Thursday 17 May 2012

Bell Elaborates on the Deferral Account Plan 17 May 12

Bell has submitted an additional report to the CRTC concerning Deferral Account status that elaborates on the rather skimpy information provide in the 30 Mar 12 report discussed in the blog on 03 Apr 12. All items in quotes are from the recent Bell submission to the CRTC.

The new report gives greater detail about the Deferral Account work program which needs to be completed before the service can be offered to the public in the Deferral Account areas. Unfortunately, the item most blog readers are interested in – the roll-out schedule - has been blanked out. Bell’s reasoning is: - “To release the draft roll-out plan contained herein may convey plans to communities that will change significantly once the detailed roll-out plan is finalized and put on the public record at the end of July.”

The report also clarifies that Bell “plans on deploying broadband services to the reaming 109 approved communities using the wireless HSPA+ technology. Completion of the roll-out to all communities is planned for 31 August 2014, consistent with [CRTC] decision 2010-637.”

Bell provided a public high level schedule in the report as follows but it does not identify the communities (Deferral Account areas):

  1. By 31 December 2012, seven communities are expected to be in-service;
  2. Between 1 January 2013 and 30 April 2013, eight more communities are expected to be rolled out:
  3. Between 1 May 2013 and 31 December 2013, 28 additional communities are expected to be rolled out; and
  4. Between 1 January 2014 and 31 August 2014, the remaining 66 communities will be in-service by 31 August 2014.

The report identifies three categories of work that needs to be done before Deferral Account service can be activated in a specific area;

  1. System Development. This is the IS/IT systems that need to be in place to support the service “including the pricing, specifically set for the deferral account-funded communities only. Until this work is completed, even if the HSPA+ technology infrastructure was built in a community, the Company could not launch the service. This work is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2012.”
  2. Wireline Transport. “Construction of wireline transport includes augmentation of the transport equipment where required in the core network and building the fibre to the tower sites in the deferral account-funded communities.” This clarifies the initial report that gave rise to the possibility that fibre would be used instead of HSPA+. Unfortunately it looks like we will be stuck with HSPA+
  3. Wireless Access. This covers the design, engineering, real estate acquisition and construction of the actual towers and installation of the electronics for the broadband transmission.

I find the procedure for roll-to interesting. According to the report, “…for a given community, once the wireline transport is ready and 80% of the households have access to broadband from a site or tower in the community, broadband service will be made available to those customers. The remaining customers in the community will be provided access as the additional sites required are constructed.” My interpretation of this is that the Deferral Account rates will be only offered once the criteria are met. When this is combined with the System Development requirement noted above, the new site at Goulais may be initially commissioned as a normal cell site in 3rd quarter 2012 and perhaps converted to Deferral Account service afterwards.

An attachment to the report lists the 109 communities designated for Deferral Account service. In the Algoma District they are: Echo Bay (Sylvan Valley and rural area around the community), Goulais, SSM-Airport (the Pointes area), St Joseph Island and Wawa.

The next milestone appears to be the release of the detailed schedule.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Complaint Procedures

I often receive complaints about various aspects of telecom service in the Algoma District. If you are a customer of one the incumbent companies and are having a problem, you can try to use the established procedures and attempt to resolve the problem.

All the principal primary vendors serving the Algoma District have an established complaint resolution and escalation system. The depth of procedural information provided varies from vendor to vendor but can be found as follows:

Bell, Eastlink, Ontera, Rogers, Shaw, Telus, Tbaytel and Vianet.

Also the third party companies serving the Algoma District have similar policies.

Rogers is somewhat different in that it is the only one that has an ombudsman who issues an annual public report.

The escalation procedures require you to go through each step of the 3 or 4 step process in sequence to get to top level management intervention.

In all cases, the ultimate arbitrator is the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS). While the CCTS states it is an independent, not-for -profit entity, it is funded by the carriers who use the service. Membership includes both primary and third party vendors.

In my experience, if one follows the procedures, in most cases a mutually agreeable outcome can be achieved. It may take a while, be frustrating and time consuming, but it does work. That does not mean you will always get the result you want or think you deserve. Others have also reported satisfactory results when they were willing to take their time and follow the procedures. As in any dispute both sides have a points of view and the differences need to be resolved.

The most important action in the process is the maintenance of good records of all exchanges with the carrier. One can rest assured that the vendors are keeping meticulous records including voice recordings in some cases.

My approach is to use an oral approach for the initial contact. If I cannot get satisfaction at that point, all further inaction is conducted by e-mail. It may take a bit more work, but it simplifies the record keeping. In any case, as a minimum one should keep track of the date, time, what was discussed and with whom you made contact using either their company ID name or real name. If the vendor makes an offer of resolution, you should ask for a copy in writing either by e-mail or snail mail. Remember there is an adage often credited to movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn that says "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on”

There are other approaches to dispute resolution outside the established procedures but I only recommend them as a last resort.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

CRTC Consultation on the Cellular Sector - Part II

The period for submission of interventions in the CRTC Consultation on Competition in the Wireless Sector announced on 04 April 2012 closed on 03 May 2012. After an initial burst of activity, inputs slowed down for a while and then picked up again when the corporate entities weighed in near the end of the window.

As of 07 May, 272 line items or interventions are listed on the CRTC site. Line item #226 identifies approximately 706 form letters in support of CRTC action to regulate or otherwise control the Mobile (wireless) industry. The source of the form letter is at a site run by Open Media and reads:

“I support the development of minimum national standards to protect wireless customers.

I find there to be a lack of competition in the wireless sector as “three large companies currently control about 94% of the market” and in the absence of sufficient competition we need clear rules to protect Canadians.

I believe the CRTC should protect Canadians when they enter into wireless contracts from unfair practices, such as lack of clarity, abusive fees, and changes without our consent.

I suggest that the CRTC build upon frame works in the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba, as well as on the framework proposed in Private Members Bill 133 in Ontario, in creating these rules. Most importantly, the CRTC must listen to the voices of people in communities across Canada who want more customer control and independent cell phone options.”

Most of the non-form letter interventions expressed the same feelings in different words.

Other areas of concern were, in no particular order:

  1. Three year contracts should be banned and the related issue of cancellation charges and contract changes;
  2. Interveners often mentioned they considered the price structure exorbitant and gouging:
  3. The need to control roaming costs and/or create a nationwide coverage plan;
  4. Numerous comments on various aspects of network locked cell phones and data units;
  5. The word “collusion” was often used when referring to the incumbent carriers and the perceived lack of true market driven competition;
  6. Poor customer service at all levels from the retailer to technical support;
  7. The Canadian market should be opened to foreign investors and operators. (This was generally perceived as the panacea for all the problems.)

I also noticed the following general areas:

  1. References to Bell and Rogers far exceeded the other vendors. This was even the case when the intervenor lived an area where another vendor was the dominant service provider.
  2. Only about six comments from Northern Ontario were posted to the site and these mainly concerned the high cost of service and/or the lack of service away from the main highway corridors.

Corporate responses were submitted by:

Carrier Corporations


Bell Canada CCTS – Comm for Complaints for Telecom Services
Bragg Communications (Eastlink) CEP - Communications, Energy and, Paperworkers Union
Data & Audio-Visual Enterprises (Mobilicity) Consumer Protection BC
GlobeAlive (Wind) CWTA - Canadian Wireless Telecom Association
MTS Allstream Manitoba Government
Public Mobile Ministry of Culture Quebec
Québecor  (Vidéotron) NWT Government
Rogers PIAC - Public Interest Advocacy Centre

With the notable exception of SaskTel who was against CRTC intervention for any reason, the majority of the intervenors favoured the creation of some sort of national wireless services consumer code. This was somewhat like a negative option as the main reason cited for the need of a nationwide code was the recent activity by individual provinces to create their consumer protection legislation. The carriers felt the ultimate outcome of this approach could be a hodgepodge of up to 13 different standards throughout the country.

The Data & Audio-Visual Enterprises (Mobilicity) submission included an excellent table which compared all the provincial regulations and selected the best features of each to create the ideal legislation.

When it came to the issue of forbearance (no regulations concerning price) it should be no surprise that the incumbent vendors saw no need for CRTC intervention. Likewise it should be no surprise that the private and “Others” generally supported a regulatory process.

It would appear the battle lines are drawn on this issue.

The next step in this process takes place on 14 May 2012 which is the deadline for submissions of submissions of reply comments to all other parties that are formal intervenors.

Friday 4 May 2012

DSL Service in the SSM Airport - Pointes Area

There has been talk about DSL service being available in the SSM Airport- Pointes area. I also received a report about a resident getting a notification from Bell offering broadband (high speed) Internet service for terms that are identical to the entry level Bell DSL service.

Are the reports true – well, yes and no.

Low speed DSL service, that is 2Mbps download, is available in the Pointes aux Pins area, around the airport and some areas of Prince Township. It appears the service is not available in Pointes des Chênes and Nokomis Beach areas.

This was not a full-fledged DSL roll-out but rather a coincidental by-product of a copper wire refurbishment project in area. I remember receiving comments from residents of the area years ago about noisy phone lines and even loss of service in some cases when it rained so a refurbishment plan was definitely in order.

To see if this DSL service is available at your residence, get access to the Internet, go to the Bell website and use the software tool located just above the product descriptions to determine if it is available where you live.

As a reminder, the range of DSL over good copper lines is around 7 km cable distance from the Central Office (CO) which in this case is at the corner of Base Line Rd and Airport Rd. The use of a remote DSLAM (digital subscriber line access multiplexer) in an organized roll-out can service larger areas.

As far as can be determined, this DSL service is not part of or a replacement for the Deferral Account program in the area.

I have no new information at this time as to when the Deferral Account HSPA service will be available in the area except the previously announced 2012.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Chapleau Gets FTTH

Chapleau has become the envy of broadband (high speed Internet) users across the Algoma District when it became the first community in the District to receive Fibre-to-the-Home or FTTH infrastructure. Vianet announced availability of the service on 02 May 12. Details can be found on the Vianet website.

Chapleau is now a very competitive environment with three different vendors  - Bell, Tbaytel, and  Vianet, -  providing service using three different technologies - DSL (wireline), 3G/4G HSPA (wireless) and FTTH (cable).

Tuesday 1 May 2012

North Sault Data Hub Issues Update 01 May 12

In my blog of 15 Mar 12 I discussed issues users were experiencing with data hubs in the North Sault area. Since then I have had a number of exchanges with both Rogers and Tbaytel about this matter.

I can say that both companies have taken the concerns seriously and  are taking administrative steps and infrastructure action that should lead to improved service for the users. I will publish additional details once they become available. 

I stated elsewhere that it could take up to six months from when I made an issue of the problems before there might be an improvement in the quality of service. Based on this forecast I expect to see some improvement during the summer of 2012.