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NorthwesTel rivals pitch telecom projects at CRTC hearings

NorthwesTel rivals pitch telecom projects at CRTC hearings

Peter Petto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Companies looking to crack NorthwesTel's long-held monopoly tried to convince Canada's telecom regulator that they, too, can build up infrastructure in Canada's Far North.

The issue of bandwidth scarcity hampering economic development in Canada's North came to the fore as CRTC hearings over the regulatory framework of BCE Inc. subsidiary NorthwesTel Inc. continued Wednesday in Whitehorse.

"Building fibre in the North is not easy," said Geoff Batstone, chief legal counsel for Arctic Fibre Inc., the company proposing to build a subsea fibre-optic network connecting Tokyo to London via the Northwest Passage.

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Founded by Toronto-based entrepreneur Douglas Cunningham, the company plans to raise more than $600-million to implement its cable network through the frigid waterway. The infrastructure will introduce a competitive alternative to satellite backbone, reducing carrier backhaul costs, Mr. Cunningham said.

Arctic Fibre listed geography, population and logistics among the factors that make infrastructure development in the North more difficult and expensive than in the south. "Investors expect a reasonable return," said Mr. Batstone.

Adequate return on investment and favourable regulatory policies, including an efficient subsidy regime, are key factors in encouraging the flow of capital investment to the Far North, Mr. Cunningham said.

Revisions to the subsidy regime must promote high-bandwidth broadband transport alternatives, he added.

NorthwesTel is currently the owner of all fibre-optic infrastructure to the south; other companies provide microwave services.

Presenting to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on behalf of the K'atl'odeeche First Nation, an aboriginal community of 600 members which has a traditional territory on the southern side of Great Slave Lake near the town of Hay River, IT Manager Lyle Fabian detailed work the band has done toward building its own network infrastructure, with funding from the federal government's Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) .

"KFN sees several long-term economic opportunities in this project, including leasing infrastructure to telcos or cell phone companies," said Mr. Fabian.

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The commission is reviewing how much incumbent NorthwesTel can mark up its services before selling access to its infrastructure to competing services as part of the hearing which began Monday in Inuvik.

NorthwesTel's network modernization plan, a proposed $233-million investment which aims to revamp telecom services in Canada's North, is also being reviewed. The company's widespread infrastructure upgrade plan needs to be approved by the regulator before proceeding.

The hearing is scheduled to wrap up Thursday in Whitehorse.

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