For immediate release
16 September 2016
Bevan-Baker stunned at details of Bell Aliant contract
After finally having a chance to see a redacted version of the 2008 Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) between the Province and Bell Aliant, Green Party of PEI Leader Peter Bevan-Baker is concerned not only about how the contract was negotiated – which created our current deficient situation – but also about what the future may hold, especially for rural PEI.
In the document released yesterday, several key points have been redacted, primarily relating to how much public money was used to build the high-speed infrastructure on PEI. “However,” said Bevan-Baker, “it is clear that Islanders got their bell rung when the government signed this deal.”
Under the SPA, the Province partially funded the expansion of Bell Aliant’s privately-owned broadband network, giving the company a competitive advantage over its rivals and helping them form a partial-monopoly over rural internet services. “The fact that Bell Aliant is free to ‘downgrade’ rural services in 2020 will not help rural Islanders get better internet services in the long term, nor promote community development in rural PEI,” said Bevan-Baker.
Bevan-Baker notes that the SPA calls for speeds of “up to 1.5 Mbps” in a limited number of communities, which is far less than the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) 2011 target of 5 Mbps “to all Canadians … by the end of 2015”. CRTC data from 2014 show that most of PEI still does not have adequate internet services for modern uses. “This points to the contract’s failure to significantly improve service for rural Islanders, and to a need for a new plan to improve rural broadband on PEI,” said Bevan-Baker
At the time the SPA was signed, Bruce Howett of Bell Aliant described his company’s commitment “to provide broadband to all communities across Prince Edward Island.” The SPA has a specific list of 56 communities in which service would be expanded. “This deal was sold as finally bringing modern internet to every community on PEI, but as we now see, that was simply not the case,” said Bevan-Baker. “Several communities in my district are not on that list and still don’t have full access to even the low-speed service that we were told this deal would provide.”
Bevan-Baker hopes that government will learn some valuable lessons from the failure of this agreement. “It’s clear that any future initiatives need to be done better. We need to go through a public tendering process to open it up to competition and ensure we get the best possible deal, not negotiate secretly with a single company. We also need to put in up-to-date infrastructure that will be relevant into the future, which basically means fibre optic lines, or technology with a similar capacity, Island-wide.”
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The full Strategic Partnership Agreement as submitted to the Standing Committee on Education and Economic Development on 15 September 2016, is available on Bevan-Baker’s website.
From the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) Telecom Regulatory Policy CRTC 2011-291:
“[R]ecognizing that Internet service is an increasingly important means of communication, the Commission considers that it would be in the public interest to establish universal target speeds for broadband Internet access in Canada. This should ensure that all Canadians, particularly those in rural and remote areas, can benefit from a greater level of broadband connectivity. In this decision, the Commission establishes target speeds of 5 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream. These speeds should be available to all Canadians, through a variety of technologies, by the end of 2015.”
The CRTC has produced a map of Broadband Internet Service Coverage in Canada, which shows that the vast majority of rural Prince Edward Island is classified as “Unserved/Underserved” (less than 5 Mbps download speed) as of 2014. Note that new internet service providers have recently been established which may provide “high speed” service in some parts of PEI.
Bruce Howatt, Vice-President, PEI, Bell Aliant, was quoted from a 2008 article in The Guardian by Wayne Thibodeau. Similar statements were made by he and others in a variety of other sources (1, 2, 3, 4).