BC Tel and initiated another study, which is now being studied by BC Tel. The problem seems to be, however, cost. They are in the process of doing some work out there. We are on the planning procedure, but it appears that it is a somewhat reluctant process, and it seems to be that the way it is turning out, it looks like it is going to be marginal.
A few things have happened in Nemaiah since the first letter was written in 1994. The provincial school basically opted for a satellite system which is basically an MSAT type of system, which was somewhat reliable but when the first phone bill came to the school the principal ordered everybody not to use it any more until she could look at the budget because it was so expensive that it was almost impossible to use. That system also is difficult to use because of the delay. Unless the persons on both ends understand how it works, it is difficult to communicate. So that system wasn't very good, and the school district sort of looked at it as a stop gap sort of measure.
I guess the problem is -- and I have been hearing it with more and more small communities -- that the telephone companies seem to be reluctant because of costs. That seems to be the main thing. I have sort of thought about this a little bit, and it seems that, when Canada first started, the only thing linking the west coast to the east coast was via boat. Somebody decided to put a railroad across the country, and the economy took a quantum leap. That process was repeated again in the fifties, when Premier W.A.C. Bennett was the prime minister or the premier of B.C., when he decided to build roads all over the province. Again, the province's economics took a quantum leap.
It seems now that perhaps, if the information highway was extended to people in remote areas, probably the economy would take another leap. There are people out there that have some sort of intelligence and could contribute quite a bit to the economy of the country.
So I think it is not really right to look at this as an expense; I think that this should be viewed more as an investment.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. It has been very helpful.
THE SECRETARY: I would ask Cathryn Wellner to present next, please.
MS WELLNER: We really appreciate your joining us here in what we don't consider rural Canada but it is closer to us in rural Canada. We know that you are listening to a lot today.
I want to tell you a story. It comes from the 13th century and it is about a character by the name of Hojah, Nazardine Hojah, who was invited to a feast. When he got to the feast no one would talk to him. He looked around and he saw that everyone had fine coats on, but he had come in his ordinary coat. So he went home and he came back dressed in a really fine coat, and suddenly he was everyone's friend and was given the place of honour.
When the soup was served he picked up a spoon and he began to drop it onto his coat; "Eat, coat. Eat." When everyone was staring at him he said, "When I came in my ordinary coat no one would speak to me, but now in my finery I am the honoured guest. My coat was invited, not me. 'Eat, coat. Eat.'"
The telecommunications industry has invited rural Canada to the feast, but we are not honoured guests and we want to be. They have teased us with succulent services, tantalized us with the odour of promises. We read the same newspapers, watch the same television, are lured by the same advertisements, but they are not really intended for us. Because we don't wear the same coats, we are not as interesting. When the Stentor companies or MetroNet glance around the room deciding whose favour to curry, it is not us that they want to have as companions. They don't entirely ignore us -- you have made it impossible for that, you have required them to do these rural upgrades -- but they throw us the bones.
There was a point made in the last submission before we went to lunch that one year after rural upgrade was done at Tatla Lake -- one year -- the phone lines are over-subscribed, and someone wanting a telephone couldn't get one. That's serious. We are slated for an upgrade next year. Is it going to be sufficient? When they put the upgrade in to Bella Coola, next year it wasn't sufficient.
In 1997 BC Tel announced a $600 million capital improvement plan. It was in our little bills that came. We were supposed to feel happy about it. But during that same year we were told by BC Tel that to complete the last of the rural upgrades would cost, woe is me, $50 million, less than 10 per cent of what was going into urban areas for improvements rather than upgrading and basic service.
When the battled monopoly system became a scramble, a free for all in the competitive market, you did, at the CRTC, acknowledge that that wasn't going to work in rural areas, and you were right. I remember a press release that came out from the CRTC acknowledging that this would have to happen. So we appreciate your being here now to redress some of the issues for rural Canada.
The telecommunications companies have more money to plead than we have and they have certainly been at your doorstep. They have asked us to lighten up, to understand why they can't feed their rural guests the same as they can their urban guests. They reminded you that the CRTC embraced the market model, opened the door through which their competitors were snatching their best customers, and that you owe them remedial measures.
The Federal Communications Commission in the U.S. has already gone down the road, and I know that you are aware of some of the problems that have occurred there. It is a real patchwork system. Rural U.S. is not being particularly well served, and they are trying to go back and redress that.
So we hope that, as a result of these hearings, you won't make some of the mistakes or you won't allow the telecommunications industry in Canada to make some of the same mistakes that they have made in the U.S. We just have our old coats. We don't have the millions to prepare submissions that the telecommunications companies have. We only have our stories.
A sampling of the stories from the Cariboo Chilcotin are these. Just a few weeks ago a silviculturist on contract -- because most of our silviculturists are on contract now because they have been laid off -- walked into a local ministry and was told that the information he wanted was available on line. Not where he comes from. But the person at the desk said he had to get it on line. Budgets have been cut; if he wanted the information, it was only by computer. It took her 10 minutes to tell him that she couldn't go for one minute to the file drawer and pull out the same information that she could have a year before.
When we had a change in government our then Minister of Agriculture said that, although the Ministry of Agriculture was being cut back in their funding, those of us in rural Canada didn't need to worry about it because all the services were going on line. Small comfort for rural Canada.
There was a young German couple who, like many German and Swiss couples, had followed their dream to this part of the world. They bought a property near Troll Mountain, which is a small ski area close to historic Barkerville. Before they bought the property and before they started building they called BC Tel to make sure they could get a telephone. No problem. The date of installation was set. They went ahead with their plans, built the place, kept checking. No problem. The date of installation was set. They moved into their dream home, and on the day that the telephones were to be installed they were informed by BC Tel, who didn't show up, "Oh, dear, our mistake. There is no telephone service in your area. There will be no telephone service in your area. It is not scheduled for service."
This is a story that has been repeated too many times and, to our way of thinking, a quality of service issue that should not be allowed.
There is a community called Nazko in northwest Cariboo Chilcotin that has worked for 20 years to get a telephone system. We are pleased to say that now they are going to be getting their telephone system.
What difference does it make? Originally, they were just wanting a telephone system so that they could talk with each other and talk to the outside world, but now that the dream of a telephone system is becoming a reality, they are planning ahead. Now they are planning for a community centre which will be a training centre, which will be a small business entrepreneurship area. There are all kinds of things that are going to come out of that because they are going to get a telephone system.
In one of our communities, an aboriginal child was accidentally shot. The community had two telephones: one in the band office, one in the school. There was no one to open the door to either. When, two hours later, they were able to get emergency help for the child, it was too late and the child died.
Of course, one of our favourite stories, on a little lighter note, is, it was mentioned that White Saddle Air Services is trying to attract film companies to this part of the world, and they do need telephones. One of Mike King's best stories is, when they were filming "Seven Years in Tibet" and Brad Pitt wanted to phone his fiancee in the States, Mike had to get on to the nearest knoll with an antenna and wave it in the air while they moved the telephone around till they could get to some place where he could make his telephone call.
If you look around the room, the wood behind you there, the chairs you are sitting on, this microphone, it is all made out of resources that come from rural areas, and whether you are in Hull or Vancouver or Williams Lake, B.C., we are all dependent on these resources. So there is that nice synergy with rural and urban areas feeding each other. But, in order for us to continue our part of the feeding, we need good telecommunications. They are no longer an option, they are no longer something that's nice to have to call Aunt Martha. In today's world, they are an absolute essential.
We know that, without the CRTC's insistence that rural areas be included in the feast, we won't be, that the telephone companies are looking at profit, as corporations do, but sometimes they are forgetting that in this country, as we hope in any country, corporations have a social as well as an economic role and that when we are talking about telecommunications, we are talking about an essential service that all of us need to pay for.
In the battle of monopoly days the telephone company could move their money around and rural areas were paid for in part by urban areas, and that's all -- the apple cart is upset. What you are searching for now is, what do we do about that?
We believe that a subsidy system still can work, that it doesn't have to come out of the taxpayer's pocket, that if we look at the profits across the telecommunications industries, there is sufficient slack there to cover the extra cost of high-cost service areas. We also believe that we can do the same thing as we have, although in a much more complex manner, with postage stamps, that it is possible to make the basic entry similar, and the basic entry keeps changing by the year. So we hope that, whatever decisions you make, you will make them with the future in mind.
The Hojah saw ducks on his pond one day; he was hungry, so he tried to shoot them and they flew away. So he threw some bread on the pond and he started to eat the bread. Someone said to him, "What are you doing?" He said, "Well, I am eating duck soup."
Duck soup isn't enough to feed us. We want to be there for the feast.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: I would now like to ask Florence Piché to give her presentation.
MS PICHÉ: Mine is a lot shorter than hers, that's for sure.
I live out at McLeese Lake, which is between Quesnel and Williams Lake. In 1997 they put in the power line and they had to take power poles out because they had to put in a three-phase power line and our poles weren't tall enough. So we didn't know until later, when they actually had the line hooked up, that they couldn't put telephone lines on these power poles, as the three-phase would bother the telephone line; you would get interference.
Then, in December of 1997 we got a notice in the mail our J.P. channel was being disconnected. That was our only phone. There was going to be no further use after January 7th of 1998. So we had one month to find something else.
We looked into auto-tel and satellite phone, but for us it just was not economical to invest in. My daughter has a cellular phone, so she said she would come over and see if we could get any kind of a signal. We could. So we came to Quesnel, we picked up a three-watt phone and an antenna to bring the signal in a little stronger. We have to get our signal from Quesnel because Williams Lake does not have a tower close enough to us. The only thing is that waves come in waves and not in straight lines, and we don't always have service.
I work with Central Cariboo Home Support, and without a phone I have no job. They have to be able to get a hold of me if we have a client that I am supposed to go to who has gone to the hospital or somebody has come home and they need somebody to go; they have to be able to get a hold of us so we know.
Another thing is, my teenage daughter slipped and fell in the tub on the 28th of January. I went to the cell phone, and it said, "No Service". I wanted to phone an ambulance. So I told my husband, "I will try the radio phone, and hopefully it is still hooked up", and it was. I could get out.
Without the phone, you feel very helpless in an emergency. As it is, my daughter has epilepsy, and that was her first Grand Mal seizure. In this day and age, I feel that the phone is no longer a luxury, that it is a necessity. Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Could the on-deck presenters come forward, please, Jack Keyser, Debbie Demare and Uli Augustin.
On standby are Muriel Dodge, Simon Moses and Chief Snow.
Would Jack Keyser start, please.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
MR. KEYSER: Good afternoon. It is a real pleasure to be here. It is very interesting, listening to all the other people relate their stories. I really appreciate you folks coming out here to listen to us.
I am just going to read this.
Rural B.C. has historically been, and still is, the source of most of the wealth of this province. Forests, minerals, hydroelectric power, tourism, ranching, farming and assorted other resources provide income for the rural population, of course, but also directly and indirectly for the population in the large urban centres. Without the rural sources of wealth, large urban areas could not exist.
The urban centres of the province slowly evolved as suppliers and service providers for the rural areas, and because of their smaller size and much greater density of population, they also evolve as low-cost service areas for BC Tel. It seems to me that service to the rural high-cost areas has always been an obligatory test and still is.
Due to what appears to have been a very myopic view of future development and requirements in the rural areas and an unswerving loyalty to their shareholders, the company is now far behind in supplying adequate rural service. Four-party access lines are very common, and of course many people still have no phone service at all. Some of those people on a road near where I live have hydro lines but are told the installation costs for phone service are prohibitive. In fact, that gentleman just sitting beside me over here is one of those people.
Some businesses in Williams Lake are waiting several months for the phone installation, and at this time the Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake cannot open their desperately needed third floor because BC Tel cannot supply lines.
The provincial government is planning to introduce the 9-1-1 concept to rural areas but cannot until the problems of party lines, and of course non-service areas, are addressed. Rural residents do not enjoy the same standard of living with regard to health care and ambulance service because of communication problems.
This is the type of service we endure, while each month our telephone bill envelopes are stuffed with pamphlets advertising all of the glamorous new devices and latest equipment, many of which are not usable by the rural population, something like advertising a $25 gourmet brunch in southern Soudan.
With regard to the problem of providing equitable service to British Columbia subscribers, my suggestion is this -- it may sound a bit simplistic, but this is the way I see it. Given that the large urban low-cost service areas and the rural high-cost service areas are economically tied and dependent on one another, a nominal province-wide increase to basic subscription rates to BC Tel could be approved and instituted. In return, BC Tel should be forced to allocate more funds for expansion and development in the rural areas of British Columbia.
Thank you for listening.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, sir.
THE SECRETARY: Would Debbie Demare present next, please.
MS DEMARE: Thank you very much.
I am pleased to have this opportunity on behalf of the University College of the Cariboo to make comment on the need for improved and affordable telecommunications in the Cariboo Chilcotin Region. I was just thinking, as I was sitting here listening to the challenges of so many of the people that had spoken today, of the corresponding challenge it is, as an educational institution, to provide the level and quality of education and training to these folks, and through some of my predecessors I have listened to their stories of taking the education system on the road to some pretty isolated places and some of the funny challenges that came along for them. I think we have strived through the years to do that.
The University College of the Cariboo serves a region of over 60,000 square miles. Some 200,000 people live in over 50 villages, towns and cities throughout this area. The UCC region is also the home of a large First Nations population with over 30 bands and 10 tribal councils.
Our mandate is to serve this heterogeneous, widely-spread and in many cases physically-remote population. As a means of serving this population more effectively, the University College of the Cariboo has developed a leadership role in B.C. in the use of interactive video and computer media communications. These technologies are seen by UCC as a critical means of providing enhanced post-secondary training and education opportunities to communities outside of Kamloops, the location of our main campus.
Currently UCC uses BC Tel's ubiquity ITB services for some 70 hours per week of ITB service. Computer mediated communications account for a similar number of hours of service each week. We intend to continue to increase the use of telecommunications to deliver educational service to place-bound students throughout the region and beyond over the coming years. However, the matter of availability and access to effective digital telecommunications continues to be critical to our institution because of the characteristics of the region we are mandated to serve, and I think we have heard those stories today.
The provision of services such as video conferencing and computer-based courses continue to be available only in a few of the larger communities, particularly those such as Williams Lake and 100 Mile House, which are centred on a major highway. The accessibility to the rest of our mandated region can be characterized by great distances between centres, much less upgrading and modernization, high cost of basic local and access service and the absence of toll-free Internet access.
The current rate structure for those communities away from these major telecommunications corridors to access digital telecommunications is not affordable and severely limits the ability of UCC to provide increased access. UCC itself is not funded to provide the technical means to provide effective digital telecommunications, nor is it funded at a level sufficient to make it affordable to deliver services using the current rate structure.
It is our recommendation that, in order to significantly reduce transmission costs, the CRTC make provisions for preferential rate structures to be made available to public sector educational organizations.
Part of the reason I was asked to be here today is I deliver services into the region and I would like to tell you a little story. One of our bands came to us -- we have delivered all sorts of training through the years, but often not academic training. This band came to us -- they are about an hour away from 100 Mile House -- asking, they have a number of people working in offices in different business and they wanted a first-year university English course.
In our typical way we said, "Okay, how do we do this?" Well, we have an instructor, a high-level, well-trained instructor who can travel and was willing to travel. They could provide the facility. It was a monumental effort.
The challenge for those students was they could not access our library system. The college culture these days is completely electronic. If you want to access the library, you access it electronically; particularly in a satellite camp such as Williams Lake, we do not have a large collection on site, so even if they took the hour to come in to Williams Lake, they would still be needing to use an electronic system to access books.
I think the success of that particular course was severely hampered by this band's inability to access electronic services that we provide as a standard fare if you are a college student. The provision of high quality, affordable telecommunications infrastructure would allow us to provide skills, training and educational upgrading, affordable and convenient post-secondary education and allow us to participate in the same types of community and economic development opportunities that we currently assist with in our larger centres.
In summary, the University College of the Cariboo would like to make two recommendations: that the CRTC take steps to ensure the availability of land-based digital telecommunications systems in all locations in the province of B.C., and that, in order to significantly reduce transmission costs, the CRTC make provisions for preferential rate structures to be made available to public sector educational organizations.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
May I just ask a question for my understanding? When you talk about preferential rates for educational institutions, that's over and above a mechanism of subsidy, or you don't go with that proposal of the subsidy for remote and rural regions?
MS DEMARE: I don't think I could answer that question for you; I am not on the technical side of this. I would suggest that any way that you can assist colleges to take beyond what we are currently offering, which is on a major corridor, will be helpful.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Would Uli Augustin present now, please.
MR. AUGUSTIN: My name is Uli Augustin. I act as the representative of the Black Creek Community Telephone Association. I am here to present to you a few of the major concerns of our community.
There are currently 11 families living along the Black Creek Road within 12 kilometres of the last telephone at kilometre 117; it is called the 100 Road, so it is 17 kilometres out of Horsefly. These families suffer the following "dehabilitating" disadvantages: lack of medical emergency services; great difficulty in business contacts; severely restricted social contacts, both physical and psychological; disenfranchisement due to inability to use the Internet and fax facilities advertised by the governments on the TV; no facilities to do electronic banking and other such electronic services.
The federal and provincial governments have stated that they do not want the population all living along the 49th parallel; if this is so, basic services such as the telephone have to be offered to entice people to live in the central areas of the province.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Mr. Augustin.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to invite Muriel Dodge, Simon Moses and Chief Snow to the table.
On deck will be Nick Sardy, Cathryn Wellner on behalf of Louis Helbick and Richard T. Wright.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
MS DODGE: Good afternoon. I am Muriel Dodge. I am the Co-Chair of the Cariboo Economic Action Forum in Williams Lake.
The Cariboo Economic Action Forum is a regional economic development organization in British Columbia's interior that acts on region-wide issues and opportunities. Initiated by the provincial government in 1994, CEAF holds an annual stakeholder conference for stakeholders to identify regional priorities and evaluate CEAF's activities. One of these priorities is telecommunications.
For the past two years CEAF has been an outspoken advocate for the improvement of the region's telecommunications infrastructure. From a major study of the region's infrastructure through the regional telecommunications conference, formation of a telecommunications consortium, assistance with establishing community access sites and ongoing lobbying on behalf of outlying community, CEAF has expended considerable effort on behalf of the region, which clearly falls within the definition of high-cost serving areas.
Stentor companies are spending millions to influence the direction of these hearings. Those of us advocating on behalf of consumers lack even a tiny percentage of their resources. We ask you to weigh the social and economic consequences of your actions to take into account the essential nature of telecommunications and to make your decisions based on the best interest of Canadians.
The CRTC has embraced competition, but the only company that strings wires, puts up poles and offers repair service in the Cariboo Chilcotin is BC Tel. We never lose sight of the fact that the company's uneconomic extensions, rural repair service and upgrading of aging systems are motivated in no small part by the CRTC requirements. We watch as the company nears the end of the required upgrades and know that, unless the CRTC acts on behalf of rural Canadians, we can expect a future in which the differences between urban and rural rates and services continue to widen.
Investors expect returns. Competitors look for markets that promise profits. Regions with remote and rural populations offer little to attract either. The CRTC's current efforts to address the problems of high-cost service areas are critical, though they would have been more timely had they occurred before the rush to deregulate.
Now that the CRTC has open the door wide to competition, we too are interrupted by calls offering special rates on long-distance services. However, no one calls Alexis Creek to offer high-speed data transmission or new options for local service. No one rushes to compete for the maintenance of the lines that stretch hundreds of kilometres through the country buffeted by harsh winters or poles and transmitters used as scratching posts for bear and moose. If we are to avoid becoming casualties of the telecommunications revolution, the CRTC must act quickly but with care.
Affordable, high-quality telecommunications are vital to the future not only of the Cariboo Chilcotin but all of rural Canada. We do not claim that the solutions are simple and without cost; we do claim that relying on the marketplace is insufficient, as CRTC has acknowledged, and that a mechanism must be put in place to assure high-quality, affordable telecommunications.
These things are essential to us:
- access to advanced telecommunications now and in the future;
- voice and data transmission on single-party lines;
- touch-tone service with advanced calling features such as call waiting, call display, toll blocking and call screen;
- broad service, ISTN at a minimum, via toll-free access;
- 9-1-1 or other emergency calling service;
- operator services;
- expanded access to wireless services both for enhancement of cell coverage and to provide telephone access in remote areas, provided the service is made available at costs comparable to the basic service and long-distance charges in other areas;
- annual directory listing and provision of local directory to each subscriber and other services as they become available;
- rates for local service comparable to those offered to urban customers;
- quality of service standards that reflect the essential nature of telecommunications;
- rural service comparable to urban service;
- new installations within two weeks of request and repair within 24 hours;
- recognition that service in rural areas should be measured separately;
- an end to the practice of employees in urban calling centres making promises they cannot keep;
- a definition of "high-cost serving areas" that acknowledges the telecommunication needs of all Canadians wherever they live: areas where the cost of providing service exceeds urban rates and inhibits competition should be considered high-cost serving areas, and areas where the costs of establishing and maintaining infrastructure exceed any expectation of return should be given special consideration as very high-cost serving areas as proposed by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre;
- a universal subsidy mechanism to which all telecommunication providers contribute and which allows for fair distribution of costs for serving uneconomic areas;
- increased competitive options for rural subscribers;
- universal access to affordable high-quality telecommunications, as promised by the Telecommunications Act;
- consequences for failure to adhere to acceptable quality of service standards;
- equality of service throughout rural areas without adding to the rural-urban split by creating rural-remote split.
We have come here today to ask you to remember that those of us in the rural areas did not create the information highway, we did not invent the new rules that penalize those with limited or no access to it. We appreciate the progress we have made toward universal access through extending lines to remote areas, upgrading exchanges and enhancing service. We also know that our costs go up in the name of rate rebalancing. The disparity between urban and rural services increases as well.
We live in a country that has relatively few urban centres within the vast reaches of its sparsely populated boundaries. We live in a country that is made of philosophical commitments to assuring an equal access to the information highway for all its people, urban, rural and/or remote. We live in a country that has decided that health care, roads, education and postage stamps are so basic to our lives that we must share the cost of them. In 1998 we live in a country in which telecommunications must be added to the list of basic services available to all, paid for by all.
We look to the CRTC to acknowledge that the purported benefits of an open market are of dubious value to the areas like Cariboo Chilcotin unless government, through its regulatory body, pays more than lip service to the concept of full access to the information highway. The CRTC has embraced competition; now it must embrace universal access.
The Cariboo Chilcotin is a large, sparsely populated region in central British Columbia that extends approximately 480 kilometres east to west and 320 kilometres north to south. The majority, 70 per cent of its 71,000 residents, live in small, unincorporated communities, many of them far from the three major trading centres of Quesnel, Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.
Our resource-dependent region is similar to others -- affected by conditions that originate well beyond their borders. One company invests millions in new technology in order to manufacture a product for the Japanese market. As the Asian economy slipped, the expected demand has not materialized, and lay-offs and slowdowns began. Another company spends millions in exploration, begins construction, raises hope for new local employment, and then watches the world price of metal slide.
With unemployment that persists above 10 per cent and is now over 14 per cent, we have learned to take satisfaction in a quarterly report that nudges the figure up only slightly. We have learned to put off major purchases, vacation closer to home, shop for bargains. We have learned to empty savings and retirement accounts in order to make the next quarter's mortgage and car payments. We have learned that our future economic health depends on our ability to diversify, and we have learned that diversification depends on infrastructure and that ours is lacking.
When the federal government budgets are reduced, we are supposed to be reassured by the promise that services are going on line. In a region where Internet access is limited by line quality, where ISTN and ADSL are meaningless acronyms, where 70 per cent of the population lives outside our small municipality and the promise of on-line substitutions is hollow, the admonition to diversify is suspect.
The 1997 federal report "Think Rural" points out the importance of rural infrastructure, but that report languishes in a file while the problems it identified persist. As resource-dependent regions continue to supply urban Canada and the global market with the materials that enable them to thrive, aging and inadequate infrastructure keeps them from heeding the call to innovate and diversify.
The CRTC can address one of these infrastructure issues -- telecommunications. Nowhere in the Cariboo Chilcotin is there a population base sufficient to attract local competitors. The CRTC must act to ensure that the benefits being offered to urban customers extend to rural and remote areas.
Cariboo Chilcotin has, or can attract, the human resources needed to develop new employment opportunities but only if we have adequate infrastructure. Maintenance, extension and improvement of that infrastructure depends on incentives. If they cannot be provided through the return on investment, they must be provided through the cost-sharing mechanism. The CRTC opened the gate and let out the cows. The urban bovine is doing just fine; now, you must devise a means for feeding the country cows on the sparse grass that's left to them.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Can I ask Simon Moses to present next, please.
MR. MOSES: Commission Members, I am Simon Moses from Williams Lake, B.C. of the Cariboo Chilcotin region.
Wow, I'm actually a bit intimidated by the whole process. If only my grandfather, who is a First Nation full-blooded status Indian from British Columbia, could see me now, he would actually be probably much more intimidated than I would talking about electronic highway technology. Telecommunications is something that our First Nation aboriginal people today are experiencing big, big time.
I am here today to emphasize that, we, the citizens of the Cariboo Chilcotin, urgently require affordable, high quality and immediate telecommunication linkages with the outside world. The need for improved access is especially apparent in the fifteen First Nation communities in the Cariboo region. Thirteen of these Chilcotin, Carrier, and Shuswap bands have communities located outside a forty-kilometre radius of the nearest urban centres.
With improved telecommunication, these 6,400 rural citizens, who contribute millions of dollars to the Cariboo economy, will have increased participation in the planning and the utilization of services outside their communities in cities like Williams Lake, Quesnel and 100 Mile House. Such access will ensure that people living in rural areas can: compete in the global job market through the Internet; use social and health services and information available on line; and, take advantage of educational opportunities that distance delivery now offers.
Suddenly we find ourselves competing with people globally. While exciting, this development provides the opportunity as well as danger. Rural communities are in danger of being left out of the global economy.
As we move into the new millennium, the electronic transmission of information, including data, television pictures, sound and facsimiles, is affecting us directly and we need high-quality telephone services readily accessible in the Cariboo Chilcotin region at an affordable cost.
More than ever, people living in rural regions need choices offered by online services -- a dial-up service that provides news information and discussion forums for users with modem-equipped computers through telephone lines.
Like the printing press, telecommunications technology has revolutionised the knowledge base available to the common people. As we read a newspaper and other information made available with computer hardware, such as modems attached through telephone lines, we begin to grasp the impact that computers and telephones are having on our way of life. Web sites -- collections of documents and programs spread across a multitude of computers connected to the Internet through telephone lines -- have changed our means for communication.
My grandfather would agree to that, wouldn't he?
We rely on technology brought to us through our telephone systems. We ask you to give the rural communities of the Cariboo Chilcotin by linking us with the global market. Telecommunications is forcing us to face competition from beyond the borders of our region, beyond the borders of our province, beyond the borders of our country, Canada.
With your commitment, our rural regions can embrace the revolution that telecommunication technology has extended to our boundaries. With your immediate action, we can become part of the global community.
Simon Moses, citizen of the Cariboo Chilcotin.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Moses, may I ask a question?
You, certainly like many of the intervenors today, express a vibrant témoinage of what is the reality of living in rural and remote regions here in Canada. I would like to know how you approach that in terms of how you see the solutions coming? Do you see that as a contribution by the communities? Do you see that as the total responsibility of the telecommunication providers? Do you see that as, as some have suggested, the possibility of all citizens of Canada to support?
The enhancement of services, how do you see that?
MR. MOSES: Yes. With respect to your question -- and I do honestly try to give you the best answer that I can -- I'm not an elected leader of any of the aboriginal First Nation bands. I am a supporter, an advocate of socio-economic development, community economic development. I strongly and honestly believe that telecommunication is one of the stronger tools to link our ability to be able to develop human capacity, building through services, through knowledge, through education, through support services for our elders.
It's one area that I'm aware that cost is one of our major concerns, and we do identify a lot of our country areas as high-cost areas, but I would like to counter that with much respect and also call it high-need area.
I'm hoping that Chief Agnes Snow will be able to give you more specifically some answers to your questions. So I'm not trying to evade your question, ma'am, but I honestly do not have any really solid ideas that might be able to help you answer that question. But I will be willing to contribute and spend more time working with a team perhaps appointed by the Commission, obviously resourced with dollars to cover the cost. But, you know, these are just ideas.
I honestly wish I had an answer.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Chief Agnes Snow will present next, please.
CHIEF SNOW: Good afternoon.
I'm Chief Agnes Snow from the Canoe Creek community.
Simon has outlined the general situation. We see the value of getting on the information highway, but there is no ramp from our gravel road.
I have been Chief of the Canoe Creek Band for six years now, and we live about 11 kilometres out of the main community.
We can't even get a phone. I applied for phone services and I was told that we had to come up with over $40,000 before the phone service could go in. That was a few years back now.
We have no funds. In answering your question, we don't have the funds to come up with that kind of money. We have a fixed budget. As you know, we are wards of the federal government and we don't have the funds to be putting out that kind of money to bring in phone services.
In our community we had a fire 11 kilometres up. What we had to do was to wake someone up, get them to travel a half hour down to the main community, to the band office -- they have a phone there -- and get the fire department to come up to our community, which is another half hour; a total of an hour and a half wake-up time and travel time to get to the community to put the fire out. If it hadn't been for the people that had just ordinary garden hoses and things like that, and their efforts, that fire would have burnt the whole house down and the family in it.
That's the situation; that's the true situation we live under.
We also have people in the village that are on -- we have two communities -- actually three. We phone long distance from one side of our community to the other. It's long distance charges right to our own band office that's only about 20 kilometres away. In order to do business with our own band we have to pay long distance charges.
We are on party lines, as they call it. Anybody having an emergency, you have to wait until that other person -- unless you yell and scream to get onto the phone.
Even our band office can't get a dedicated line for a modem. We have to share a line between a fax machine and a computer. Right now we are in a treaty process and we are trying to have good communication back and forth to the government, and we can't even do that a lot of times.
You know, watching TV and watching the commercials that are coming on from BC Tel and so on, you see them shooting this arrow and it lands and says we can reach any part of the country. I haven't seen that arrow past our --
I used to look for it.
You don't have to go to the third world to be isolated. Right here in B.C. there are communities like ours who might as well use smoke signals.
You know, sometimes I look at the whole situation. I am the Chief of our community and I can't even communicate with my own community members. If there is an emergency, they can't get a hold of me and things like that. In order for me to get the message out, I have to jump in my car -- which everybody takes for granted -- I have to jump in my car and drive around and go to every house. That doesn't happen in Vancouver.
So things like that that we have to face as First Nations people, we are in the rural communities, but we are still sitting at the back of the bus and expected to stay there. Sometimes I feel that it's intentional.
Everybody is saying -- you hear Preston Manning talking about we are all equal. Well, tell me where we are equal, Mr. Preston Manning, when a lot of your rural communities aren't even up to the standard of the rest of Canada? If this was in Ottawa you would have every line in already.
Those people that keep saying we are all on equal footing, well, come and look where we are. But when you need food, clothing and so on, where do you get the supplies from? It's from the country; it's from the people that are out doing the hard work that supply the needs of the urban city. You couldn't even grow a carrot in the city.
Those are the things that we have to realize. The essentials that we need are not always in the city. But that's the reality of the whole situation.
I'm sorry I am taking up so much of your time, but I will tell you, I wasn't written down to be here, but I came -- because it is for my community -- to let you know that my community needs the services to be able to communicate because it wasn't us that made it essential. Now that it is essential, we need it in the community because we didn't have to go 100 miles before to go to a doctor. All those kinds of things that have changed for us as First Nations, now we have become dependant on a lot of things that we weren't dependant on before.
Even to communicate with the Department of Indian Affairs, they should realize that we need to have proper communication; you know, all those things that people take for granted.
I don't want to speak for everybody here, but I think that the people that are living in rural areas are very essential for Canada and for B.C. because they are the main suppliers of a lot of things that are -- what would you call it -- enjoyed in the city.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much to the three of you.
Thank you, Chief.
THE SECRETARY: Could I ask Nick Sardy, Cathryn Wellner on behalf of Louis Helbick, and Richard T. Wright to come forward, please.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon to the three of you.
THE SECRETARY: Nick Sardy, would you start, please.
MR. SARDY: Good afternoon.
My name is Nick Sardy. I also wear many hats to cover up my balding spot.
I'm here on behalf of the B.C. Science Council, central interior.
I'm also here on behalf of the Williams Lake Community Access, soon to be society, looking after the access program.
I am also an ISP in Williams Lake.
Three and a half years ago I introduced the Internet to Williams Lake; I brought it in. It was a new phenomenon and we thought that it would be a great idea to sort of bring Williams Lake up into the 19th Century. Notice I didn't say 20th Century, because I went around finding out that people were still using old XTs and AT computers at that time and that made it very difficult to connect to the Internet.
Needless to say, as time progressed, over the first two years of providing Internet access in Williams Lake I was running in the red continuously because of high cost through BC Tel and so forth. We are in our third and a half year now and things have improved.
Having said that, we are facing a whole new set of problems at this point in time.
Last August I had requested BC Tel for five extra phone lines. January 1st they came around and offered me one because somebody moved out of the apartment upstairs and they stole theirs and gave me the phone line.
Then I talked to the planning department some more and they promised me that they would bring me more phone lines by the middle of March. I waited patiently. Meanwhile my clients kept saying, "We are getting business signals. We need more lines. Blah, blah, blah."
Well, the middle of March came around; I called up because the service date was there. Nobody was coming. They told me: Well, it's not going to be now until about the middle or the end of May. I was a little bit frustrated and upset, so I started climbing up the ladder of command. I finally got to somebody who was a little more sympathetic and promised me he would look into it and get right on it.
To make a long story short, they did bring finally the 100 pair of phone lines that I had requested a long time before into my building and fixed up the extra lines, in the process of course killing three of them, which for three weeks my customers were just getting dialling signals and no connection.
Meanwhile, all this time I have been waiting, Sympatico comes into town. This to me was highly unethical, me waiting for phone lines, and meanwhile Sympatico comes in and: Hey, now we can get some clients. To make matters worse, my establishment is right across the street from BC Tel, right in the middle of town.
I had been talking to the planning department, if you can call it that at BC Tel in Williams Lake, told them that before the year is out I will be requiring a fibre in my shop. When they laid the 100 pair of phone lines in, guess what? They never bothered putting in the fibre line. So this again is going to be another extra cost.
Okay, that's the end of that part of my story.
Being an Internet service provider, we also provide Web sites. We have the Williams Lake home page at "wlake.com" and as such we have put the city on line, we put all the communities, we are connected with the community access program, and so forth. We also advertise for a number of remote resort areas, a number of which provide satellite telephone numbers and answering service telephone numbers and an e-mail address, which I look after for them so that when somebody mails for a request of information I would then call them up and give them this information and they can mail it out and get in touch with the people.
This is business.
Recently I got a number of e-mail for one particular resort on Quesnel Lake, I go to call, an Indian band in the area now has that satellite telephone number. I called the answering service and find out that it is no longer in operation. I have absolutely no way of getting a hold of the resort to tell them they have clients that want to use their facility.
Now, why does this happen? They have no access to telephone out there and they are providing a very important aspect to commerce to B.C. This is happening more and more.
Also, I have another sort of client that is used to the big city fast access, of course, and they come to me and say: When are you going to get 56K modems in? They are all excited; we finally got more lines in now and I put some 56K modems, but they are finding out that they can't travel at that speed because it is all analog lines. And talk to BC Tel about digital and you have to be made of gold to be able to get that; and forget ISDN or anything else that's faster.
So we are at a real impasse even in the middle of town. I'm not even going to talk about the rural areas that have party lines. The ones that have recently got private phone lines, the fastest they can go is 14.4 because the switching system has not been upgraded. So the problem is still very, very serious.
It seems to me the federal and provincial governments have an incredible push on employment because more businesses are shutting down, more people get laid off, so there are hundreds and hundreds of people out there looking for work or trying to come up with some kind of employment not to drain society through unemployment or social services. What happens is that with the Internet they can actually establish businesses, provided they had access to these phone lines.
Now, everybody is talking about the costs involved and, yes, there are an incredible number of costs involved.
When I opened up, my centre was initially a training facility to teach people how to use a computer. I lived 40 miles out of town, 10 miles past hydro and forget telephone. I became an Internet service provider and I still lived out there with no telephone for the first year and a half, almost two years, before we were forced to move into town because there was no way I could conduct business and there was no way in the world I could afford to get hydro and telephone out there.
So now I have a nice beautiful farm -- if anybody wants to buy a farm -- out there because I can't work out of there. And there are all kinds of people in the same situation.
So my idea is this. We are spending an incredible amount of money on research, on studies, studies on how to put communication in this community and in that community. There is all kinds of money being spent on various projects. It seems to me that if some kind of a reorganization could be made where this study money can be put towards "make work" programs to put in hydro poles, to put in phone lines, then BC Tel or whatever company can look after the servicing and the maintenance. It is that initial cost that costs so much.
So it seems to me that instead of spending all this extra money on studying this, it could be put towards actually putting in those bloody phone poles and stringing the lines. It would also put an incredible number of people to work, as well as open up a whole new community on the Internet and a variety of businesses which do work.
That's all I have to say.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Mr. Sardy.
May I ask, in your view, how should the costs be shared for the construction of those facilities?
MR. SARDY: Right now, from what I understand, BC Tel puts on studies, the government puts on studies and, please excuse me, I don't mean to offend, but it must cost to have you people here going around the country finding out what people want. Now, I don't know how many other places you have been so far, but I don't think you need to go to more than two or three sessions like this to find out what the problem is. I'm sure you already know what the problem is, even without listening to us. This just confirms, by all means, okay.
But all of this money, instead of spending towards various "make work" programs, organize it into this communications program where the money, instead of spending it on travel, spend it on buying poles, spend it on recruiting unemployed workers, recruiting laid-off mill workers. They don't want to be laid off. They are closing down mines everywhere. All those people need employment. They are used to heavy construction; that's what they want to continue doing. I'm sure they would be more than willing to provide that kind of support.
I know you will find, especially in the rural areas, that everybody is willing to chip in to get this communication going. It seems to me that there has to be a way.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Thank you.
MR. SARDY: Okay.
THE SECRETARY: I will ask Cathryn Wellner to present next on behalf of Louis Helbick.
MS WELLNER: Louis Helbick is an economist, and the first half of his presentation is dealing with urban versus rural economics.
I'm going to leave that with Marguerite, but I will read for you the second half of his presentation which deals with telecommunications.
Modern telecommunications technology, based on an up-to-date telecommunications technology, presents us with a unique opportunity to overcome our greatest barrier to economic development, our huge land mass. We have with this technology an opportunity to develop a network of communication which can foster the types of interaction information exchange and communication which I argue are the catalysts for true sustainable economic development.
The Internet and the amenities it provides, the World Wide Web, use net, e-mail, gives everyone, whether rural or urban, a domain where ideas and innovations can be fostered and cultivated through contact and communication with others in our own region in Canada or even somewhere else in the world.
In one fell technological swoop -- remember the Web is only seven years old -- it has become possible to create an urban imagination without urban conditions. Rural residents are no longer doomed to playing a peripheral role in the world economy. If they are allowed the same access to telecommunications infrastructure as their urban cousins, they can be front and centre in the economic processes in this country.
The CRTC has many varied detailed considerations to make. Undoubtedly, the Commission has heard and will continue to hear from telecom companies, making long, detailed presentations to justify limitations in competition or justify rate increases. It also has to wade through a morass of technicalities in attempting to control an industry which is inherently monopolistic.
At its simplest form, it is silly to allow every company a line into everyone's house. While still wanting to promote competition and the resultant efficiencies and improvements in service, I cannot even begin to compete with the telecommunications companies and their comprehensive presentations, nor do I have the resources to make anything more than simplistic suggestions.
The only pitch I can make is a general one. From the Canadian perspective, the CRTC is the most important shepherd in the telecommunications revolution. The CRTC can decide what direction the telecommunications revolution will take for rural and urban Canadians. The CRTC can decide whether or not rural Canadians will be provided the opportunity to become participants in that great hive of human interaction that has heretofore only been available to urban residents.
The CRTC can decide whether or not rural Canadians will be afforded the opportunity to free themselves from their peripheral economic dependants. I sincerely hope that the CRTC will consider the economic repercussions that a continued limitation of telecommunication services will have on the economy of rural Canada. The CRTC is in a position to remove the "urban" out of the term "urban imagination". It can, as never before, allow rural Canadians the same access to the most important resource of our economy -- information -- an instant communication with virtually anyone, anywhere in the world.
As active participants in the development of our collective imagination, the necessary stuff of economic development, rural Canadians can, if the CRTC allows it, finally take a proactive role creating a sustainable, secure future for themselves.
That's Louis Helbick.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Richard T. Wright, please.
MR. WRIGHT: Thank you.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
My name is Richard Wright. I'm here representing ourselves, the GrassRoots Consulting Group in Williams Lake, and Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce.
Before I begin the written part of my submission, I would like to add two preambles to it.
One is that it is with some reluctance that I mention some of the problems we are having when a number of people here don't have telephones at all. So, please, if there is a choice to be made, give those without telephones the telephones before you give us the upgrades.
Secondly, Nick's point about people being willing to do things it the Cariboo, if you know our geography at all, there is a long road that goes from Anahim Lake to Bella Coola that wasn't built by the provincial government. It was built by volunteers who wanted to reach each other. So we have that kind of a tradition here.
We appreciate your making the effort to appear here in the rural north to listen to our concerns and certainly appreciate you moving it from Prince Rupert, which is much more difficult for us to get to. Although, to most of us here Prince George is not rural; Prince George is urban and far from the problems that we have with telecommunications.
There is a story told about a street child who was standing on the corner begging for spare change -- just a very young child. A businessman walked by, a successful businessman. We know he was successful because he had a cell phone.
He was appalled that a child should be begging, homeless and hungry. When he got home, after he had dinner and a drink, he railed at his God. "How could you allow something like that to continue", he said. "Why don't you do something to help this girl and others like here?"
Then, from the depths of his being came the reply from his God, "I did; I created you."
We are the waifs of the telecommunications community, but our Supreme Being in Ottawa sent you to help us. So thanks for coming.
At least that's what we believe.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Being originally from Quebec, it's a bit strange that I'm being associated with --
MR. WRIGHT: I just spent two weeks with a fine young lady from CBC in Quebec and we compared notes about Quebec and British Columbia and found that we indeed had a lot in common.
Some of you may live in wooden houses. Perhaps minerals like gold or copper are part of your life. Some of you may even eat beef or lamb, although those two words shouldn't be in one sentence.
Some of you may use electricity. If so, you are using the resources and the crops that come from rural Canada.
My secretary put my paper upside down here.
We like to think that by supplying these goods and services, these basic resources, we are as important as the urban population, but it often becomes clear to us that we are not.
One smack up the side of the head we keep getting to let us know we are not important is with telecommunications.
My family chose a rural lifestyle for a number of reasons, but we did not choose an area without electricity or telephones. We were not back to the landers in the old sense, wanting to leave technology behind. We knew that they were going to be important to us and that was part of the choice that we made.
What we didn't know, could not have known, is that we were choosing an area that was becoming more and more marginalized by failing, dead-end communications. Failing in that we have those constant interruptions in telecommunication links due to poor lines -- 14.4 is fast for us -- dead-end in that our exchange, the 296 exchange, has no more phone lines available. None.
Can you imagine in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, being told there are no more lines for two years or longer, that your business can't expand, that you will not be able to call for help? I don't think so. 911 is just a dream. For many of the folks here, they just want a phone.
So now that our own consulting business has grown, now that the communications companies and our clients have convinced us that we need the Internet and e-mail and faxes, we cannot get more phone lines. Perhaps in 1999 we are told.
Many of our neighbours are on party lines. Our new neighbours don't have a phone at all. One ranching neighbour decided that a way to improve their economic life was to host a computer log auction, something like the TEAM auctions for cattle that I am sure you are familiar with. The only problem was that he could not get another phone line. So they had to rent an office in Williams Lake in order to get a phone line. A rather expensive way to get a simple business line.
That may not sound too important if you are not one of our neighbours. But like it or not, it is tough to do business without a telephone these days, and it is tough to call an ambulance or a fire truck without a phone line.
Now, this small business is where the Chamber of Commerce comes in. We are a resource-based community who are losing dozens of jobs by the week. Resources are in a tailspin right now. We need all the small business we can get. But even in Williams Lake, a city of 11,000, a trading area of 35,000, 2.5 hours south of here we have trouble getting lines.
As Nick has mentioned, he has a standing order for more phone lines.
During the last election, one of our party offices was told they could not have phones unless there were cancellations. A political party could not get phones. That affects our basic principles of democracy, I think.
Fortunately, I guess, enough businesses closed that they got their lines.
That's the good news and the bad news I guess.
We are here in part to give you our feedback on high-cost service areas. I have trouble getting my mind around that idea that we are a high-cost serving area, when all the old stuff is dumped here.
BC Tel tells us that's not the case. The field workers tell us that it is.
Why on earth should we pay more for old copper lines, failing switches, static filled lines, poor repair service, long waits for any service, and no possibility of upgrades for years? Why should we pay more for that?
High cost? Look at the cost of the people travelling here today or, as Nick said, of you folks being here. We have all given up a day's pay. The cost to our small consulting company alone is over $1,500 in lost income and expenses. Multiply that by all of those who came. That's high cost. How many urban people have to travel for hours and take a whole day to argue for basic phone service and fair rates?
I think there would be more people here today but for a few reasons. Some people simply cannot close their businesses to attend. Others are baffled by the telecommunications terminology. How does a hearing on high-cost service areas relate to the average person? It's sometimes difficult to explain the concepts.
Some believe the press releases coming out of BC Tel's communications office and believe that those upgrades they have been promised are just a month or two away. I don't.
Others have simply given up trying and trying, after trying and trying for years. They see the only hope is the hope of the boxer who was being beaten to a pulp who staggered back to his corner and fell into his manager's arms. Lowering him to his stool the manager said, "Don't quit now. Try to hang on for another round. I think what he is doing to you is beginning to sicken him."
So they hang on for one more round, one more month, one more year, one more promise, one more disappointment, one more tragedy, as we have heard today.
Yes, there have been improvements, and we are grateful for that. Some outlying areas have phones and because of that fewer children will die, and that's good. But there is a long way to go.
Our outlying areas need basic phones. Our rural areas need the same services as urban areas, maybe clean data lines. How about call alert or call display? We don't want to pay more; we have paid enough. Some of our neighbours have paid with their blood. That's enough.
Do you remember the Olympics at Lake Placid? There was a Canadian skier there, Ken Read. He was the leading contender for the downhill gold medal. With one successful run, it was going to be his. At the starting signal, he blasted from the gate with a massive applause from the crowd and within one second was struck with horror, knowing at that moment he was not going to wind a gold medal. One second. That was how long it took him to realize he had only strapped on one ski.
That's how we feel in rural Canada. We are not trying to win the race, but we would like to keep up with the others, and it is damned hard with only one ski on.
So you, the CRTC, our representatives, can help us keep up. If you have the will, and we believe that you do, you can help us strap on that other ski. Who knows? Maybe by doing that Canada will win a gold.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter today is Steve Hilbert.
MR. HILBERT: Thank you for coming to Prince George and not Prince Rupert.
You have demonstrated that you are listening. I know you got lots of letters about the choice of venue because the one I sent to you said that only someone in Ottawa would schedule a meeting of provincial importance at the end of the longest dead-end road in the province.
So I brought you a gift. I brought you a telephone here. It may not work well, but it works better than a lot of the phones that my neighbours have, or don't have.
I'm speaking for myself because some of my opinions may not be shared by the people I work with, but I always went by that axiom that if you think global you can act loco.
Right now in Quesnel, this very day, there is another Commission happening and it is on provincial electoral boundaries. Right now the people in the Cariboo North riding, they have 32 per cent fewer people than the provincial average, so they are down there petitioning for their right to have representation in Victoria. So I asked a friend of mine down there to read my letter to that Commission so that I could make a personal statement to this Commission.
It is something to think about: Just how similar are the issues and the arguments before these two Commissions?
I have called my submission to you "A High-Cost Serving Area -- The Very Name Reflects the Bias".
I would like to begin with a quote from David Suzuki:
"The most destructive aspect of cities is the profound chasm created between human being and nature. In a human-made environment surrounded by animals and plants of our choice, we feel we have escaped the limits of nature. Weather and climate impinge on our lives with far less immediacy. Food is often highly processed and comes in packages revealing little of its origins in the soil or telltale signs of blemishes, blood, feathers or scales. We forget the source of our water and energy, the destination of our garbage and our sewage. We forget that as biological beings we are as dependant on clean air and water, uncontaminated soil, and biodiversity as any other creature.
Cut off from the sources of our food and water, and the consequences of our way of life, we imagine a world under our control and will risk or sacrifice almost anything to make sure our way of life continues. As cities continue to increase around the world policy decisions will more and more reflect the illusory bubble we have come to believe is reality.
As we distance ourselves further from the natural world we are increasingly surrounded by and dependant on our own inventions. We have become enslaved by the constant demands of technology created to serve us. Consider our response to the insistence of a ringing telephone." (As read)
These are the unaltered words of a passage from David Suzuki's book "The Sacred Balance" which was published last year. Suzuki might well have been writing them for this hearing, named the Regional Public Hearing on Telephone Service to High-Cost Serving Areas.
High-cost serving area. Not the resource base, not the area of wealth production, not an inseparable appendage of the body of humanity, not the last link to the natural world, not the escape valve for pent-up city dwellers, not mother earth, but instead a financial liability.
High-cost serving area. A handy label to insulate us from the issue at stake. A euphemism, such as collateral damage, environmental trade off, global competition, rate rebalancing, or final solution.
High-cost serving area, where, as we quote, "move away from monopolistic, re bad environment, to a competitive one, re good". It is problematic to try and stiff the fingers with the cost of pumping blood from the heart.
High-cost serving area. My home.
Rate rebalancing. It is kind of like a teenager saying to his mother: What have you done for me lately? It is like a farmer not feeding his plough horse in February because he doesn't need him until April. It is taking a magnifying glass to the law which clearly states, and I quote:
"To render reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas, in all regions of Canada." (As read)
And trying to find the loopholes and weasel words that will enable the corporations to hasten the destruction of rural Canada by bleeding off yet more profits from the country to the city. And not just Canada's cities in this highly, globally competitive world.
There is another way. Suzuki talks about it in his book "The Sacred Balance". It involves rediscovering our place in nature. It involves recognizing that bottom-line economics/decisions are not the basis for long-term sustainability. It means taking a broad view as to the value of rural telecommunications in the prospering of our country.
When the choices are so clear cut, it is particularly galling to get run over by lemmings as they stampede for the cliff.
I know that there are many rationales for going with the flow, but what I sincerely request here is that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission look beyond the direction of the flow and consider its destination.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
And that is for us?
MR. HILBERT: That's your phone, yes.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
I would propose now, not only for our court reporter but for all of us, a little pause of 10 minutes, please.
--- Recessed at 15:56/Suspension à 15:56
--- Resumed at 16:15/Reprise à 16:15
THE CHAIRPERSON: So we will continue now that we have some energy from our coffee.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter is Gwyndolyn Nicholas on behalf of the East Ootsa residents.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
MS NICHOLAS: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming today.
I would like to say hello to everyone listening in and to send support to all those people presenting their concerns today.
I'm representing the East Ootsa community. It is a big task for me as it is 25 households, the East Ootsa community.
East Ootsa is located between Prince George and Smithers, south of Burns Lake.
I would like to run through our presentation for you starting with the history of our request for phone service.
We fall within a high-cost service area.
It began in 1972 when the ARD was supposed to provide telephone service and electricity to people living along East Ootsa, our community. Electricity was provided, but telephone service was not.
We have kept records as a community since 1995 on correspondence between people in the community, the parties of BC Tel, the Regional District Bulkley-Nechako, which we fall under, our local, provincial and federal MLAs. Believe me, we have done a lot of work to request phone service.
We were told by BC Tel in 1985, when they had done a feasibility study, that the cost of telephone services to our area would be in excess of $250,000. A breakdown of these costs was not provided. We are less than eight kilometres away from the nearest landline phone.
So we have been requesting the phone service from that time.
Of course these costs are way too prohibitive for our community, and we have been looking into ways that phone service could be provided more realistically.
Looking at the telephone service provided to the surrounding rural area, Cheslatta, Tatalrose, Wistaria, and so on, through information provided by the residents of these areas, their costs were not more than $500 for installation of landline single or party-line service.
We were told after the CRTC looked into this concern of prohibitive cost that this cost did not seem unreasonable in following with the guidelines of BC Tel.
Since that time we have looked into subsidies and grants. In 1989, we looked for the possibility of grants, but even though we had quite a considerable amount of financial help, nothing came of phone service.
As recent as 1993, when we had a meeting with BC Tel and the Regional District, we were told that to get phone service, landline phone service, it would cost $13,000 per household.
This is on page 9 and 10, the history.
Since 1993, BC Tel has provided two pay phones where the current telephone line ends, and that's less -- it's around eight to 32 kilometres from where we live along East Ootsa.
So since 1992, East Ootsa has been underserved, as phone service has not proven to be reliable via radio phone or autotel; and there has been considerable effort and time taken to look into possibilities for telephone service.
We were told by the CRTC to write down or outline our presentation showing what the obligations of the phone service provider would be, what subsidies could be found, and what our complaints were on our current phone service. We have outlined these.
We believe that installation in comparison to surrounding rural areas should be reasonable. We believe that our service should be basic landline service, with touchtone service, 1-800 service, no licensing fees, and user fees equal to existing rural landline single service, based on the concept of reliable and affordable telecommunications of high quality and the upgrading of existing services to underserved areas.
You have heard this today.
For subsidies we do have something to suggest to you. We suggest that installations costs be subsidized through our local regional district, or Alcan/B.C. government's joint Northern Development grant. We ourselves are looking into this subsidy and it is extremely difficult without reliable phone service. The attention and action of the CRTC and Stentor Resource Centre Inc. is required, as these grants are available now and delay would prevent an outcome.
As other people have spoken on radio phone service, costs have been increasing and they have been cutting back on channels for radio phone. Probably half of the community use radio phone, which has not proven reliable, and probably half of the community use autotel, and some households do not have phone service at all.
Autotel is very expensive, prohibitively expensive, and the cost for us is, in a sense -- these services seem so outdated, especially the radio phone service, and there is nothing to take its place. We have written down these complaints.
I'm sure as you have heard from other people, our pay phone also doesn't provide us with the phone service we require. It is six to 36 kilometres away for use. We don't have doors or lights, so in minus 30 weather, making a phone call, which you do to make business, is very difficult to do or prohibitive; or when you have a hot, muggy day and the bugs are biting you, you know, taking you away almost alive, this is a very difficult thing for us to use. So the complaints are listed as well.
The reasons for requesting reliable and affordable phone service we have also listed. We have spent considerable time and effort into looking into solutions for reliable phone service. And we have spent considerable time and effort in meetings with BC Tel, at the Regional District in Burns Lake, in Prince George, in private meetings and communication with nothing in result.
For 26 years, landline phone service has been promised to the East Ootsa residents. In the last 15 years of petitioning no solutions have been reached to provide phone service. With the considerable time and effort, we need to get some answers. We need to know what is going on and what is going to be provided.
This is an economically-depressed area due to unreliability of phone service. As you have heard from other presenters, it is almost impossible to establish and maintain clientele, inform residents of job openings, and in the promotion of services provided by the local residents; they are not able to inform people of what their services are.
There has been inconsistent provision of phone service. We are not satisfied with the phone service we are receiving, and we believe in this day and age we should be getting reliable phone service.
As the Stentor Resource group representing BC Tel has stated for their ability to provide landline service by the year 2001, we hold these people accountable. We require phone service. It should be a basic service.
I think I have covered everything. There are four other people who have come with me from East Ootsa. I will just check with them.
Have I covered everything you wanted to say?
Okay. Thank you very much for your time.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter we have down as John Kerr on behalf of Petrus Rykes.
Mr. Kerr, how would you like to proceed? Would you like to wait until later?
MR. J. KERR: My understanding was that because of what we said when we started the proceedings that we are going to wait. I'm going to put that off until the end of the evening.
THE SECRETARY: All right. Thank you.
MR. J. KERR: Thank you for asking me again.
THE SECRETARY: Then I would like to call Dave Wright, please.
Is Dave Wright in the room?
MR. J. KERR: The Tatlayoko Think Tank would have been speaking for Dave Wright also.
THE SECRETARY: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't have that -- and West Chilcotin Trading Ltd.?
MR. J. KERR: Right.
THE SECRETARY: Okay. I didn't have that noted.
MR. J. KERR: Another neighbour of mine going to my friends.
THE SECRETARY: You see why I want to check.
THE SECRETARY: Then I would like to call Fred Williams along with John West Jr. and Alex West on behalf of Betty Patrick, Chief of Lake Babine Nation.
Would you come forward, please.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon, and welcome to the proceedings.
MR. J. WEST: Thank you.
My name is John West Jr. and I'm from Fort Babine. I'm affiliated with the Lake Babine Nation and Fort Babine is one of our amalgamation communities.
I will just give a brief background of the Lake Babine Nation.
Lake Babine Nation, or sometimes referred to by other First Nations as Narotin people, is one of the three largest Indian nations, sometimes referred to as bands, bands in British Columbia. The band is situated 142 miles west of Prince George with a total membership of over 1,800. The band has 27 reserve lands and five which are inhabited year round.
Prior to 1957 the nation has two separate bands, the Old Fort Band and the Fort Babine Band, both situated on Babine Lake. At the time, approximately 12 communities were inhabited year round.
On June 12th, 1957, the Department of Indian Affairs amalgamated the two bands to form what is now known as the Lake Babine Nation.
Presently, the Lake Babine Nation Council is comprised of a chief, deputy chief and eight councillors that are elected for a three-year term under the band custom election system. One councillor from Old Fort, two councillors from Fort Babine, two councillors from Tachet, and four councillors from Woyenne Reserve.
There is a Council of Elders comprised of approximately 16 hereditary chiefs who advises the Nation Council at regular monthly council meetings, council portfolio meetings and act as liaison between the Nation Council and the hereditary chiefs. With the support of the Nation Council and under the leadership of the Council of Elders, the Office of the Hereditary Chiefs was established with the understanding that this office will take prime leadership on matters relating to: natural resources; language and culture; trapping, fishing and hunting; land claims and self-determination -- now you know it as a treaty.
There is five communities that are inhabited year round. Fort Babine is an isolated community. It's 70 miles north of Smithers.
Presently we have a satellite phone which doesn't work half of the time. We have another satellite phone in our clinic that is from Alberta.
I will just let Fred talk on Fort Babine.
MR. WILLIAMS: Good afternoon.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon, Mr. Williams.
MR. WILLIAMS: At this time, the nature of Fort Babine is an isolated, remote area 72 miles north of Smithers, B.C. Our closest town is Smithers, B.C. accessed only by a gravel road.
We are living in a unique situation because of the resources that is all around us. We have timber, rich timber; we have fish harvesting; we have mining; we have tourism. And yet we have our school, our new clinic.
Presently, right now, we only have one line existing, our radio phone, which is unreliable. It goes on the blink during the hot summer's sun because of the sun's rays.
There is no confidentiality on this phone. When we have health representatives at our health clinic where we have a DNA Council where business is really important of confidentiality. Because of no confidentiality, the business itself cannot be effective if we have power outages numerous times.
The phone is only accessible during working hours. We had a lot of emergencies -- we have lost lots of members, lost lives, we had some elders, we had a newborn child, we had some house fires -- where we cannot contact an outside agency to come in and assist us.
Those are the ongoing issues in our day.
Since government activities are moving up further north, I think it is wise to install proper telephone communication because tourism, mining, the forest sector, and fishing are just expanding, expanding enormously.
"Fort Babine administrative offices [are] currently serviced by a Radio Telephone system with no privacy."
I'm just reading off this memo:
"The new Health clinic is now being served by a satellite phone at the cost of $2500 a month. On many occasions these systems shut down for a variety of reasons and has proved to be unreliable and expensive.
CRTC should closely examine areas where high employment exist and work with government agencies to ensure that the HEALTH AND SAFETY for those communities is equalized to those that live in the urban centers. CRTC should also insist to [the] government that in the event there are ... [such] imbalances of communication services, to any community, a step up of a backup plan such as a reliable First Responder program should be established."
Those are the problems that we have as an isolated community.
It's funny because I hear about people really looking at the communication highway. We are so far behind, we are still trying to step into the reality of -- to have a proper phone service in place. Our lives depend on that; our business depends on that. In this day and age, I think the government officials, with our resources that are blooming, I think it is wise to install a proper communication for their benefit as well as the business at hand to go ahead.
Also, when a nation is doing business or for any organization that does business, proper communication is very important. I think this is the step that we need to take.
We have been struggling to present these kind of issues for a long time now. This is nothing new to us. This presentation has been going on for so long and I think it is about time that we, as a Fort Babine or a Lake Babine representative, I'm glad to sit down with you people here to express our concerns and our needs.
That's very important; our lives depend on it. Our business must go on. We have lots of business that's really coming up: our Treaty, our business our school.
You take our school, for example, we are getting a new school this coming June. I think isolated communities should have access to information, telecommunication highways for the classroom, because in the long run I think the government really saves money. I think it benefits the telephone companies because business at hand is blooming down the road. I think it is wise that we look at the instalment of proper communication to be there when the business really becomes reality.
I hope I can stress enough of our difficulties with our communication system. We need that very badly now, at this time and age, because it is very essential that we do have access, proper access to telephone communication to be installed within our communities.
We have the lake, the largest natural lake in B.C., that's Lake Babine. We have communities all around Lake Babine.
We have Smithers Landing. We have non-natives living in Smithers Landing where there is about two to 300 residents living there, and business must move along in that area as well. They are also looking into tourism. They are involved in mining. They are involved in hunting and fishing.
I speak on their behalf as well, that they need to move ahead with their business so that government officials will communicate with us or those people around the lake so that the communication can be established so business can go on.
I would like to thank you for listening to my presentation.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
MR. A. WEST: My name is Alex West, Woyenne Councillor from Lake Babine Nation.
Woyenne I.R. #27 is the Nation's largest community which is located within the municipal boundaries of the Village of Burns Lake. The reserve area is 188 acres in size, with a growing population of more than 1,000 in some 136 homes. The Nation central administration office is located on the Woyenne Reserve.
This community emerged as a result of members being moved by the DIA from Pendleton Bay in the 1950s and 1960s to Burns Lake. Since Woyenne is located outside our traditional territory, the majority of our members have been expressing the desire of returning to their homeland around Babine Lake area.
Each year more an more residents from Woyenne are building their seasonal residences within their respective traditional territory around Babine Lake. In addition, a few have returned full time to reside on traditional lands. Our Council, in response to the movement, are responsible for the health and safety of its members by ensuring that adequate communication exists with the service centres in the event of emergencies.
To a large extent, our Nation believes that the CRTC is also responsible for the health and safety of all Canadians by establishing reliable and affordable communication in areas where it is needed and requested.
Fort Babine is where we are originally from, the mother reserve, as well as the Old Fort community, where we call it Nedoats. It's isolated where you can go in by either a plane or a boat. But for Fort Babine, we have a bridge now and there is hydro, but we need this telephone system that we need to put in place.
Last year I was riding in a boat with one of the non-native friends. We were going to visit my brother-in-law. I looked at him and he said, "You know, he is making a smoke signal. What is he saying?" I said, "I don't know. He has pretty bad spelling. I couldn't make it out."
And other time we catch the fire department or the forestry, so we stopped using smoke signals.
As the Lake Babine Nation, we would like to request -- I guess back in 1996, BC Tel met with Lake Babine Nation, with our previous chief and council. At the time, they quoted $455,000 for this telephone system to go in. That quote was only good for 90 days. So I imagine this would probably double or triple the amount of cost that it's going to take to put this telephone system into Fort Babine.
As you have heard from Fred and John, there is a lot of confidential phone calls that you need to do and you can't pretty well say it on the radio phones.
Or a lot of times the phone doesn't work. A lot of times we tried to phone there and there is no way to contact them because a lot of times it is not in service. If it is in service, a lot of times it is busy and it is really hard for us to communicate on one line system where it is very unreliable.
There are 27 reserves on the lake, Fort Babine, Babine Lake, and there are a lot of these communities that are being inhabited now. Especially during the summer a lot of them go back to their homelands.
Burns Lake is not really our community, but a lot of the people went there because of the jobs. Hopefully -- a lot of them they want to go back to their homelands -- I would like to see that there is good communication, especially in the area of telephone so that it would be reliable. We hope to see that come to pass in the near future.
So thank you for your time to listen to us today as we present to the CRTC.
MR. WILLIAMS: I would also like to add that in the numerous past years previous chief and council were being supported by the Department of Indian Affairs to put their share into this proposal. At the back of our presentation package you will see all the information that took place. The support from Indian Affairs, the support from previous agencies that were conducted are all in the back of our package. It is still ongoing support there for us.
We are just moving ahead, lighting this whole thing up with the CRTC. I hope that we can enter into some sort of a good agreement in the future so that the telephone system could become a reality one day for our community.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
MR. J. WEST: I also would like to add, Dave Hooper was supposed to do his presentation here today, too, from Smithers Landing. They are willing to cost share with Fort Babine.
Also, with Old Fort community, there are 27 buildings that are going up and they are going to cost share with Fort Babine. I'm not sure how many clients Dave Hooper has.
Besides Dave Hooper, there are members from Smithers that are living on Babine Lake, possibly 20 residents that live in the Smithers area or the Smithers Landing area that are willing to cost share with us.
The other one is Donalds Landing and Sunnyside. They are all developing their reserves in the near future, in the next couple of years. So they are willing to cost share with the department.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you.
Certainly someone was here from Smithers Landing this morning, so I wanted to pursue that with you and follow up. He certainly did say that they are also interested in getting phone service.
So it sounds like you have quite a community coalition who want to move in this direction. I just wanted to clarify -- and certainly I will look at your presentation, I know we all will -- that the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development is willing to participate in cost sharing to make this a reality. Is that correct?
We just had some conflicting information about whether or not the department participates, and I just wasn't clear.
MR. J. WEST: When we met with BC Tel in 1996, they were willing to put $500,000 towards the project, and the rest will come from the Lake Babine Nation.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much. I appreciate your coming today.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Our next presenter this afternoon is Virginia Karr, and she is on her way.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon, Ms Karr. Certainly we appreciate you coming all that way, especially being handicapped. Thank you for participating.
MS KARR: I got all dressed up for this. I got a new cast.
I am speaking for Crescent Spur Loos Community Association which you have had some stuff from Crescent Spur already. When they are talking about not having phones, I remember well. I remember what it was like to have all your I.D. and a million pieces of paper stuck on that little triangle thing on the pay phone and have the wind come up and blow the whole works away. There are few things more frustrating. I had to replace half my I.D. one time over that.
It is really tough and I think these First Nations communities should certainly get the service, and they shouldn't get second-class service. They should get top-of-the-line service instead of stuff that BC Tel might have in a back closet.
Crescent Spur Loos is a community between McBride and Prince George and is served by what BC Tel terms the "Loos" exchange, as opposed to "tight" exchange, I guess, which according to the Prince George telephone directory includes 44 hookups, including three fax machines. Now, our latest bill stated that we are now charged $17.30 for access to those phones, plus seven per cent G.S.T., for a total of $18.58 monthly, which works out to 42 cents a month per phone to which we have access.
In the lower mainland where there are over a million hookups, the basic charge is a little higher, $24.70, or $26.43 with tax. If my algebra holds up long enough, in the lower mainland, for the same 42 cents that gives me access to a single phone or fax machine, I would have access to roughly 17,000 phones or fax machines. Thus, a loonie spent for our local telephone service is about six-thousandths of a per cent as efficient as one spent down south. That's not a real equitable bang for the buck.
Who subsidizes who? Obviously we are the high-paying people. Perhaps this business of subsidization should be looked into a little more carefully, with spending that kind of money, pouring money in. Most places, one can call stores, hospitals, doctors, lawyers, market suppliers and a host of Internet providers without having to pay long-distance charges.
From Crescent Spur, I have access to none of the above. I cannot phone a single store as a local call. Few people in Surrey or New Westminster can imagine having to use a long distance just to make an appointment with a general practitioner for a child with a sore throat.
Crescent Spur Loos is an area rich with possibilities and one that is changing from dependence on forestry to one based on a multiplicity of activities, only limited by imagination, willingness to work and the quality of our communications.
Economists such as Ray Rafskin and Ben Alexander of the Sonoran Institute who have studied communities such as ours, have shown that if they are to adjust to the realities of 21st-century commerce, complete with globalization and all its advantages and pitfalls, they must be linked to suppliers and markets with the best communications system available.
To supply our communications requirements, the Robson Valley, from Dunster to Dome Creek, should be linked internally to Prince George, with two-way local phoning. At the very least, the Loos exchange should have two-way local phoning to both Prince George and McBride. Mileage limitation on local service areas seems absurd to us, since Prince George, at between 70 and 100 miles away, receives and re-directs all our outgoing calls anyway, as our system stands. Prince George is the closest large community and it is where we do business. And that's an area where the CRTC can certainly change their ruling, because BC Tel tells us that we can't have local phoning to Prince George because the CRTC says we can't because it's too far away, even though our calls go there anyway.
Then there is the issue of our exchange. Five years ago when it was constructed, BC Tel assured our community that we would receive state-of-the-art equipment. Now, this does not appear to have been the case. The system is unreliable in cold weather, either not working at all, or calls falling off, and some customers have repeatedly reported noise, rather like a wind, that interferes with communication and appears impossible to fix.
Faxing and receiving faxes is often difficult or impossible, and parts of a whole exchange can be off for a week at a time. Also, because of the baud rate at which the current equipment transmits information, we are virtually cut off from Internet. There is a single Internet provider, but it's very, very expensive and very, very cumbersome to use, and anyone who uses it tends to just do e-mail and nothing else because it's just appallingly expensive.
Several technicians have told many of us that the switch that links or doesn't link us with the outside world was outdated when it was installed, and almost no one in B.C. is trained to fix or adjust it. We now question whether better equipment could have been purchased on the open market than we received for the same price which we are still paying through higher property taxes.
Finally, we have been given many conflicting answers as to whether or not or when BC Tel plans to upgrade the radio link between our exchange and the outside world, by hooking us into the fibre optic line being completed three miles away along Highway 16. BC Tel has not contacted us concerning the use of the poles on which this line is being installed.
We pay, and on our property taxes will continue to pay for another decade, for poles between our community and McBride -- that's 32 miles. At the very least, we should be connected, at the earliest possible time, to the fibre optic cable that our dollars have helped construct, and are still paying for.
In summary, we are calling for an inquiry into how the decision was made to install the current equipment, and whether it was the best decision possible at the time.
Second. Connection of the Loos Exchange into the fibre optic cable.
Third. Bi-directional local phoning within our natural telephone area: Prince George, McBride and Dunster. And no higher than urban rates.
And lastly, access to a variety of Internet providers at local telephone rates.
Thank you very much for your time.
Oh. We have been told that Hixon has local phoning to both Prince George and Cornell.
Another point is that the pay phone on the highway, because everything is long distance, people don't always have a quarter; and they have to get a tow truck or something, you know, there are problems for travellers as well.
Another problem is something that hasn't been brought up, and that is that before phones, one could get into one's car and drive somewhere and solve some sort of problem. But on roads that are primarily used for industrial uses, you are putting your life into your own hands to compete with logging traffic, at peak seasons or peak times, to drive somewhere to solve some problem. Phones are a safety measure in that way.
Thank you very much for changing the venue, and thanks for your time.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you.
I just have one question. You just made reference to the poles between, is it, Loos and McBride?
MS KARR: It's Crescent Spur and McBride, yes.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Crescent Spur. That the poles have been paid for by the residents?
MS KARR: Yes.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: And those are the poles used by the phone company?
MS KARR: Not strictly.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: But they are accessed by the phone company and others?
MS KARR: They are just stringing them up on the poles, but these are not the exact poles were paid for. As soon as we got our hydro line in, a local mine put in a dam on a local creek and he put in three face, so he had to put in higher poles, and then they pulled our poles.
The point is, those poles went somewhere else. They haven't disappeared, they were almost new. And we paid for poles. We have a value in poles along the highway, and the fibre optic line is being hung on poles.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: I was just trying to understand who owned the poles, and how people access the poles.
MS KARR: We paid for them. They belong to BC Hydro, because in the process of doing it we had to donate them, but they weren't paid for by Hydro. We have a large outstanding debt that is being -- every year it goes on all of our property taxes and is paying off this debt, but it is covering what it costs for us to get hydro into our valley.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. And good luck with your new cast. We hope you don't keep it too long.
MS KARR: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: The next presenter that we have on our list is from Vancouver. That person's name is Peter Frinton.
MS EDGE: Madam Secretary, Mr. Frinton hasn't appeared yet.
THE SECRETARY: Then can I ask you if you have seen Graeme Drew yet, Michelle?
MS EDGE: No, he hasn't arrived either.
THE SECRETARY: Not yet.
MS EDGE: No. So we don't have anyone else in the room at the moment.
THE SECRETARY: Do you have any presenters waiting at this time?
MS EDGE: Not at the moment, no.
THE SECRETARY: We will check back with you later. Thank you.
MS EDGE: Thanks.
THE SECRETARY: There is another person who wasn't here this morning I would like to see whether or not he is in the room. Neil McLean. Has Neil McLean arrived?
Then we will proceed down the list, to Sue Brown. Is Sue Brown in the room?
Ron Williams. I know you are here. Please come forward.
MR. R. WILLIAMS: Good afternoon.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon, Mr. Williams. From Williams Lake, no?
MR. R. WILLIAMS: No. Actually, I was going to say, as probably the first person from Prince George here to speak, I would like to welcome you all to Prince George.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
MR. R. WILLIAMS: My name is Ron Williams and I am here as the business agent of the Telecommunication Workers Union for the northern part of the province.
Our union represents approximately 10,000 communication workers, employed throughout the province, at BC Tel, 700 in the northern region. What I wanted to talk about today is a reduction in the workforce at BC Tel and how that affects the service to high-cost serving areas.
My area of responsibility as business agent is for the northern half of the province. I cover from Hundred Mile House in the south to Fort St. John in the north, and from the Alberta border in the east, to the Queen Charlotte Islands in the west.
Over the last ten years, with the advent of competition in the long-distance market, as well as other regulatory changes, the telephone company has reduced its unionized workforce in the eight union locals in this area, from 1,040 members in 1989, to 704 in 1998. This is a reduction of 336 employees, or 32 per cent. We believe that the CRTC has a responsibility to address the issues of deteriorating service quality and lost jobs, since both are a direct result of changed corporate priorities at BC Tel, priorities which have changed because of the CRTC-mandated competition in the telecommunications field.
The most dramatic reductions in staff have been in the smaller rural centres. For example, installation and repair forces, the folks who install telephones, have been eliminated in many of the smaller towns. There were once I&R people stationed in Hazelton, Fraser Lake, Fort St. James and Valemount, for example. These jobs have all been eliminated. As well, there have been reductions in a number of I&R people in other towns around the north.
The same is true on the network side of the operation, where there have been jobs lost in a number of small centres, such as Mackenzie, Hundred Mile House, Burns Lake, McBride and Vanderhoof. These are the people who maintain the switching equipment for the phone company. Line construction crews have been reduced or eliminated in the smaller centres. In addition, the company has closed the service centres in the outlying areas, such as Williams Lake, Terrace and Dawson Creek, resulting in there being no local contacts for customers experiencing problems.
Without these people in place, the telephone company has been unable to provide high-quality telephone service to the more remote areas, in our opinion. The company simply can't provide and maintain quality service to these customers without having employees in the region.
One of the topics for discussion here has been how the service would be paid for. In a May 1998 News Release that I saw at the back there, as well, BC Tel announced that they were partnering with the federal and provincial governments to extend telephone service to six communities in remote regions of British Columbia.
Apparently, the phone company is paying approximately two-thirds of the cost, and the government and residents are covering the rest in that agreement. Where there is a cost-sharing arrangement between the governments and the phone company to provide service, the Telecommunication Workers Union would like to see the company putting some permanent jobs back in these outlying areas.
If the phone company is going to service these areas properly, they must have a well trained workforce available in the area to respond to customer service requests and trouble reports. It makes no sense to have equipment in place, but no one around to do the work necessary to provide service to these customers. To reiterate, we would like to see any monetary concessions contingent upon the phone company making a commitment to provide good service to their customers by having workers available in the area to provide it.
We would also like to suggest to the CRTC that it set up a way for subscribers who currently don't have single-line service to be inventoried. As well, these subscribers need a process in place to communicate their service requirements to the CRTC and governments, so that these bodies can put pressure on BC Tel to satisfy their requirements. Ideally, this would result in BC Tel putting the forces in place to meet rural service requirements and go a long ways toward providing quality service to the rural customers in the area.
I think, getting away from my notes, that a lot of the talk here today has been about technology, and having this in place, and that in place. And that's all well and good, but if you don't have the people there to provide the service, especially to maintain it once it is in service, then -- people have talked here about having to wait weeks for repairs, that's the kind of thing that will happen.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. I believe it's kind of a global approach: first, the service; secondly, the access to the full range of service; and then, the maintenance of that service.
MR. R. WILLIAMS: Right.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Williams.
MR. R. WILLIAMS: Thanks.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to call on Joe Cortese to come next, please. Is Joe Cortese in the room?
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: He just stepped out for a moment.
THE SECRETARY: I think we found him.
MR. CORTESE: Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences with you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for having accepted our invitation.
MR. CORTESE: I appreciate the convenience of Prince George, as opposed to the earlier location.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I have to tell you, every time we have been thanked for that, I really appreciate it, and I am sure my colleagues do too. But I always feel a bit of sorrow for the people in Prince Rupert, especially that they are connected, because they probably they feel we are far apart. Fortunately, Mr. Vivian and Mr. Godin are there from the Commission. I am just making a parenthesis here, that Commissioner Grauer has plans to visit them this summer, so that they don't feel that they are so far apart from the Commission.
Sorry about that. Thank you.
MR. CORTESE: That's okay. I guess you can't please everyone.
THE CHAIRPERSON: It's very difficult, especially in the Commission.
MR. CORTESE: I know you have heard many stories today, and people expressing basic needs that aren't being met. My story is quite a bit different. It is similar in strife, but it has a happy ending.
I am a small business owner/operator in the field of forest resource management consulting. I represent a sector of the Tatla Lake community known as the West Branch valley. West Branch is roughly 220 kilometres west of Williams Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau. Williams Lake is the closest major service centre to our community. The majority of Tatla Lake community members are served by BC Tel and BC Hydro.
The West Branch valley extends to the southwest of Tatla Lake and parallels the Tatlayoko Valley. Bluff Lake lies within our valley and is a name that appears on some of the many communications we have had over the years with BC Tel, BC Hydro and government agencies, in our attempts to secure telephone service. Bluff Lake also appears on SEP serving profiles as a synonymous reference to our community.
The local economy of Tatla Lake is comprised of ranching, tourism, forestry, mining, a service sector including a local air service -- from whom you have heard already today -- and emerging opportunities in training, community development and information-based home businesses. The film industry has also become active in the area, using the nearby Coast Range of mountains as a look-alike for the Himalayas in movies such as "K2", "Seven Years in Tibet" and "Kundun". These productions have been based at Bluff Lake where White Saddle Air Services is located.
The West Branch Valley has roughly 25 households of permanent residents, with an additional, roughly, 15 seasonal. The concentration of residences extends roughly 20 kilometres from the existing telephone grid, with the first 12 kilometres served by BC Hydro. An additional five kilometres of power line are scheduled to be built this summer. Four businesses also operate in the West Branch. Roads are maintained year round and school bus services are also provided to the local school in Tatla Lake.
Existing telephone access for the West Branch Valley is by radio phone link only. BC Tel operates a VHF analog system with a network of repeaters to serve the portions of the Chilcotin unserved by landline telephone service. The channel available to residents in our area is shared by hundred of other users. When logging operations are active, it is sometimes impossible to make a phone call due to continuous traffic. In addition to problems associated with heavy use, the system is frequently unreliable due to weather and atmospheric conditions. Channels have recently been dropped in an attempt to phase the system out entirely -- and I think you have heard that from McLeese Lake residents and other residents in the region.
From my personal experience over the many years the system has been in use, it is only reliable for outgoing calls. Incoming calls frequently fail due to system problems or lack of access due to heavy use. Privacy is one way only and marginal. Data transfer and fax capability is not an option.
Satellite phones were used with limited success from the valley bottom in the production of "Seven Years in Tibet". Access was limited at certain times because of signal interruption by the mountains and weather conditions. Satellite communications are currently beyond the means of most residents in terms of initial investment and operating costs.
As a history to our involvement with BC Tel, our efforts to obtain telephone service in the valley began in 1985 when White Saddle Air Services obtained a quote from BC Tel of $30,000 for one line at Bluff Lake. With existing radio equipment on hand and service available with radio telephones, the cost was not an economically viable option at the time. The next quote from BC Tel, obtained in 1988 by White Saddle, jumped to $80,000. With a total dependence on communication to remain a viable business, the air service then invested heavily in radio equipment of their own. To date their investment in equipment and associated licensing fees to operate the equipment for the purpose of just accessing telephone networks is more than $40,000. And they still have no fax or data capability.
In 1991, a group of residents in the upper portion of the valley, already served by BC Hydro, received a quote from BC Tel or roughly $2,000 to $3,000 per subscriber. This was excessive for the small group at the time. Again in 1996, BC Tel was approached by Mr. and Mrs. Phipps since there were more potential customers. At this time we received a quote ranging from $8,000 to $10,000 per customer, depending on the complement of seasonal and permanent residents, using the SEP formula and rough cost estimates.
At this time we began to question the estimation of the project cost since it was roughly twice the cost of building the power line and the majority of the infrastructure was already in place -- poles, right-of-way clearing and engineering. After a lengthy investigation of the cost breakdown, we discovered that roughly 40 per cent of the 1996 cost estimate for telephone service was due to joint use costs payable to BC Hydro. We were basically being charged again for infrastructure that we had already paid for.
Being a dedicated group of individuals, we then engaged BC Hydro to honour its commitment to the B.C. Electronic Highway Accord of 1995. The accord clearly states the importance of a partnership between BC Hydro and BC Tel to achieve a cooperative solution to the development of telecommunications infrastructure in B.C. The provincial government and BC Hydro were lobbied to examine the nature of the joint use agreement between BC Tel and BC Hydro. A joint task force was created to explore the possibilities of a cooperative relationship between the two companies.
Concurrent to our efforts with BC Hydro and BC Tel, the federal Infrastructure Works Program funding also became available for telecom projects. With the potential for additional funding, more lower valley residents became interested and our group of service applicants became much larger. It now seemed feasible to include most of the residents of the valley and most of the businesses, even though construction costs also rose. We were able to convince BC Tel to generate a detailed cost estimate and to explain the process at a small community meeting in June of 1997.
The outcome of the detailed cost estimate revealed a shortfall in the absence of assistance from BC Hydro on joint use costs. Efforts were then focused on establishing an agreement with BC Hydro to make our project a viable candidate for infrastructure funding. Without the deferment of joint use costs by BC Hydro, BC Tel was unwilling to propose our project for IWP funding.
The outcome of these efforts has now resulted in the BC Hydro Enabling Fund, which has been referred to today. This new initiative allows rebates to telephone service applicants on costs incurred in service extension projects. Applicants must be currently served by BC Hydro with lines qualifying for the rebate.
After clearing the hurdle of joint use corporate structure, we then embarked on a campaign to move a political log jam between federal, provincial and municipal governments that was holding up awarding of IWP funding. After a long and arduous struggle during which BC Tel almost dropped our project, we have recently received notice that our IWP funding has been approved. BC Tel has informed me that initial phases of construction will begin this coming year.
The time involved in pursuing this effort has been extensive and hopefully many of our efforts will not need to be duplicated by others in need of a basic service.
Some suggestions, recommendations, regarding serving high-cost areas. I have a list here with regards to new applications.
Information relating to access and quality of service must be readily available to those requiring assistance. The information should not be controlled by proprietary interests.
Employment and investment ministries should identify unserved or underserved areas as qualifying candidates for service and distribute the appropriate information regarding access.
Geographic or demographic profiles must be accurately established so that the evaluation of communities may occur fairly.
A number of the SEP profiles that we read -- I think they were CRTC publications of annex items -- were fairly inaccurate in terms of community profiles that we referenced in our efforts. I don't know where the fault was in terms of the accuracy of information, but our community was not accurately represented on some of those annex items.
Criteria for minimum community size in proportion to distance of service extension need to be established. One customer per kilometre might be a starting point.
The SEP guidelines for service providers should be maintained until alternate subsidies become available.
A subsidy fund for high-cost service areas needs to be established to assist projects. Applicants qualifying under established criteria could be funded to a limit set by fund guidelines. The fund could be supported by a universal tariff on all telecommunications providers, to eliminate placement of unfair burden on individual companies. The tariff might be levied in the form of a charge per unit of information transfer.
Minimum standards for response to maintenance requests should be established for rural areas, to prohibit the direction of company resources to lucrative markets in urban areas.
As we move forward in the current direction of increasing dependence on rapid information transfer, telecommunications become a more significant factor in determining one's standard of living. Many services are turning towards digital access and delivery. This puts many people out of reach from services that are taken for granted by the majority of Canadians. Economic diversification is dependent upon telecommunications infrastructure. The strength of rural communities and Canada as a whole is dependent upon this diversity. The social benefits of communication are also critical and support health and integration of families and communities. We must secure access to these services and maintain their quality through regulation that provides direction in the development of critical networks. Corporate policy will take care of urban areas, but legislated regulation must govern rural markets.
As a regulatory body, the CRTC is no longer merely monitoring commerce in a telecommunications marketplace. You are shaping the cultural landscape of the country by determining ease and quality of access to information.
You directed several comments to the contributors today. It seemed that the leaning of your questioning was to pose the question "how is this going to be funded, how would this irreversible subsidy be funded?" And it appeared that it was leaning towards coming from the communities or individuals rather than the service providers.
It seems to me that if you review the financial reports of the major telcos, or possibly explore growth in trends of PC sales, or the total volume of information transfer on all telecommunications networks, these trends are exponential in terms of increase, and some type of universal tariff on the networks would easily provide the revenue for such a fund.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
I want to correct, that my questions were really trying to see how people who had not addressed that question were seeing the funding coming in. We have no predetermined idea. That is why we are doing the proceeding in all the cities, we are doing in terms of the public hearings. That will also be doing the other process in order to gather all the information in order to find better solutions, and I don't think there will be only one solution.
On page 3, when you say, "Applicants qualifying under established criteria...", your Item 6, you seem to have been given quite a lot of thought on that. How do you see the criteria being established? What kind of criteria do you see there?
MR. CORTESE: Criteria for...?
THE CHAIRPERSON: For the funding, and what kind of guidelines?
MR. CORTESE: How would the tariff be levied?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes.
MR. CORTESE: I am not that familiar with the technical aspects of monitoring networks, but I know there is an option to, say, download off satellites, and you are charged for your download volume, so much per megabyte, say, for volume of information transfer, if a tariff were levied on a volume of information transfer throughout the country, a very minor tariff on the companies.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes. I can see that Canadians can all be contributing to the system.
MR. CORTESE: Yes.
THE CHAIRPERSON: But here you are referring to the fact that criteria could be established in order to fund some areas or some individuals or some communities. I was wondering what kind of criteria you saw, in your experience?
MR. CORTESE: In terms of qualifying communities?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, as getting the funding.
MR. CORTESE: I think communities should probably be targeted, as opposed to individuals, for qualifying for the fund. I don't know what the future of the SEP process is, if it has a future, but I think there needs to be something in place, something to replace the SEP program if it is phased out, something to replace infrastructure program. The infrastructure program was complicated by political interactions between the federal government, the province. When these programs are no longer available, there needs to be some type of universal subsidy that will take care of access and quality of service, in the absence of alternate programs. And it seems to me that it could easily be generated by this emerging market, that there is a huge volume there and a huge amount of profit that's being made.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to call John Warner, please.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good afternoon.
MR. WARNER: Good afternoon.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the Commission for having this hearing and for using this exciting video conferencing technology. I think this is great. I think it is also worth noting that for many of those who have made submissions here today, video conferencing is not available in their communities.
My name is John Warner and I represent Focus North Society.
Focus North is a broad-based, non-profit society with members in many Northern B.C. communities. Its mandate is to investigate, bring attention to and attempt to change policies that are unfair to the north.
Our job was really completed prior to today. We asked our membership in the smaller communities to get the word out that this process was taking place. And it is obvious by the turnout that our efforts, together with those of many others, have brought a good cross-section of people from small Northern B.C. communities to be heard. What they have had to say is far more important than my short submission, because I am really from Prince George and the problems are from these smaller communities.
Focus North is in agreement with the general concept of freeing telecommunications from regulation and allowing the free market to prevail.
Our concern with this process is that, at least in the early stages, there will be competition in the smaller communities. BC Tel would be remiss to their shareholders if they didn't look to these small communities for a larger portion of their revenue as competitive pressures hit at them in the large urban areas.
I guess it will be up to the CRTC to find a way to allow the free market to enter the picture without it being solely on the backs of small town B.C. and, for that matter, Canada.
We have had many graphic descriptions here today of the problems of carrying on business with inadequate, and in many cases costly, phone service. Meanwhile government has been telling the small, resource-based communities they must diversify if they are going to survive. Allowing phone rates to escalate and service levels to remain static in these communities will only make diversification more difficult.
If you want an example of how hard it is to land, and then hold on to, employers in small communities, we only need to look as far as BC Tel. As Mr. Williams said just a few minutes ago, they, like many other employers, have reduced the number of people working for them in small communities at a far greater percentage rate than they have done in urban areas. Here is a telecommunications business, someone who should be promoting the concept of how easy and effective it should be to have people working for you all over the province, choosing to look to the small communities for a large portion of their downsizing.
So we have a two-edged sword here: one side is raising rates in the small communities; and the other is cutting back on money put into these communities.
I don't pretend to know how to protect these communities. It's obvious, after listening here today, that this is very complex. It's also obvious that if the small communities are not offered some form of protection, subsidization, or whatever other name you want to give it, they will continue to be in trouble.
If the word "subsidization" is the word that comes to mind, perhaps that is the word that should be put to the disproportionately high percentage of government revenue that flows out of these same small communities in the form of taxation on the resource industries -- forestry, mining, petroleum, hydro -- that's produced in the north.
In conclusion, Focus North Society is in favour of rates being set by the marketplace. But before this can happen with any degree of fairness, there must be strong competitors ready and willing to step into all areas of those markets that are going to be deregulated.
Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Warner.
I was curious, how many members do you have in your association?
MR. WARNER: Just a little under a hundred.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Tell me, do you know of any such organization in other provinces with which you would be in contact?
MR. WARNER: No, we don't. We are unique as far as we know. We had an involvement with the B.C. Utilities Commission a while ago, and they were telling us that we were in B.C. unique, that they hadn't run into anything like that.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for your participation.
MR. WARNER: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to call Jean-Marc Lacasse next, please. Mr. Lacasse? He was here a few minutes ago, I guess he stepped out. We will recall him later.
Is Doctor Ellen Facey in the room?
How about Fritz Mueller?
MR. J. KERR: The Tatlayoko Think Tank has been asked to speak for Fritz Mueller.
THE SECRETARY: Oh, there we go again.
MR. J. KERR: If there is nobody else, we are prepared to speak to that. I know there are other people in the room, and we would like to defer to them.
THE SECRETARY: Right. I am wondering if we could check Prince Rupert to see if we have a presenter in Prince Rupert?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, sure.
THE SECRETARY: We would have been expecting Wilf Rimmer, albeit later today.
Is there anyone in the room who wants to speak, whose name is on the schedule?
THE CHAIRPERSON: I think Paul is there, in Prince Rupert.
THE SECRETARY: Oh. Sorry.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Paul, we were asking if there is any participant who would like to intervene at this point in Prince Rupert?
THE SECRETARY: We have no audio.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Paul. I think we get the message.
THE CHAIRPERSON: That was really interesting. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Now that's basic communication, isn't it?
MR. GODIN: That's exactly what he said.
Mr. Rimmer said that he would be back later on this evening. I think, Madam Chairperson, everyone took you at your word, saying that you would cut at 5:30, so I think people may have gone for dinner and will be back at 6:30.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I don't recall having said that. That's fine. Okay. Thank you, Paul.
Is there somebody we can hear in the room here?
THE SECRETARY: Yes. I believe we had a hand raised, at the back of the room.
Could I have your name, please?
MR. CHIPMAN: Blake Chipman. I am from Pyper Lake. I don't have a written summation, but I do have a bit of a tale about trying to get telephone service.
I live in-between where John Kerr lives and this other fellow from Nemaiah Valley, except we live about -- the people that I came up here to speak for live at about a quarter of a kilometre off Highway 20 which is the main highway to Bella Coola.
They have been trying to get telephone service there for the past 20 years. They have telephone service that comes within eight kilometres of us, and then it jumps us, for some reason. I don't know if somebody was caught kissing a goat or something in our little area, but it jumped right there, to Tatla Lake. And then it went all the way down to Bella Coola. It went up to Chetwynd -- or, I can't think of the name of the place now, but it has gone all over our whole area, except it seems to have missed us and a small portion of Eagle Lake.
We have tried to deal with BC Tel on it. We have phoned the CRTC about it. They keep telling us about this cost thing, and we are really having a problem with this cost thing. I think if any of you people that lived in the city were told that to hook your telephone up tomorrow it would cost you $10,000, you would be quite upset.
There was a fellow in Puntzi, the old Puntzi store had a telephone, but he moved out of that store into a new store. The new store burnt down, so he went back to the old store, wanted to get his telephone back, and they said, "Well, no, the line is no longer serviceable", and they wanted $30,000 to give him back his telephone, one that he already had.
It just seems to me that if these companies that are all in telecommunications now, seeing as it's supposed to be deregulated, if they get the big plums like the cities and the big towns and that, that they ought to be forced by the CRTC to serve the rural areas. Because, you know, in a few years, our grandkids are going to come out and look at their grandparents and say, well, they are totally illiterate, because we know absolutely nothing about what is going on in the world, in comparison to them, because we don't have any computers or any of that stuff, where the kids in town will be seeing this.
And 15 years from now, the grandparents that are supposed to be wise and helping these kids along are going to be basically illiterate, they will know more than us. Maybe they do now, but it just doesn't seem right that because we live in the rural areas, that we don't get any kind of service.
I mean, we all pay our taxes. We can't withhold our taxes like they withhold services. I mean, we don't have -- most people have their own water systems out there, their own hydro systems, or else they have paid for their hydro systems to go in. We don't have any health care systems out there, we don't have 911, we don't have any fire protection, we are basically out there on our own. And with this telephone thing, we are totally on our own. They just look at it and say, "Well, if you want to spend $20,000 or $30,000, you can have a telephone." Well, that's pretty nice if you have an extra $20,000 or $30,000, but I think if a person in town was asked to pay $1,000 to hook up their telephone, they would be totally appalled. But nobody seems to think it's real bad out in the country. "Well, you choose to live there, so you have to pay $10,000 or $20,000 for a telephone."
That's about all I got to say. It's very, very frustrating. And, just listening to the people here today, I can see that we are not the only ones that have the same problem. But it is very frustrating.
Out of all the natural resources that come out of the Chilcotin, where we live -- they are talking about a great big gold mine out there, I am sure they are going to have a telephone. All the logging operations and everything that go on out there. We have to put up with after it's all gone. But we still won't have a bloody telephone.
So I sure hope that you guys can do something for us, and this just isn't a basic lip service like we have been getting for the last 20 years.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Chipman. We have appreciated your participation. Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to clarify for the record that Mr. Chipman was presenting on behalf of Dorothy Pears and Pyper Lake Residents.
Do we have anyone else in the room that is scheduled to speak, who hasn't done so yet?
Could we check with Vancouver?
MS EDGE: No one has appeared yet, or still.
THE SECRETARY: Okay, Michelle. Thank you. We will check back later.
THE CHAIRPERSON: We will have dinner, and come back at 6:30. I think it is the wise thing to do, in terms of using our time.
Thank you all, and see you in an hour.
--- Recessed at 17:30/Suspension à 17:30
--- Resumed at 18:37/Reprise à 18:37
THE SECRETARY: We are going to start with Vancouver, and if we could begin with Marlene Wells.
Marlene, for the record, could we have the name of your colleague, please?
MS WELLS: Sure. This is Sylvester Sam.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you very much. You can go ahead whenever you are ready.
MS WELLS: Thank you. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak.
My name is Marlene Wells and I am employed by In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua as a researcher for their treaty team. I would like to discuss two issues. I will discuss who In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua people are, and the current situation on reserve with respect to telecommunications. I will comment on BC Tel's submission to the CRTC dated May 1st, prepared by Stentor Resources. That will be my second issue.
I am speaking on behalf of In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua, a First Nation which represents approximately 1,040 people. The community of In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua, commonly known as D'Arcy, has telecom service, so my discussion will centre on the communities of In-Shuck-Ch who make up about 75 per cent of the First Nation.
In-Shuck-Ch's traditional territory is located in the lower Lillooet valley, between Harrison Lake and Lillooet Lake. This valley is situated northeast of Vancouver and is accessible by forestry road only. Although our traditional territory is close to lower mainland, it remains isolated, without hydro power and without telephone service.
Due to the isolation, lack of services and lack of economic opportunity, the majority of our citizens live off reserve, residing mainly in the Vancouver area and the Fraser Valley. Currently, 60 to 100 people live in the valley at any given time. That's the lower Lillooet valley.
This is the present situation, as it is today. However, we are currently negotiating a treaty under the B.C. Treaty Process, and one of our goals is to repatriate our people by addressing fundamental issues like hydro power and telephone service. These fundamentals are essential for economic development. Close to 80 per cent of In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua off-reserve adult members surveyed in 1995 indicated they would like to live on reserve. Our goal is to create a vibrant community with modern-day amenities equal to the rest of Canada.
We will be one of the first negotiating tables in the province to conclude treaty. Our table has set a goal to complete an agreement in principle by November 1st of this year. And what this means for us is that we will conclude our treaty within two years.
We all realize telecom systems are not built overnight. We need to see viable telecommunications in our territory to support us once treaty is signed and we begin to realize our plans for self-government, economic development and repatriation of our people. Therefore, the resolution of gaining accessible telephone service is an issue we seek to resolve within this time frame.
I would like to now discuss the current technology in our traditional territory and how we use it. We have a VHS repeater system with a mountain-top repeater which relays two-way radio conversation to Mount Curry, where our satellite office is equipped with a base station and a telephone patch. This base station allows individuals who have a portable radio with a number pad to make telephone calls using the landline at our Mount Curry office.
As you can imagine, this is a limited system. There is no real capacity and it fails to provide basics that are afforded by the system in the city, such as privacy, proper billing and access. As well, it is not a reliable system for it frequently breaks down. In addition, the radio signal reaches only two of the three In-Shuck-Ch communities, meaning one of our communities has no communication to the outside world.
Our treaty office is located in Deroche, which is 25 kilometres east of Mission in the Fraser Valley. It is situated here because it is not possible to conduct normal business in our traditional territory. Without telephone service, there is no fax and there is no access to the information highway.
When an individual would like to talk to someone living on reserve, it is not a simple matter of picking up the phone and dialling. For example, when a person from our Deroche office would like to talk to someone who is living on reserve, he or she must call our satellite office and wait on the line; and while waiting on the line, a person manning the phone and the radio at our Mount Curry office will radio down to the reserves. If the person we are looking for is by the radio, it is possible to have a short conversation, with the assistance of the receptionist at our satellite office. Otherwise, the receptionist will leave a message, with whoever is sitting by the radio, for the individual to call her back on the radio or to leave a message so that the next time the person travels back to Mount Curry, he or she can call our Deroche office. And often this can be days.
This is time-consuming, cumbersome and inefficient, and it is clearly far from the telecom service enjoyed by the rest of Canada or by the majority of Canada.
There are also satellite telephones on two reserves. However, they are expensive to operate and are used for urgent and private matters only. Besides being expensive, there is a time delay when speaking into the phone. This makes these phones inconvenient to use, and we do not consider this a viable long-term solution.
As I already mentioned, we are negotiating a treaty and we will be raising telecommunications at our table. It is a necessity which needs to be provided if we are ever going to be self-sufficient in our traditional territory. Regardless of our treaty, we are also planning to talk to BC Tel. We welcome discussions with BC Tel.
Opening up competition in the telecommunications market will not help us as far as this issue is concerned, because none of the competitors will be expected to be interested in establishing a system in such a remote area. We do not have the population base right now, because of lack of housing, lack of services, lack of economic opportunity, to accommodate the competitive market. In our case, opening up the market to competition will not achieve the Telecommunications Act's accessibility objective.
As I mentioned earlier, we seek to repatriate our people, post treaty. Yet, in order to do this, we need services such as telecommunications, and when we have such access to services, we are certain our people will begin coming home.
Therefore, we support industry regulations which ensure the policy objective of the Telecommunications Act regarding universal accessibility continue to be pursued. Our stated goal is that we want to be in a position to pay our own way. We are interested in being equal contributors to Canadian society. That is what our treaty work is all about. Access to telecommunications is crucial to realizing this goal. We will need financial subsidy to establish a telecommunication system and make this goal a reality.
We understand that new technologies may be a cheaper alternative means of providing telecom service in our traditional territory. For example, gaining a cellular phone system in the short term is an option we would consider, though we would like to participate in an analysis of all possibilities before settling on one system.
BC Tel is obligated to serve, under its current position, as carrier of last resort to provide basic service. We recognize that generally the obligation does not extend to cases where the company must incur an unusual expense, but this needs to be defined before we are able to determine if BC Tel has an obligation in this case. For example, if BC Tel has historically provided service to small communities in remote locations with similar expense characteristics, then BC Tel has an obligation to serve our community.
We do not support the removal of the obligation to serve which is currently placed on BC Tel. We need a mechanism to force telecom access to our community, and the only one in place right now is the obligation to serve. We do not support abolishing this mechanism unless it is replaced with something that meets our needs.
In closing, I would like to recap the purpose of this presentation. And that is, to increase awareness of In-Shuck-Ch N'Quat'qua and to provide a statement against some of the arguments in BC Tel's proposal, especially as it relates to competition and the obligation to serve.
This is Sylvester Sam, who is from Skatine, one of the communities in the Lower Lillooet Valley. He has a few words that he would like to speak on.
MR. SAM: About TEN years ago, when we approached BC Tel to see about getting some sort of phone system, I got the impression that they did not -- I have never seen them in my territory. When they did their proposal to us, I got the impression that they did not -- all they did was just look on a map and see where we were and based their proposal on what was written on a map. And then, they quoted us a pretty outrageous price for a community that is in dire straits.
When we have emergency situations, which a few have arisen, when a communications system would have been very helpful. On August 24th of 1986, my father and I were paddling our canoe on our river. The canoe tipped over. I made it to shore. My father did not. This is when it really demonstrated our need to get some sort of emergency services and contact them, because it was four or five hours between the time we fell in the river to when somebody finally arrived. By the time they arrived, it was nine or ten o'clock at night. There was nothing they could do. This is one occasion -- when I hear of people putting the almighty dollar ahead of people. I do not blame BC Tel for my father's death, but I would have liked the opportunity to get that appropriate help down to our community.
Another occasion when we were trying to -- when one of our members, who had epilepsy, she fell down. We found her a few hours later. We were trying to communicate to the outside where we were and our situation, their emergency services, in the form of a helicopter, came half-way to my reserve, gave up, turned around and went back to wherever they came from. So here we were, waiting for an ambulance or a helicopter or anything, and we had no way to communicate to the outside world, and they had no way to communicate to us how to -- the situation.
We are a very tight-knit community. Everybody living on that reserve is a relative, so, as in any emergency situation, when your family is in danger, you do not say what is the cheapest way to get help here, you say, "Do not spare the expense, just do whatever is necessary."
When we finally got a satellite telephone system in place, the charges were astronomical. We were charged 75 cents, on top of the BC Tel rate, for every call we made. So a six-minute call cost almost double what it would cost anybody else.
Speaking to the fact that there are occasions when you need to communicate to your family, such as in the situation with my father, the appropriateness of saying this over the radio phone was not appropriate. There are occasions when you need privacy to have your conversations. And we need to make sure that this communication system not only will serve us but will be more like -- will work in an emergency situation, because there is many times when our communication system has shut down and we have been totally isolated from the outside community.
So I say, thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Mr. Sam and Ms Wells.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: I was just going to also thank you very much for coming in and telling us of the challenges you face. I just wanted to say that we have heard from an awful lot of people today, and many stories similar to yours. And we are certainly getting a very good understanding, first hand, of the challenges that are being faced by many people throughout British Columbia.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for participating in this proceeding and helping our understanding.
THE SECRETARY: Still with Vancouver, I would like to call Jeff Welsh.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good evening. Welcome.
MR. WELSH: Hello.
My name is Jeff Welsh. I actually live in Vancouver, but I have some recreational property in the Greenwood area, and it's kind of interesting to compare the two phone systems and what you get here.
Here, I can call England for 25 cents a minute, my phone bill is probably fairly low. Now, in the Greenwood area, there is no land phone line into this property. I would have to pay to get, like, a couple of miles of line in there. I can actually see a microwave station which could be made into a cell phone station. In fact, a phone company was willing to pay to do that, but it seems the further out you are, the less you count to a phone service. I am not sure if it's just the price that you pay, but as the last speaker mentioned, a lot of times you don't care what it costs, you just want to make the call.
There is a small cell phone system in Grand Forks that works there, but I was told by someone from BC Tel Mobility that it just doesn't pay, there aren't enough people out there to support a system. But I think at the same time people deserve some kind of a system, and I think with space age technology it doesn't need to be, like, a landline, but I do think that in terms of cell phone network, it just supports certain systems.
Another interesting comment that I heard from BC Tel Mobility was that, okay, in the cell phone system in Grand Forks, you can call Greenwood, basically toll free, other than the cell phone charge. Just as you can go from Vancouver, you can call home, toll free, like, on the weekends and stuff. And that because, say in Greenwood, to call Grand Forks, just down the road, it's 10 cents a minute. That's why I compare it to 25 cents a minute it costs me to call England from Vancouver. It costs you 10 cents a minute. Everywhere it's long distance, your phone bill is horrendous. It's the same numbers printed out over and over again, sometimes ten pages. The phone bills out there are huge. And in the sense you don't get the same service -- I am wondering if you can answer for me what the obligations are for a phone system, whether it be cellular or satellite or by landline, to reach everyone in the country.
I guess that's the end of my presentation. Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Well, in terms of the choice of technology, I guess the more and more will be going in the future years, we will be looking more in terms of the services provided, and the quality of them, the reliability and the cost of them. Those are really the characteristics we will be looking at. And the more and more the technology will be improving, then it will be the relationship to the customer that will count. So I would be really in a bad place, and the Commission is certainly not the one to make those choices. It has to be in terms of the services provided. That is the question.
Thank you for your participation. It is helpful to the scope of this proceeding to have different points of view and from different points of the region, and around Vancouver as well.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to check to see whether Graeme Drew has arrived in Vancouver yet? I am also enquiring about Peter Frinton.
MS EDGE: No. There are no other presenters at the time. No sign of them.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you. We will come back to you.
Madam Chair, you were interested in having some clarification about Mr. Cortese's criteria?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Yes, because after the proceeding this afternoon he came forward with his wife. I thought the clarification that was given privately would be helpful to have on the public record, so I wonder if we couldn't take five minutes to have Mrs. Cortese come forward and maybe repeat what she gave as an explanation to Ms Grauer and myself earlier, so that it would be on the public record.
THE SECRETARY: Then I will call Deborah Kannegiesser to give us some clarification.
MS KANNEGIESSER: Yes. You had asked Gerald for clarification with regards to criteria.
We both felt afterwards, we recognized that we didn't really respond. Yet in our recommendations I believe that we do, although it might be a bit vague, in numbers one, two and three.
First of all, I would like to clarify that in the presentation which was very involved, we wanted to show, to document, how involved the process is, and the level of commitment that we had to have in order to facilitate receiving phone service. We both feel that that is prohibitive, for many, many people.
I think we were successful because we had the support of others that were more knowledgeable than ourselves to proceed -- Tatlayoko Think Tank and, also, the Telecommunications Consortium in Williams Lake, assisted us. And we feel that the process needs to be simplified in order to enable people to get onboard. So that precedes criteria.
We found it to be prohibitive even to initiate the process with regards to finding the information that's relating to the access of quality. We had to seek that out, and it was very difficult for us. We had radio telephones. Often BC Tel themselves did not know how to reach us on a radio telephone to respond to our inquiries. So that made just finding information, as to date they are in charge of that information base. And in our recommendation number one, we suggest that we don't feel they should have that proprietary interest, BC Tel or any other telecom company.
We go on to suggest prior to the criteria. So, people need the information first. And secondly -- and that needs to be readily available -- we suggest that maybe that could be available through public libraries. Perhaps it could be available and controlled by a provincial ministry instead of telecoms.
And in addition to that -- let's see. Also, in identifying unserved or underserved areas which meet the criteria, it is our understanding right now that in the current definition of the Commission, that you have to have already requested service. So right now, if people don't have the information that they can even request, then they are not even getting to the point of criteria. So that information has to be more readily available.
From that, we feel that if there was either the information should be -- that right now the profile of information for determining criteria is not being adequately gathered. The profile that we had was very inaccurate as to our area. Again, that's being submitted by telecom companies, and it might be better to be an independent, maybe even third party, that is gathering geographic and demographic profiles.
So that has to be accurately established, and then it can be evaluated for criteria. And we see right now that in the gathering of that information, that it's also fragmenting communities such as ours. Our community, we are one community. I will use a city term, which is we have many "subdivisions" of our community. Right now, they are being profiled as separate communities, so we are not getting an accurate picture of the database in which to form the criteria of prioritizing. So we see that that needs to be looked at differently, and from there start establishing criteria of determining who should get services first.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. That is accurate, with the conversation we had just before we broke for dinner. I thought it was helpful, because what you are saying is, until we have profiles that you feel would be accurate, it's difficult to establish criteria because you need the basis of information in order to establish the criteria.
MS KANNEGIESSER: That's right. And prioritize, because sometimes you will have different subdivisions. And if you look at the larger picture first, then you can break it down into the smaller picture and start determining, per kilometre, how many customers, that in some situations it may be different if you have many subdivisions within one larger community. And right now we are not getting an accurate, or even appropriate, database.
I think Debra Slaco noted that there were 83 communities. That meant only 83 communities that have requested service, because the definition is such that that's all that's reported to date.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for having taken the time to come back. We really appreciate it. It is helpful for our public record and further analysis. Thank you.
MS KANNEGIESSER: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to call Sue Brown to be our next presenter. Is Sue Brown here? We will recall her later, then.
I would like to call Eduardo Van Dijk.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good evening, and welcome.
MR. VAN DIJK: Good evening, Madam, sirs.
I want to start my presentation with the telecom public notice, CRTC 97-42, which states:
"The Telecommunications Act, in subsection 7(b) identifies as a policy objective for Canadian telecommunications the need to render reliable and affordable telecommunication services of high quality, accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada."
This first and most important objective is currently not being met by BC Tel. In the past three years, rural residential basic telephone rates have jumped over 400 per cent -- inflation rate is only two per cent -- with decreased service, that means more breakdowns and downtimes in our lines.
In the (250) 568 exchange, we still have 1940 technology, with relays which are fit for a museum. Therefore, we cannot get access to the Internet or information highway and, for that matter, many customers cannot obtain a private line. Yet BC Tel wants to charge us the same basic rate as, for example, Prince George, where customers have a better service, up-to-date technology and a wide range of options we do not enjoy.
I understand BC Tel's dilemma, as with the long-distance calls competition they cannot afford to subsidize the basic telephone rates any longer, or at least so they claim. Therefore, I urge the CRTC to impose a surcharge or levy of between one and three per cent on every long-distance call, to be paid directly to the basic telephone service provider to subsidize the more expensive to operate regions of the province. Even Third World countries like Mexico have had this equitable procedure in place for years.
The argument that rural telephone service is more expensive and therefore those customers should pay more, though they have lower economic means, would be acceptable in a country with no social conscience. It would equate to saying that citizens of Canada which use more social services should pay more taxes. The reality is usually that those who are economically less fortunate need more social services and pay less taxes.
We should apply the same yardstick with the basic telephone rates, as basic telephone service, especially in rural places, is an essential service, for medical or other emergencies that may occur. I think some of the previous presentations that have been already concurred. In fact, in any larger centre, senior citizens rely on telephones as a means to have a degree of medical security.
It also provides the means to procure jobs and access to the job markets to the population that is disadvantaged by distance to larger population centres.
As Canadians, we pride ourselves for our social conscience. Let it not be only smoke and mirrors or a nice historic fact of the past.
Therefore, my recommendation is that the CRTC should act now to help rural telephone subscribers, to either roll back the basic telephone charges or provide the same service as, for instance, the one lower mainlanders are enjoying. In fact, a combination of both would be most desirable.
In closing, let me express my disappointment with the CRTC, as I have expressed these views before and have been completely ignored by this institution. They have not even shown the minimum courtesy by letting me know they had received my submissions.
I hope that this time, rural Canadians will not be passed over, and forgotten again, by the CRTC.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. I apologize if we didn't answer your complaint before and your submissions before.
I would like to have some information on the basis, you are comparing the system in Canada with the one in Mexico. Already there is a contribution system from the competitors towards the telephone company in order to allow for some balancing in the system which is certainly not perfect. That explains why we have started the important proceeding that will be lasting for a year. I don't want to say that it is sufficient, far from saying that.
I would like to know, in your letter, you are proposing that we would impose, over and above the contribution that already exists, a surcharge or a levy of one to three per cent. What is the basis for that percentage?
MR. VON DIJK: I was just making rough calculations in my head of what amount of revenue it would generate. And it is very interesting, what you have just commented, because BC Tel, their PR people have told me, repeatedly and unequivocally, that they don't receive any compensation from other long-distance competitors to front or provide the basic telephone service. So, either we are getting the wrong story, or you are getting the wrong story, but that information definitely is not compatible.
And then, what I see is that what has been happening is that basically long-distance calls, the price for long-distance calls has been going down, which really benefits the corporate agenda of Canada, at the expense, really, of the main, or ordinary, Canadian. Because ordinary Canadians cannot write off their basic telephone rates as an expense, which businesses can, and the ones that basically will use the long-distance service most are businesses, corporations. So they are getting a break in their expenses, at our expense as the basic ordinary Canadian that has to pay the basic telephone rate increases, which have been quite substantial in the past three years and, according to the new proposal, will continue to go higher and higher. And I believe that that's not an equitable way of protecting those that are most vulnerable in our society, which are, for instance, senior citizens or rural Canadians.
I would have thought that the CRTC would be the body that is in charge of making sure that ordinary Canadians get the best deal, rather than just corporate Canada.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for your participation. Certainly the fact that you are taking the time to come and participate to our proceedings shows that you have that at heart, and certainly we will take that into account in our analysis.
Thank you very much.
MR. VAN DIJK: Thank you very much for your time and for your attention.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to invite Jean-Marc Lacasse to make his presentation now.
LA PRÉSIDENTE: Bonsoir.
M. LACASSE: Bonsoir.
Good evening. Thank you for giving me the opportunity tonight to be heard. After hearing a lot of things today, this will sound a little bit like déjà vu.
My name is Jean-Marc Lacasse. I am the Forest Economic Development Officer in Robson Valley. I will just give you a brief overview of the Robson Valley, and it will sound a lot like those communities you have heard from today.
The Robson Valley is a sparsely populated area of British Columbia situated between the Rocky Mountains and the Cariboo Mountains on the headwaters of the Fraser River. There are two communities, McBride and Valemount, in the valley, separated by 90 kilometres. McBride is situated 200 kilometres east of Prince George, while Valemount is 320 kilometres north of Kamloops. Valemount is approximately 120 kilometres east of Jasper, Alberta. The population of the valley is approximately 4,000. Valemount accounts for 1300 residents; McBride for 750, and the rest of the people live around the villages and in small communities of Dome Creek, Crescent Spur, Dunster and Tete Jaune Cache.
As a general statement, I would have to say that relying on market forces is usually a preferred approach if the right conditions are there. However, we must realize that today, still, not every type of service can be left to face the winds of market forces and still expect an adequate quality service to be provided at a decent cost. Promoting a totally competitive environment without considering more complex social issues certainly provides for some risk management.
A total free market is usually where one pays his own way if the required goods and services are available. But would they be available?
Let's look back in time for a few moments. In the l960s, McBride was the last community in Canada to be able to enjoy the CBC radio and television stations. Now, try to imagine that 30 years ago, only market forces would dictate the availability and cost of these services. Would McBride have been able to enjoy television? My educated guess would be no. And the Robson Valley would have had to wait almost three decades before a more affordable satellite communication would make these broadcasts available.
This is just the realities of doing business in a competitive environment. Corporations will always focus their activities where they can generate the highest profit. They will focus on higher revenue areas, with the least costs. For the matter at hand, this means that you will have a larger number of companies offering these services in highly populated areas. However, the sparsely populated areas will have a fairly small number of interested companies, and maybe only one, with a limited number of options that you can choose from. Is this something that would benefit the Canadian society?
The "monopolistic environment" has served rural communities somewhat well by providing some services at a somewhat reasonable rate. But I believe that competition is impossible in these areas without sacrificing the quality. Only cities like Montréal, Toronto and Vancouver will benefit from free markets in telecommunications services. As a consequence, you still need a mechanism that will ensure that urban areas "subsidize" rural areas.
Let's ask ourselves these questions: Is it fair to have one group "subsidize" another group for services? And, how do we define these "basic services"?
Fairness is defined by one's perspective. Possible savings on local communication costs for urban residents is one way of looking at it. But this issue must be considered in a broader perspective. We always have to remind ourselves that the lower mainland and other urban areas enjoy real revenue and material benefits from natural resources exploitation and management. These resources are mostly located in rural areas. To properly manage these natural resources, you need rural communities like McBride, Valemount, Fort St. James and Mackenzie. There is no other way. Managing the resources at arm's length has never worked. So you need to keep these communities alive and healthy. For this reason, higher costs for rural residents will also be detrimental to urban areas.
The future will demonstrate that communities can only survive with proper telecommunications at a decent cost, an affordable cost, at the same rate you find in urban areas. And these rates should provide for a number of basic services. Now, because economic development is only possible if two criteria are met -- affordable cost and quality of basic services -- and economic stability in rural areas is crucial if we want the rural areas to benefit from the resource.
This is very critical to understand this. Rural areas are constantly faced with economic stability problems. Time and time again, it is always mentioned that resource-based communities that depend on a few, if not only one major employer, should diversify their economy. Why would other industries, high-tech or otherwise, want to develop their business in a rural area? Is the service we are getting appropriate for economic development?
Let us look at it this way. I live in a small community called Dunster. I still have a party line, which is a real benefit, or a treat, compared to what I heard today. Now, my day-to-day operations involve a lot of e-mail and Internet surfing, none of which I can do from my home because of the party line. If I pursue this line of thought even further, when you consider the trends in self-employment and home-based companies, this becomes an important limitation. Even government agencies with offices in smaller communities have a hard time maintaining quality communication because of what urban areas would call "poor phone lines". The level of complaints would just be intolerable in the cities. So, how do we expect businesses to grow and thrive when even forestry consultants, with their offices in the middle of where the resource is located, cannot exchange digital files with clients and government? How do we expect knowledge-based industries to move into these areas?
I suggest that industry in general, especially high-tech ones, would find a better place in rural areas simply because of the cost of operating a business. For example, rental space and taxes are usually higher in big cities than in Valemount or McBride. But what is missing? A decent basic telecommunication service.
Now, we could even have a debate on what constitutes basic service. What I am submitting to you is that, providing party lines does not constitute basic service. When you look at the world's economic trends, I even believe that having an individual-line service still does not constitute basic service. In this economic world, basic service consists of high-speed ways of communication. Having a phone line or not is not an issue anymore, you just need one. The issue is whether you have the speed and the quality.
I understand from these communities that I have heard today that -- I felt like we had a long way to go, but they have an even longer way to go.
Imagine the benefits to a small community to be able to provide graduate and post-graduate levels of education without having families get into tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to send their children to school! And when you think about it, proper basic service could diminish pressure on urban development and all its associated problems.
To conclude, I believe that competition is not possible in rural areas. Opening the market without any form of guaranteed quality would either lower the quality of services or increase the cost, or both.
Do you know that my Internet access is costing me twice as much than if I was a resident from Prince George or Kelowna?
Basic service, including access to high-speed ways of telecommunication, at the same cost as you can find in the urban areas. It's nothing really special. It's nothing fantastic. And it's nothing that comes from "Star Trek". It's just the same quality and the same opportunities that is taken for granted in urban areas. We just want something that works.
I am not familiar enough with the regulatory approaches to suggest a specific solution. I can only state the objectives to be met.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to be heard.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you very much for taking the time to come and help us with our deliberations.
I guess some of the challenges that we will be facing as we grapple with this, is -- one is, I know you don't pose any solutions with respect to resolving some of these problems. But have you given any thought to make clear that there is going to be costs associated with enhancing the services. Have you -- some people have proposed a fund, a percentage of these revenues.
MR. LACASSE: Well, that is certainly an aspect. The levy of one to three per cent or any percentage is an interesting one. If economic development is spread out, out of the more urban areas, and we get employment into the rural areas, and we are faced with less social problems, then the government should definitely have some extra budgets to be able to fund these funds. And we are only limited by our imagination of the consequences of concentrating all our economic activities into larger centres, such as Vancouver, Victoria and so on.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: One other thing. I noticed that a few people today seem to have had some success in developing community coalitions and funding partnerships in which there is maybe some funding from government and some from the communities themselves, and individuals, and then some telephone company programs. Is that a model that you think would be helpful in your area?
MR. LACASSE: Certainly. I don't see why not.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: I was curious. You say: "To conclude, I believe that competition is not possible in rural areas." Do you see that forever? Or do you see that given the fact that your first priority is to provide the service and to provide broadband services, that while this is provided you feel that competition cannot interfere for that providing of services? Or is it, it could never support because of the low density?
MR. LACASSE: No. I am saying, with my understanding of present technology, that you cannot have competition right now. If anybody could access or give a service in a small community of McBride, say by satellite or something, certainly competition would be the way to go. But usually -- like, we don't have that right now.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Lacasse. Merci.
M. LACASSE: Merci.
MS PINSKY: I just wanted to mention that at the beginning of your presentation, you indicated that you don't have enough time to cover all of the topics.
I wanted to remind you, and all participants, that there is the opportunity to file written submissions by January 30, 1999. So if you wanted to elaborate, there are the procedures for that.
MR. LACASSE: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: The next presenter on our list is Doctor Ellen Facey. She is unable to attend tonight, but has asked Dennis MackNak to make a presentation on her behalf. I invite him to come up now.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good evening.
MR. MACKNAK: Good evening.
Thank you for this opportunity. Doctor Facey is not able to come, so I am stepping in at the last moment. And if I seem a bit unprepared, it is because I probably am.
If some of the things you have heard are déjà vu, then probably things I have to say will be, in the words of Yogi Beara, "déjà vu all over again". But I think it's important for the Commission to hear, perhaps from a slightly different perspective, the concerns of Northern British Columbia.
My role at the University of Northern British Columbia is Director of Regional Operations and University-College Relations. The reason the university has a position like this is of the unique nature of the University of Northern British Columbia. Next month it will be ten years from the date when 16,000 Northern B.C. citizens paid $5 each to sign a petition to begin a lobby of the provincial government in Victoria to establish a university in the North. And in September, it will be five years since the Queen opened that university. And it was quite purposely named the University of Northern British Columbia because of that history.
This is a university, while it has a main campus here in Prince George, quite a beautiful one -- I invite you to come up and look at it -- it is not meant to serve the community of Prince George. It is meant to serve the Northern community. And if you come to our campus here, you will notice that there is a huge banner hanging on our library, and it has 189 community names, and many of them have probably spoken to you, and will speak to you, as you visit Prince George.
Most of those communities are very small communities, and the major part of the population, which by the say is less than ten per cent of the population of British Columbia, live along the two highways, 16 east and west, and 97 north and south, and are served variously by what I always refer to as "primitive telecommunications infrastructure".
The university's mandate, besides being a provincially mandated research university, its special mandate is to serve the North, and the North is defined as two-thirds of the province, beginning in the south around Seventy Mile House, and stretching west to the ocean, and east to the Alberta border, and north to the Territorial border. And that contains seven per cent of the population of the province.
That is the stereotypical distance-education environment. Every time I say this to a product salesperson who sells some kind of distance equipment like this "push to talk" stuff or whatever, their mouths water, they get really excited, because they have got the absolutely stereotypical environment.
However, the problems with implementing a distance approach -- and we have done it, 10 per cent of our student population are students who reside not on this campus but in the communities throughout the North. And 96 per cent of them are women. Virtually every one of them is part time, they have other important parts of their life. They usually take one course a semester. And all of them are working hard at trying to get a degree. And we are working hard trying to provide that opportunity, in line with our history and our mission.
The difficulty with doing that, besides the great distances, is the telecommunications infrastructure that's available. I am going to give you just some examples, so you get a flavour for this. In the southern part of our region, in Williams Lake, we are offering what we call "weekend university" now. And students drive to Williams Lake every second Saturday. A student drives from Oldgacho to Williams Lake; that's a four-and-a-half hour drive through the Chilcotin. And think about driving four and a half hours in January. It's incredible. That's the kind of commitment our students have.
Now, the logical thing to do would be to use the telecommunications infrastructure to be able to deliver to those communities. Except, as you probably heard over and over again, there is something like 56,000 people in British Columbia who are still on party lines. Well, most of them are in our region.
The last presenter is from Dunster. It's on that highway, it's on Highway 16. But they don't have that kind of service.
In Valemount there is a new learning centre, that is trying to use satellite communications. I was there for the opening and we were going to show our Web page. Well, we couldn't because there were sun spots that day and it affects that kind of technology.
So we have a "weekend university", and these are mostly First Nations students who are driving those kinds of distances in Williams Lake.
In the northwestern part of our region, north of Terrace, we have a soon-to-be affiliated college, the Whipple House Nisga'a, which is in Nisga'a territory at New Aiyansh, and they have about 200 students following a University of Northern British Columbia degree program. They have one telephone line that gets them some Internet service.
The university is developing Web courses. We have a vigorous program of Web courses that are available. We have new technologies now that integrate the audio, audio with the Web. That doesn't reach a lot of those small communities, and which we are anticipating that what is going to happen is that technology is going to become ubiquitous, that it is going to become as common as the automobile; and the highway that the automobile travels on is going to be improved. And I have seen, in the seven years I have been at UNBC, fairly vast improvement in that telecommunication structure, in those larger communities. And in some ways, the technology is rushing at us, and I know more about bandwidth than I ever wanted to know in my academic life, and all of that telecommunications jargon. However, we still have a long, long way to go, if we are to provide the kind of service that we are committed to providing as an institution. We are going to need a lot more help.
And speaking to colleges across the country, in rural Newfoundland, places like that, it's a very similar situation. Deregulation has really put the brakes on the infrastructure development in these rural areas, and it has really taken the wind out of our sails, as educators trying to be part of that global move to the knowledge industry and to provide those services to students.
Part of what we are trying to do is to provide services to Northerners in their homes, in their communities, so that they will stay in their communities, that they will contribute to the labour pool in those communities, so that the economy can become diversified because the level of education and expertise will rise, and it will rise by having people in those communities educated.
So that's our mission. Our difficulty, again, is that we have some very high-cost technologies. Between Prince George, Quesnel and Williams Lake, we run a full-motion video system. It's the only place in the North we can run a full-motion video system because there is a fibre cable that stops here in Prince George. So you are sitting in the high-tech town along this line.
In the northeast, in the Peace River, Liard area, we offer audio conferencing. We have a main centre in Fort St. John, we have a campus co-located with the Northern Lights College there, and we serve the communities of Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson, Tumbler Ridge, by audio conferencing, and we do some audio conferencing across the North.
We have developed a number of Web courses and we are developing new technology, so we have a variety of technologies, some of which work only in certain communities.
That's a costly venture. Video conferencing, full-motion video conferencing is a $60 an hour an end proposition, two sides cost $120. One tuition fee for a course at UNBC is $250. It costs about $5,000 to deliver one course to one other site. So think about how many tuitions we need just to cover the cost of that transmission. It's more than we have students on the other end. It's a wonderful technology, but it's too expensive.
Audio is exactly -- not quite as expensive, but it's very much in the same ballpark. Just the telephone service is quite expensive.
So that's, sort of, the pitch from the educators. I think you have heard from us through the AUCC, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, but you are seeing it live here in Northern British Columbia.
I thank you for your attention.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. You testify for learning without distance. That's how I see your intervention. And having been in the educational business before, in my previous life, I certainly appreciate your presentation and thank you very much for having participated in the proceeding. We will take that into consideration.
MR. NACKNAK: Thank you. And we may take advantage of a written submission later on. Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to enquire whether Valerie Giles is in the room?
I don't see anyone responding, so I would just like to jog on over to Prince Rupert and query whether or not Mr. Rimmer is in the audience in Prince Rupert?
MR. GODIN: Madam Secretary, no, he is not in the room, but we are still expecting him.
THE SECRETARY: We will call back later.
MR. GODIN: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: Are Ted and Laureen Williams in the room?
How about Barbara Williams?
Is anyone here in the room who has made arrangements to present and hasn't yet?
John, we are aware that you are going to present on your own behalf? Do you still want to do that?
MR. J. KERR: It is our intention, if we may be so bold.
THE SECRETARY: Can you come to the mike, please. This is on the record.
MR. J. KERR: There is one submission that we will make on behalf of Donna Reel who has not been called yet. Dale has been given the authority by Donna to speak to this issue, in a very extemporaneous manner, so Dale intends to do so.
There is a submission that I would like to read on behalf of Cindy Charleyboy who has not been called, and I feel very obliged to make that submission, and then I would like the opportunity, as has been promised, to close.
So that's my agenda. If it can fit with your agenda, it would be a pleasure to --
THE CHAIRPERSON: We will keep our promise, that's for sure.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Not as a television company, but as the intervenors. That's what he meant.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to invite Dale Kerr, then, to come forward with her submission.
MS D. KERR: Hello, again.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Hello.
MS D. KERR: I am presenting on behalf of Donna Reel and her partner Rick Careless. They do not have a written submission, but asked me to speak on their behalf.
Donna is a Director with B.C. Spaces for Nature. Rick is the Executive Director of this group. This is a consultancy and advocacy group for environmental concerns.
Rick is a recipient of the Order of B.C. in recognition for his work on environmental matters. He was instrumental in having the Tatshenshini area, which is a huge area of Northern B.C. established as a protected area.
Rick also was instrumental in the commission on resources and the environment, the core process which has been involved in land use planning in British Columbia. In particular, of interest to us is that he was involved in the Cariboo Chilcotin land use plan.
Rick is also the author recently of a book which is entitled "To Save the Wild Earth".
The reason that Donna and Rick are so very important to our community at Tatlayoko Lake is that they are recent property owners in this area, and we are very concerned to have them remain as community members. At the moment, they are temporary residents, but are looking to become full time at some point.
One of the reasons that they told us that they were encouraged to buy property and to build a cabin in this area is the fact that we do have telephones there at the moment, and that we recently have been able to establish a rather ad hoc, cobbled-together, Internet-service service.
I was interested in Cindy's comments earlier about the success that different communities have had in establishing coalitions and partnerships to get the services that they need in terms of modern communications into their communities.
In the Tatlayoko Think Tank submission to the CRTC we spoke rather extensively of the problems of partnerships and coalitions between communities and corporations and governments. They don't work particularly well from our experience.
Communities are low people on the totem pole. We don't have a lot of power. We may be able to leverage some political power but, overall, when it comes to dealing with governments and it comes to dealing with large telecom companies, we can't do it.
At the moment, Rick and Donna are in our community because they think there is going to be Internet service. The Tatlayoko Think Tank at the moment is providing the Internet service. It is a voluntary service.
We have some kind of weird arrangement with the Government of B.C., BC Tel, the school district -- and when I say "ad hoc" it is ad hoc. We can't get a written agreement with any of our so-called partners that will guarantee the people who are making personal and business investments in our community on the basis of having Internet service that this service can continue. It is costing people an awful lot to buy personal computers, to get Web pages designed, and we don't know from one moment to the next whether or not this service will be ongoing.
At the moment, we are riding on the government's backbone service. We are kind of tied in with the Provincial Learning Network, but mostly its focus is on providing Internet access at an affordable rate to libraries and schools. Although we have verbal assurance in public arenas that they would never dare to cut off communities such as ours, we can't get it in writing.
If the Provincial Learning Network continues, and if they do decide at some point that they don't want to deal with commercial aspects such as us, or individuals, because they have taken off, they have skimmed off the major sources of revenue in our community for Internet -- that's the school, that's the government services, it may be the health services, the libraries -- we won't be able to generate enough of an aggregate demand to get any other Internet service provider interested in providing for us.
So although it may sound to some of the folks here who don't have any phones or maybe are still dealing with party lines that we are in pretty good shape, in fact in a moment we could not be. If we lose our Internet service, then we are going to lose people such as Donna and Rick in our community.
We have another Order of B.C. recipient who has also moved recently to our community. This is Michael O'Shaughnessy, and his submission is before you.
I don't know what it is about Tatlayoko Valley, but it is a pretty special place. When we can get two people of this quality as well as the residents who are already existent there, we feel pretty privileged.
Michael O'Shaughnessy is involved in HIV research and he depends on having Internet access when he is living in our community. Last year he did a $2 million study while living in the community and needed Internet access to prepare this study.
We need people like Donna and Rick, Michael and his wife Susan, because we are interested in economic diversification. We have mentioned already today that resources from our communities in rural B.C. are providing the means by which the urban areas in this province exist. We need to ensure in our communities that these resources are used in a fair manner.
Last week, for example, our community found out that, despite all of Rick's work, despite all of our local community's involvement in the core process, the resource process, the Cariboo Chilcotin land use plan is being undermined by the forest industry giants and in fact there was major pressure that 70 per cent of our valley would be logged off within a five-year period. This means that we may not be able to attract other Order of B.C., or anyone else, recipients to our community if the quality of our life is decimated in such a way.
Rick and Donna needed high levels of telecommunication services so that they could organize the political lobbying necessary to stop this type of resource mismanagement. We needed the telecommunications to quickly get our neighbours together to act on this issue. We had until tomorrow to get our submissions in to the province on this matter. If we had tried to do it without our Internet service, it couldn't have happened.
We have heard today over and over about how can we cover the costs of providing service in these so-called high-cost service areas. I would suggest that there is other high-cost areas, but we will call these high-cost in terms of telecommunications.
Because Donna, whom I am speaking for right now, and Rick are very high-level environmentalists, it brought to my mind that some of the same questions about costs have arisen in dealing with environmental issues: pollution, recycling, et cetera. Always we hear: Gee, we would really like to deal with these issues, but you know it is going to cost an awful lot of money and at this time we simply just can't afford to do it.
As I said earlier, we can't afford not to deal with telecommunication issues in rural and remote areas in the same manner we can't afford not to deal with environmental issues.
I think sometimes as we are dealing with costs and we are looking at mechanisms we remain routed within narrow parameters of this particular industry. I'm suggesting -- and I'm not by any means an expert -- but I'm suggesting that perhaps we need to look at other areas such as environmental regulations to see how are the costs being dealt with there.
North America isn't a very good example of looking at how environmental costs are being dealt with. But perhaps we could go broader afield to Europe, and it may need something of a carrot-and-stick approach.
At the moment, in dealing with telecommunications issues, what we are dealing with is mostly a stick, where we are saying to telecoms, "We are going to have to have you pay into a subsidization fund. It is going to take away from your revenues. You know, your shareholders aren't going to be happy. Their profits aren't going to be as great."
It's really hard to convince people about that kind of subsidization mechanism. I think it is necessary, but at the same time perhaps we can look at the carrot aspect or the carrot approach as well.
I know that in Europe, in order to get companies to deal with environmental problems of pollution and recycling, they were given tax breaks and other incentives which didn't directly cost them. They still went ahead and took the necessary measures to deal with the issues, but it was of a benefit to them to do so.
I know that the CRTC is not in charge of taxation. I'm well aware of that. However, as I also said earlier, our federal government appears to have abrogated its responsibility in terms of setting policies. The national access strategy might have dealt with some of these issues. I guess I would request that, perhaps in its regulatory role, the CRTC might be able to direct some of these concerns to the appropriate federal bodies and say, "Think about it. Consider it. Look at some alternatives."
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to invite Bonnie Holly to come forward.
Whenever you are ready.
MS HOLLY: Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Welcome.
MS HOLLY: I would like to introduce myself. My name is Bonnie Holly. I am a Councillor for the District of Houston and President for the North Central Municipal Association.
Our association represents the northern half of the province and consists of 30 communities and seven regional districts in the northern half of this province.
Within its boundaries, we have 10 per cent of our population -- B.C.'s population.
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to let us bring our concerns to you this evening.
Although BC Telecom has a financial plan to invest $570 million of infrastructure in this province, we in the north expect to see increased and enhanced services delivered before any consideration is given to the removal of price caps and subsidies.
Large numbers of subscribers in our municipalities and rural areas are still inadequately serviced. Many are connected to party lines and have no access to enhanced services commonly available in urban centres, such as: the ability to fax or to fax at more than 24 bits per second; connect to Sympatico or other Internet services; or to subscribe to features such as call display, caller ID; or to have the luxury of uninterrupted telephone service.
We understand the mandate of the CRTC is to regulate telecommunications in Canada and that they have a policy objective, No. 7(b), in a Telecommunications Act which states:
"To render reliable and affordable telecommunication services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada." (As read)
From the Telecom Decision of the CRTC, 97-8, the Commission also stated:
"Even with full realization of local competition, the Commission considers it likely that market forces will not on their own achieve the Act's accessibility objective in all regions of Canada. In establishing the rules to foster market competition in all market segments, the Commission must therefore ensure it has regulatory tools through which to ensure the continued achievement of this objective." (As read)
We in the north want to urge the CRTC to follow their mandate in ensuring the above access is available and affordable in the NCMA area.
The Stentor report states that in rural Canada paying more for goods and services has come to be viewed as a trade off for lifestyle, cheaper real estate and lower taxes. However the CRTC has traditionally protected the rural regions from dramatic rate increases. This benefit should continue because in rural Canada, and especially in the north, with six months of winter, the telephone is regarded as an essential service and cannot be upheld as such a trade off.
The NCMA believes the current price cap along with any subsidies must continue until legitimate marketplace competition is demonstrated for telecommunication services in northern communities. We respectfully request your sympathetic consideration of our regionalized concerns.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for having taken the time to come and meet with us.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to invite John Kerr to come up and present on behalf of Cindy Charleyboy.
MR. J. KERR: Good evening again, Commissioners.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good evening.
MR. J. KERR: This is not my best time of day. My wife is better in the evening.
The Tatlayoko Think Tank, together, is a good team, but --
THE CHAIRPERSON: I understand what you mean because we could have started the hearing at five o'clock this morning, the two of us.
MR. J. KERR: It would have been much better for me. However, my wife might not have been on her "buzzers".
THE CHAIRPERSON: I am sure, coming into the role of Ms Charleyboy, you will pick up in age.
MR. J. KERR: It gives me some pleasure to make this presentation on behalf of Cindy Charleyboy.
"Good afternoon. My name is Cindy Charleyboy. I'm a member of the Tsilhqot'in Nation, a youth worker at the Tatlayoko Think Tank providing computer and Internet training for community members in the Chilcotin, and a member of the First Nations Student Society of the University College of the Cariboo as well.
I just returned to Redstone this year after being away at college for several years and am disappointed to find that telephone service in the Chilcotin has not improved.
Many people in the Chilcotin do not have a phone due to the lack of available phone lines and many may never have a phone because they live in such remote areas. Many people have to be make do with party-line service, which makes it impossible for them to use an answering machine or a fax machine, run a business, or access the Internet.
Until recently, the cost of an individual line in Redstone was $58/month. Now the charge is a mere $17 for an individual line. It's relatively unheard of for anyone to have the luxury of a second line. You can apply for one through BC Tel and they will gladly assign you a phone number, while at the same time explaining that it may be a couple of years before you will receive your second line.
As most people in Canada, I try to limit the number of long-distance calls I make each month, calling only when necessary and during evening hours. However, I have found that increasingly difficult as almost all my calls are long distance and must be made during business hours. For example, my son was extremely sick one morning and I had to call my employers, which are a 45-minute drive away; the nearest Nurses Station, a half hour's drive; the head nurse who had travelled to Anahim Lake, an hours drive; his doctor in Williams Lake, an hour and a half's drive; and my employers' again, all of which were long distance calls during business hours.
When I'm doing fundraising work for the First Nations Student Society, I find that I need to make an average of three long-distance calls each day to Williams Lake, more as the date for an event gets closer. And of course, there are increased long-distance costs for me to arrange appointments in Williams Lake.
Some people might say that this is a cost you have to accept when you live in a rural community, somewhere along the lines of increased travel time. I don't think that we should have to accept these costs as we are not only paying more money for less service, we are losing out on jobs, business opportunities, and the basic right to communicate with others.
The youth in our rural communities are unable to participate in clubs and societies that might help to ease some of the problems that come with social isolation. This situation also limits access to educational options that could give us a head start without having to leave the Chilcotin, which often presents other social problems with the isolation from family and friends in our rural communities.
It is apparent that the technology exists to combine the service areas from Anahim Lake to Williams Lake, which is necessary if the rural communities of the Chilcotin hope to survive and compete in today's changing economic society. It has also been quite apparent that BC Tel is not concerned with providing the necessary service to our communities in an adequate time frame.
Therefore, I urge you to recognize that regulatory measures must be taken to ensure that, as it states in the Telecommunications Act, subsection 7(b), `reliable and affordable telecommunications services of high quality [must be] accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada'."
That submission is made on behalf of Cindy.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I understand that you would like to make an intervention on behalf of yourself, Mr. Kerr?
MR. J. KERR: That's correct.
THE SECRETARY: Would you like to proceed, please?
MR. J. KERR: If I may, please. It is therefore obvious to everybody that that hat which you all imagine, which is there, is now off and I'm just Citizen Kerr here in front of you who will, as you recognize, because of the hour, ramble a bit.
MR. J. KERR: It is my intention to try to summarize a few things.
You have heard our stories. You have a visceral sense of our dilemma. We have vented our collective spleen because of injustice and inferior service.
You have some understanding of our frustration with BC Tel, the Government of B.C., the federal government, and even you, the Commission.
You have heard a collective cry for help from First Nations, individuals, families, small businesses. All this you have heard today.
You are the regulator. We have reason to expect you will help.
The TTT has few resources to draw on which would allow us to comment on how we would fund a universal subsidy fund. We have had some thoughts; Dale has shared a few of those with you.
Saskatchewan, we believe, did well. It went beyond the confines of the interrogatories of the Commission. In contrast, my province is silent. They were here today. They have not filed a submission. It is my hope that they will comment.
Where and how a subsidy comes from and is arrived at is the question that will be discussed by the interested parties in the hearing process that we are registered as part of and will go on for the next year. The problem is that the group is dominated by telephone companies, Stentor companies; there is 10 of them. There are about 60 independent telephone companies across Canada; there are five provincial governments; there are about three public interest advocacy centres; there are three different native groups; and the Tatlayoko Think Tank. There ain't much balance here.
Other than the public hearings, where are you going to get the balance from? This concerns me greatly. As I sit here and listen to this proceeding and as I go off to lunch, and as I go out to speculate about this, I'm wondering: Where are you, these Commissioners, going to get the balance?
Because you have heard a story here. I will not suggest that the story is insignificant. I wouldn't be so callous as to do that. But what I will suggest to you is that there is another story underneath this story, which is the story of that competition that has been turned loose in this nation.
A means test or eligibility criteria, how long you live somewhere as a determinant of who qualifies is not acceptable. Instead, the issue is access to service, I believe.
There is a comment from a book. The book is called "Tech High". Marita Moll was the editor. Marita Moll sat as a participant in the I-HACK process. The comment, and I quote:
"Owners of many newspapers and television stations are poised to profit from passage of the bill, says Machesney." (As read)
Now, who Machesney is, I don't know.
"The Telecommunications Act", and he is speaking of the United States:
"...is one of the most corrupt pieces of legislation in U.S. history. As a result of this bill, the information highway will be entirely controlled by the big firms and it will be developed to make the Bills profit regardless of the social implications. Forget about public interest. The rich will get served, the middle class noticed and the poor forgotten." (As read)
I can provide you the source of that quote. I'm sorry, I can't provide you more information about that.
As has been mentioned earlier, we look to the States. They are the precursor in this deregulation. I don't know. I grew up in the States. I know enough to follow that action down there, but it frightens me because I came to Canada because of the possibilities that are offered us and social justice, and I'm frightened.
We have come to understand competition as a fait accompli -- we, the Tatlayoko Think Tank. Rather than fuss about it, we have decided we will have some. We would like to talk until the cows come home for 4 cents a minute in Tatlayoko Lake. We can't.
In the grand scheme of things we wonder, as competition manifests itself in Canada: What if the members of Stentor realign? We all know businesses come and go. Stentor may choose to disappear as we know it.
If BC Tel, even after corporate write-down, can't maintain its high profitability and is sold by its parent American company, GTE, what then?
No penalties in the CRTC forbearance decision, which means that equal access doesn't have to happen where I live. And I have letters from BC Tel saying they don't intend to give it to me. That fibre optic line which is coming by my door, just like those big hydro electric wires, ain't gonna be available to the Tatlayoko Think Tank according to the letter that I have from BC Tel, which I would be pleased to share with you.
What it means when the CRTC doesn't put any penalties in place for equal access, it means that BC Tel is not obliged to provide equal access.
Now, at first I used to think, well, damn BC Tel. Now I have come to understand that the other telephone companies have obligations too, all those competitive people, London Telecom, Sprint, AT&T. But there aren't enough people in my exchange. There is 100 of us. A whole whopping 100 in the 476 exchange. The three exchanges that our little Internet service provides all together are 400 people. They are not coming there. There isn't a hope in hell that they are going to come out here to the Chilcotin.
So I'm left to wonder.
There is no penalties for non-completion of the RUP in the year 2001. David Neads, who you saw here in front of you, was exempted from the RUP by BC Tel. BC Tel came to the CRTC and said, "We would like to do it later when the fibre optic line comes by." I ask you: What does the fibre optic line have to do with getting five people a telephone?
I have been told I am not going to get it. David is not going to get it. How is this going to happen? These are little examples; you have heard them all day. There have been a plethora of them.
Eduardo Van -- I'm so happy he showed up because I was going to represent on behalf of him, I think; and I didn't know who he was, so it was wonderful to have him show up -- made the point that BC Tel is telling its customers that competition pays nothing -- that the competition pays nothing, even though they use the wires, et cetera. So when I would pick up the phone, it was very difficult. Finally, I began to get more information, and I did come to understand that there were requirements that the competitors do pay into this fund.
So what I have come to understand is that this competition is here, the winds of change that David Richardson spoke so well of, Bill Gates and those satellites skimming over the surface, may appear.
Then I have to ask: What then?
That comment I remember out of my childhood was Peter and the Wolf, and it rings in my mind when I say it to you. I think of what the old grandpa said: What then, Peter?
I leave you with that question, Françoise Bertrand, as Chair of this Commission: What then?
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
I don't know if Ms Grauer has any questions.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: No. Thank you very much.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
COMMISSIONER GRAUER: I know you have come a long way, and your people have as well. It has been very helpful.
MR. J. KERR: Thanks for putting up with us all day. We have had a good time.
THE CHAIRPERSON: No. Thank you for having really taken the time, and having put so much energy in making -- not only you, but many of your friends too, so that we could hear different stories.
Thank you very much.
MR. J. KERR: It has been two years we have been waiting for this. I'm pleased to be here.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I would like to go to Prince Rupert again and ask if Mr. Wilf Rimmer is with us.
MR. GODIN: Madam Secretary, he is not. We have tried to contact him by telephone and have not been able to do so. We will stay here and wait for him.
We are in your hands as to how late we should stay.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Peter. We will get back to you.
Could we check Vancouver, please.
MS EDGE: Hi. There are no further presenters here.
THE SECRETARY: No one in Vancouver?
MS EDGE: No.
THE SECRETARY: Thank you, Michelle.
Is there anyone in the room that planned to speak and hasn't had an opportunity to speak?
I don't see anyone.
THE CHAIRPERSON: So I would propose that we take a 15-minute break to allow the telephone companies to kind of prepare. We will be back then at 8:35 to hear both telephone companies in their reply.
--- Recessed at 20:20/Suspension à 20:20
--- Resumed at 20:40/Reprise à 20:40
THE SECRETARY: We will go to Prince Rupert; I believe Mr. Wilf Rimmer is in Prince Rupert.
MR. GODIN: Yes, he is.
THE SECRETARY: Please begin when you are ready, Mr. Rimmer.
MR. RIMMER: Okay. Thank you very much.
As you know, my name is Mr. Wilf Rimmer. I am the Senior Manager, Information Systems at Northern Savings Credit Union. Northern Savings is a small, regional credit union with approximately 15,000 members. We serve these members through branches in Terrace, Prince Rupert, Masset and Queen Charlotte City. In the case of our Masset and Queen Charlotte City branches, these are the only financial institutions servicing the some seven communities that are situated on the Queen Charlotte Islands. The Queen Charlotte Islands are about as remote as you are going to get on the west coast.
The Commission has requested views on what should be the obligations of telephone companies or the competitors with respect to providing service in high-cost areas.
Firstly, having served the northwest for over 50 years, we have ample reasons to consider each one of the communities that we serve to be a high-cost area. We are unclear as to whether the Commission has a different view point or definition on what a high-cost servicing area is. We would be curious, if there is a different definition for Terrace, Prince Rupert, Queen Charlotte City and Masset, we would like to be provided with the definition.
Our credit union is competing with the chartered banks in an industry that is a relatively heavy user of telco services. For us, communications expenses are a significant cost of doing business. This same industry that we are competing in also appears on the surface to lend itself very well to virtually any business model that the so-called information highway promises.
Time and time again our member surveys and customer surveys that we pick up from across the country tell us that the average consumer still wishes and indeed needs a physical presence in a relationship with a trusted financial advisor in their community. Unfortunately, maintaining a physical presence in smaller communities such as we have here in the north can be very expensive on all fronts. Travel particularly is very expensive, and certainly in the wintertime either not possible or, in the case of float planes over to the islands, dangerous.
Prudent and intelligent use of telecommunications technology holds out the potential for our credit union at least to reduce our costs of servicing remote members and at the same time maintaining that physical presence in their communities.
I see the Commission here is spending the public money in a prudent manner by using tele-conferencing instead of travelling to each community. At Northern, we would like to use the same technologies to maintain our organization's service culture and to deliver our more specialized services such as financial planning advisory, insurance advisory and commercial lending services to some of the remote communities that we serve.
Unfortunately, in our case, in pursing these solutions we face poor service from BC Tel, arrogance from their subsidiaries, high rates and no alternatives. The types of service interruption that we in Prince Rupert experienced last year when BC Tel moved its datapac circuits were completely intolerable in this day and age of high-quality service levels. In the case of our island branches, there is no alternative long-distance carriers. We have been informed this is because the present telco has not seen fit to complete the software upgrade to their switch to allow competition and, to the best of our knowledge, has no plans to do so in the near future.
We have also been stalled in our quest for affordable bandwidth to connect our branches, in part because of BC Tel's decision to stop their new fibre optic backbone at Terrace instead of continuing it on to Prince Rupert. As a result, we have been quoted cost for T1 line at in the range of $14,000 versus equivalent rates of between $800 and $1,400 for communities that are situated on mega routes. Installation charges for ATM services have ben quoted in the area of $16,000 per site versus the $5,000 per site charged in more profitable, more established locations.
I believe that the Commission will intuitively understand that banking is in the forefront of change being brought by advancements in information technologies. IT skills are in very short supply everywhere in the world, and any individual making a career in IT must continually upgrade and acquire skills in emerging technologies. In the north, we even more keenly feel the shortage of IT skills. The cost of travel to distant communities to acquire these in conferences, seminars and courses is simply prohibitive in many cases.
The use of telecommunications to facilitate distance learning can bridge this gap as well as many other needs in the north. In fact, we consider that access to distance learning using new multi-media technologies is a must if our communities are to survive and thrive in this information age that we find ourselves in today. However, bandwidth costs and availability remain as high and as scarce as they currently are, and this will only be a fleeting dream for anybody living on the north coast.
In the industrial age, classes in society were split along access to capital and resources. In the information age, it is very easy to foresee a class society in Canada that is split along access, or lack of access, to information. In Canada we have struggled to create a society with equal access to justice, education and health care, to name a few of the things we take for granted. In the information age, we feel that it will be critical that we expand this as a society to guarantee people access to information. The delivery mechanisms and the economics of access to the global net should be considered tools of public policy to bring this equal access about.
If there are any doubts as to our position, it is our view that part of the costs for a telco to do business in Canada should be to provide full, modern and competitive telco services to both those remote and high-cost areas. To allow anything else to take place will certainly relegate our communities to road kill on the information highway instead of full and active contributors to the Canadian society.
The Commission has also asked for views on what services should be eligible for high-cost service areas and how the subsidies should be funded. Firstly, we believe that the experience telcos have gained in Canada, conquering geographic challenges and climate that we face, has assisted them in becoming world class competitors. We do not see it as unreasonable to expect the telcos to be required to fund the costs of continuing to service high-cost areas. The expenses of doing so, however, should be reflected proportionately in the income statements of any telco doing business in Canada.
In terms of what services should be eligible for subsidies, access to all telco services at competitive rates should not be viewed as a luxury but something that we should strive to provide to all Canadians.
The last question is much more difficult to answer. Wireless satellite and microwave technologies may be the only cost-effective solution in many situation. Each medium brings with it its own challenges and drawbacks. For instance, the latency inherent in satellite communications may make it virtually useless for some applications. Unfortunately, we see no pat answer here but we would suggest that the CRTC strive to achieve a formula for applying a cost-benefit analysis in cases where the population or traffic clearly would not support land lines.
Thank you for the opportunity to express our views. We have nothing else there.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Rimmer, for having participated in our proceeding and for having been patient to the point of being our last intervenor tonight. Thank you very much.
MR. RIMMER: Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: You weren't there earlier in the evening when we said that we are sorry we didn't go to Prince Rupert, but Commissioner Grauer has promised to go this summer.
MR. RIMMER: Well, you have representation here, so we will be sure to band his ear. Thank you.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
THE SECRETARY: I now invite Bruce Kerr from City Tel to reply to the intervenors.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Good evening.
MR. B. KERR: Good evening, mesdames and Steve.
We don't have a lot to reply to as far as intervenors from Prince Rupert, but we would like to say that we at City Tel are pleased with the opportunity to express our views with the CRTC on high-cost serving areas. In Prince Rupert we are not under-served or unserved locally. We have had individual lines since 1986. We offer cellular, 9-1-1 service, ADSL service, the Internet service.
We do, however, appreciate the people in the interior's concerns about travelling to Prince Rupert, and it does emphasize Prince Rupert as being hanging off at the end of BC Tel's network. That does create a high-cost concern to Prince Rupert itself, Prince Rupert City Telephones, in that we are at the end of the network, and the facilities are expensive and in most cases not even available. We will work through this ourselves and deal with the issues with BC Tel for access from Prince Rupert to Terrace over the next few months.
We are pleased to hear that Cindy Grauer will be in Prince Rupert in the near future and we look forward to meeting with her; we will express our concerns with her, and I am sure that we will come to some amiable solution with our problem with access to Terrace, the rest of the province and indeed the rest of the world.
Once again I would like to thank the Commission for their efforts, especially Mr. Peter Vivian and Paul Godin, who have been here in Prince Rupert with us for the last few days. We thank you and the people in Prince George for your attention today.
I know it has been a long day and I am sure you are all ready for some relaxation, and we will be talking to you at another time, I am sure.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
THE SECRETARY: Now I invite Jim Brooks and his party for BC Tel's reply.
MR. BROOKS: Good evening.
Madam Chairperson, let me first start by saying personally how impressed I was by the submissions of all the people that were here today. I thought the quality and the insight was remarkable, and I can certainly tell everyone that has made a submission today that we at BC Tel take them very seriously.
So let me start by saying that BC Tel is committed to connecting British Columbians to one of the best telecommunications networks in the world, and we share the government's objective of making Canada the most connected nation in the world. We worked hard and invested a great deal to achieve this goal, and the question now is how best to address what remains of this task.
Those of you who have flown in our province could not fail to be impressed, as I have in the past, by the rugged mountainous terrain of our province, and as majestic as the mountains are, they present formidable challenges for a network service provider. We at BC Tel take pride in what we have achieved in connecting British Columbians to one of the most advanced and reliable networks in the world, and we have achieved this in spite of the terrain and in more recent times within the bounds of a fully competitive marketplace.
Consider that by the end of 1998 99.6 per cent of BC Tel customers will have individual line service. Our plan is to convert the remaining exchanges with party line customers to individual line service by the end of 1999, two years ahead of our commitment to the Commission.
To make this happen, BC Tel has spent $36 million on our Rural Upgrade Program over the past three years. The cost of completing this program will be an additional $45 million. By the end of this year, 99.8 per cent of our customers will be connected to digital switches, and the remaining 3,700 customers should be connected to digital switches by the end of 1999.
Again, this achievement has a price tag. BC Tel has invested over $116 million since 1996 on our Switch Conversion Program, and it will cost us a further $12.8 million over the next two years to provide 100 per cent digital switching.
So we are very close on both our Rural Upgrade and our Switch Conversion Programs, but in both cases achieving 100 per cent is expensive and very work intensive.
In 1998 and 1999 we are investing more than $4 million to connect 500 British Columbians living in small remote communities to the network. Under BC Tel's Service Extension Program, the company contributes up to $10,000 per customer to provide service in these remote communities, and I should say to my knowledge this is the most generous program of its kind in Canada for a telephone company.
If I might just expand on this point a bit, I would note that a number of the submissions today have spoken of the need to expand service into areas that currently don't have service. The situation is that the Service Extension Program, as it is sometimes called, while it is the most generous program that I am aware of with this $10,000 contribution from the company -- which, by the way, compares to about $1,000 to extend service in urban areas -- isn't always sufficient. What we find is that the cost of extending service in many cases goes well beyond the $10,000 per household, and we found in many cases the people aren't able to pay the extra cost beyond our $10,000.
So we have been very pleased to see a number of the programs come along involving the federal and provincial governments that help supplement this and some communities are indeed going ahead as a result of this supplemented contribution. So I thought I would expand just a bit on that. It is a very challenging problem and one which we take very seriously.
BC Tel also has an innovative program to address the needs of small communities wishing to expand their toll-free calling areas to include a larger nearby community. As of June 21st, 162 communities will have implemented this one-way extended area service; this is, again, a service where a small community calling up to 40 miles can have one-way calling into a larger community for their basic needs.
BC Tel is also aggressively looking for new ways of providing service in under-served and unserved areas. Earlier this week we announced we are inviting 50 residents of Farmington, near Dawson Creek, to participate in a trial of a new type of digital wireless technology that will eliminate their party line service. This trial follows an earlier trial in the Vancouver Island community of Hot Springs Cove of a different type of wireless technology.
We are proud of these accomplishments, but, as we have eloquently heard today, statistics can mask the human side. For those who are among the British Columbians still awaiting individual line service or digital switching, or service of any sort in a remote community, numbers are not the issue. The issue for these people is having their particular telecommunications needs addressed.
So to those of you who have made the effort to be here today and who have raised specific service issues, I commit that a representative from BC Tel will get back to you as soon as possible to discuss your particular situation. We may not be able to resolve it, but we will try our best.
The crux of this issue, the reason we are all here today is that in the information age all British Columbians want access to information technology. Everyone wants to be connected.
The problem, of course, is that providing this access in rural and remote communities is not an economically viable proposition in a competitive environment. The cost of providing service in sparsely populated areas far exceeds the price these customers currently pay or in many cases can realistically be expected to pay. Paradoxically, while the cost of providing service in rural and remote communities is very high, the price charged is still lower in rural areas than in urban. The historic subsidies that have sustained this system are quickly eroding in this age of competition. For example, urban business customers have traditionally paid rates pegged well above our cost to providing service. The profits were then used to help subsidize residential, particularly rural residential customers. Over the past few months competitive pressures have driven these rates down, and thus reduced the money available for subsidies.
BC Tel is now facing competition in every part of our business, and of course competitors are focusing their attention on the lucrative urban business market. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to subsidize the rural and remote areas to the same degree and in the same way we have in the past. This proceeding is therefore a very timely re-examination of the issues.
I would like to take a moment to highlight BC Tel's position on the key points of this proceeding.
To facilitate the transition to competition throughout the local service market, subsidies must be reduced and eventually eliminated. An important first step in this direction would entail focusing subsidies where they are most needed -- areas which are truly high-cost serving areas. BC Tel recommends that during the price cap period a portion of the explicit subsidy pool be redirected to specifically support the provision of service in high-cost areas.
Now, in identifying high-cost areas we must recognize that the cost of providing service is affected by many factors, and these include density of population, distance between the customers and our telecommunications switch, the type of infrastructure in place, the number of lines, the terrain and the distance that area is from other population centres. In designating high-cost areas, BC Tel proposes to use internal costing data to identify areas which are significantly above our average costs. Although we have not determined conclusively where the cut-off point should be, we are considering identifying areas where costs are more than 30 per cent above the average as high-cost areas. If we do that and use that 30 per cent approximate cut-off, about 200,000 residential lines would be included in this definition in our territory.
BC Tel is committed to working in partnership with other stakeholders to carry on the task of bringing telecommunications access to the few remaining British Columbians currently without service. We are painfully aware of the problems, but we recognize that the solutions are beyond the scope of our company if we attempt to act alone.
However, the solutions are within our grasp if we work together in partnership -- individuals and communities, all levels of government and telecommunication service providers. In fact, BC Tel has already been working with partners to further our objectives of providing access for all British Columbians. For example, the recently announced Federal/Provincial Infrastructure Project -- and I should say this is one that has been referred to a number of times today -- is helping to bring telephone service to six small remote BC communities. Of this $4 million program, BC Tel is committing $2.7 million over the next 18 months. The federal and provincial governments and community residents are covering the remaining costs.
In another example, last week BC Telecom and the Shushkwepan Cultural Education Society announced a partnership to develop a high-speed telecommunications network connecting the 17 bands of the Shushwap Nation. This business partnership, which by the way is fully compensatory for BC Tel, will provide Internet connectivity, a Shushwap Nation intranet, Internet multi-media educational content, including distance learning, and electronic commerce applications.
In the era of monopoly, British Columbians naturally looked to BC Tel to provide service regardless of the costs. Today, competitive reality has constrained our abilities to play this role. However, I believe the innovative partnership models which are emerging hold great promise, and I am very encouraged by the active role community groups and various levels of government are playing in these partnerships.
Providing access for all British Columbians is a worthy societal goal, and we in BC Tel intend to continue playing a leading role in seeing this goal realized. We take a great deal of pride in what has been accomplished in building the telecommunications network in this province, but we do realize the task is not net complete. We are committed to work with all parties to bring telecommunication service to all British Columbians.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Brooks. Thank you for having been very patient all day because you were the last one, of course, by definition, and to your colleagues also.
MR. BROOKS: Thank you, Madam Chairperson.
THE CHAIRPERSON: Madam Secretary, that concludes our proceeding?
THE SECRETARY: Yes, Madam Chair.
THE CHAIRPERSON: It does? Well, it has been 12 hours. I have got many thanks, and please give me two minutes.
I would like to thank first everybody that has participated in written form and actively here in Prince George today and in Prince Rupert and in Vancouver. It has been a very fruitful day. Thank you very much. It has been helpful.
Although many of the intervenors seemed to have no telephone service, or very poor quality, or not all the promises of enhanced services, certainly it has not taken away the capacity of communicating and telling stories because it has been very instructive to us but also very human in terms of everything we have heard today.
So I want to thank every one of you for the time you have taken, and probably driving a long road before coming here and spending many hours with us. Thank you.
I want to thank the court reporter, who has been very enduring, because usually he would have been with a colleague and the 12 hours would have been at least separated, but he has been with us all day, kind of assuming alone. And I put aside the fact that he is smoking, so it is pretty difficult for him to be hours without a smoke.
I want to thank also BC Tel and Prince Rupert City for their welcome and their participation but also for having made possible the video connection in Prince Rupert and in Vancouver. It has been very helpful. It is not the pretention that we have covered the entire province; as we know, it is a very large province, but at least we have felt that we could better reach out, and that is really due to communication, which shows the importance of communication.
Many times today we have heard the words that kind of repeat the Telecommunications Act that there is a need for reliable and affordable telecommunication services of high quality accessible to Canadians in both urban and rural areas in all regions of Canada. We heard you, and that is I guess the very purpose of the proceeding we have started this week in Whitehorse with you today and that we will pursue for many weeks to come with the general public, because after are many weeks of meeting with different Canadians all across the country, and then the proceeding will pursue till the spring of 1999 in order really to come to a good understanding, but beyond that the solutions to the kind of situations that were explained to us.
So to all thank you very much. Thank you to my colleagues of the Commission, and to all, after 12 hours of good work, I wish a good night sleep and a safe drive home tomorrow.
--- Whereupon the hearing concluded at 21:10/
L'audience se termine à 21:10
- Date modified: