One of the great problems of any utility--power, phone, Internet or the like--is supplying it to remote locations. There are always people who live in out of the way areas, either by choice or by legacy, and supplying them with utilities can be an expensive proposition that doesn't return much investment. Canada has been seeing a problem like this with phone service, especially trying to get phone service to the remote regions of the north. But now, a bit of competition has started up in earnest as Iristel has announced that it will be taking on NorthwesTel in providing local phone service to the remote Canadian north.
Since a large part of Canada's population is located basically a stone's throw from the United States, the issue of connectivity in Canada hasn't exactly been too troublesome. Sure, there have been some areas less connected than others, but this hasn't been the problem it's been in the United States. However, for places such as Inuvik, Whitehorse and Yellowknife, connectivity has been a huge problem. In fact, with Iristel operations coming online in the 867 area code, this is the first time that those residents have had the option to switch local phone companies. Most Canadians have had a choice in local phone for around the last 15 years, but this is a new point for northern residents.
Competition in most markets brings with it the likelihood of change on several fronts: prices tend to drop, service tends to improve, and more services tend to become available as the competitors not only strive to obtain new business, but the formerly entrenched businesses strive to retain their current customers. Indeed, it's not only the natural flow of competition that has people paying attention, but also the efforts of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that will figure into the efforts of both Iristel and NorthwesTel.
Iristel has an advantage in that they're a VoIP and DID service provider, which will open up several new options, including the ability to take new phone numbers that are more in keeping with areas they call. For instance, Iristel describes how a resident of Yellowknife might have family in Toronto, and so, that Yellowknife resident could take a 416 number instead, making calls to that Yellowknifer free for the Toronto family.
NorthwesTel, meanwhile, is already getting its own optimization plans in place, and ready for the CRTC to consider, with plans to file the plans by January 15. A NorthwesTel representative even said of their plans: "NorthwesTel is proud of its long history of providing state-of-the-art communications services to Northerners across some of the most challenging terrain in the world, and we encourage Northerners to participate in the CRTC consultations.".
But a major challenge awaits NorthwesTel's modernization efforts, specifically, the infrastructure. One of the great challenges of any utility is actually getting the pipes, wires, and cables necessary to enjoy utility service to the locations they're needed, and in a manner that's both cost-effective and resilient. Reports even suggest that many of NorthwesTel's switches are incompatible with those of other networks, so getting the full range of services to the area will be difficult and expensive. This opens up several critical problems in its own right, and makes the issue of modernizing the 867 more difficult than previously considered.
Edited by Stefanie Mosca