Friday, February 7, 1997

Telephone wars on the horizon

We almost feel sorry for the phone company. Almost, but not quite.

NorthwesTel is working hard to stay on the black side of the profit margin in the face of rapidly evolving technology, changing consumer tastes and demands and the coming end to its monopoly on long-distance service in the North.

The reason we don't feel sorry, at least not yet, is NorthwesTel hasn't been doing too badly of late. The difference between what it lost providing local service last year and what it made on long distance was a cool $9 million.

Meanwhile, it's parent company, BCE Inc. (one of Canada's largest corporations) just reported record profits in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion.

Make no mistake about it, the telecommunications business is one of the most lucrative and fastest growing in the world. But it's also the most challenging, which brings us to the sympathy part.

As NorthwesTel president Jean Poirier concedes, long-distance competition could hit the North as soon as this fall. Sprint Canada is expected to ask the federal regulator, the CRTC, to allow it into the long-distance market.

The cost of phoning friends and family down south and around the globe is about to plummet. Which is why NorthwesTel has just asked the CRTC to let it raise local rental rates by $4 a month.

If we are to believe NorthwesTel's figures, then some sort of local rate hike will be warranted - but only when competition begins to pull down long-distance rates. Not before.

Further down the road, perhaps by the end of the century, the CRTC will likely put an end to NorthwesTel's monopoly on local service, as well.

The key to survival is, of course, good customer service, something Poirier knows has been lacking. And in a competitive marketplace, the only way we'll get it is to demand it.

We look forward to doing just that. (7/Feb/97)

Build the fence!

There should be no question who is responsible for ensuring Royal Oak's Colomac mine poses no threats to the environment once it closes.

Already, the Dogrib are worried caribou grazing at the site in the future could be contaminated by eating leftover toxic waste.

Royal Oak did agree to restore the site, but erecting 10 kilometres of fencing around the tailing pond isn't part of the deal.

BHP was just put through the hoops, so why can't the territorial government revisit Colomac and strike a new deal? On the other hand, why can't Royal Oak just be a good corporate citizen and fence off the area? (7/Feb/97)

Rev. Gordon Bailey

With the death of Rev. Gordon Bailey in Fort Smith, the people of Yellowknife lost an example of care and compassion.

He and late wife, Ruth, generously and selflessly provided food and shelter to the city's homeless.

As the GNWT turns more social responsibilities back to the communities in the name of "empowerment", we are going to need lots of people like the Baileys.

His example stands as a model of civic responsibility. (7/Feb/97)