Poor TELUS Service? The CRTC says the Lasqueti Community is blame

Like many Lasquetians our phone service has been very intermittent, we’ve had multiple outages that have lasted for weeks and in some cases months. Back in September of 2015 I started a CRTC complaint in which I stated:

“My home phone service is out of service on almost daily basis for between one and six hours. I have reported the outages to TELUS via their website/chat window but have received no response. In general, the level and quality of service delivered by TELUS on this island is disgraceful. The formerly buried phone lines now snake through the woods and ditches along the side of the road.

TELUS is not responding to growing service issues on this island and appears to have decided that the customers here do not deserve first class service instead they let the situation worsen.

The CRTC should hold a public forum and fact finding tour on this island to get a first hand picture of how bad the situation is. There is no reason we should bear with this service in Canada and the CRTC should order TELUS to make the necessary capital expenditures to improve the service here.

For the record I enjoyed excellent service for twenty years or more before TELUS started to take infrastructure short cuts.”

This complaint generated a file number and a series of emails from TELUS regulatory affairs and CRTC staff. The gist of them as been that TELUS faces unreasonable challenges in providing service to Lasqueti and as such we should take what we get and be thankful. Basically the view of the company and their regulators seems to be that it’s not reasonable for Lasquetians to expect phone service if we don’t have public power and have community policies that discourage poles and cell towers.  I have been having a slow boil over the past year or so with this matter but the most recent few emails that I received concerning this matter has prompted me to share my experience with others.

On November 1, I received an email from TELUS Regulatory Affairs stating:

“On October 21, 2016, TELUS was successful in completing the required cable repair work which stabilized the services in your area. On October 28, 2016, the installation and maintenance crew were also on Lasqueti Island and confirmed this. A two-month service interruption credit in the amount of $90 plus applicable taxes was applied to your account for the degraded service you received. Thank you for your patience during this time.”

This would have been a lovely resolution to the problem except our phones went out exactly the day that the email arrived and have not worked since. Then to add insult to injury the CRTC Manager for the Western and Northern Region sent me a letter in which she stated:

“In the case of Lasqueti Island, we note that much of TELUS’ plant remains above the ground rather than the standard practice of direct/conduit bury or aerial mount on poles.  We concur with TELUS’ explanation that at grade deployment, especially the wet environment on the island, the reliability of phone service is difficult to maintain because of the exposure to the elements and to machinery used to maintain the roads and foliage.   Commission staff is aware of the community’s desire to avoid the use of poles on the island which then forces TELUS to lay its cable at grade deployment.  Similarly, we acknowledge that the majority of this island’s terrain prohibits direct or conduit bury.   Commission staff recognizes that TELUS’ use of available generator power instead of standard commercial power restricts its ability to offer seamless telecommunications service on the island.  Lastly, we note the impact of limited transportation to Lasqueti Island in which access is limited to foot traffic passenger service only and private boats.  

 

In light of the above factors, Commission staff accept that TELUS continues to be faced with significant challenges that have contributed to the heightened likelihood of above ground cable being damaged and the resulting quality of service issues for island service and delays in completing the work required.  In Commission staffs’ view, the obstacles identified directly above are beyond TELUS’ control and require action by the community first if the provision of phone service to the island is to be improved.”   

It is insulting to Lasquetians to have a regulated monopoly company whine to the government that it’s too hard to get to Lasqueti, the ground is too hard, and we have to use yucky solar power. It’s even more insulting to have the government staff that regulates TELUS blame our community for TELUS failure to maintain our phone service at quality levels that they historically maintained for over twenty years.

The CRTC said our community needed to take action if we want to improve our phone service, in this case I agree. My first action was to reject the closing of my file, I wrote and added a request that the matter be escalated to the political level by writing:

I think that if the CRTC is going to blame a community of Canadian citizens and taxpayers for TELUS delivery problems the statement should be clear and public and made by the Minister responsible for the CRTC. I will consider this case remaining open until the Minister responsible confirms that it is the Governments position that the Lasqueti community is to blame for our poor phone service.

If you agree that Lasqueti is not to blame for our poor TELUS service and think that CRTC should require TELUS to provide better service to Lasqueti (and who knows how many other rural remote communities like ours) please file a complaint with the CRTC. It’s easy to do and TELUS is required to respond. If you want to keep the ball rolling on my request for the minister to respond to the problem of our poor phone service, please reference CRTC Case #719891 in your correspondence. Let you MP and MLA know that you don’t think that our community is the problem and demand that TELUS be required to upgrade their infrastructure.

I also urge our local elected officials, especially  Regional Director Anderson, to ask their staff to lobby their federal counterparts to demand improved phone service on Lasqueti. It surely must be important to the RD to have a working telephone infrastructure on Lasqueti or why would they bother with an emergency dispatch strategy that is based around making a phone call. 

Here is a link to the CRTC Complaint page: https://applications.crtc.gc.ca/question/eng/public-inquiries-form.

AttachmentSize
correspondence_re-_crtc_case_id_719891.pdf303.58 KB
CRTC - PRRD Correspondence 2016 (pdf)3.09 MB

Comments

Telus' unacceptable service on Lasqueti

I sent this to Telus and the CRTC, and to our MP, inspired by Ezra's posted correspondence, and particularly by the whiny excuses by Telus for their inability to provide minimally reliable telephone service here.

This correspondence is in relation to correspondence that is part of CRTC Case ID: 719891

I am writing this email to Telus and the CRTC in response to information posted on the Lasqueti web site by Ezra Auerbach. This information is located at http://www.lasqueti.ca/files/correspondence_re-_crtc_case_id_719891.pdf which is a link posted in Ezra's posting at http://lasqueti.ca/node/5580

In response to Darlene Dasilva's October 6, 2015 email to Ezra, copied to CRTC:

Lasqueti Island first got telephone service, I understand, in 1913. At first the lines were attached to trees, strung alongside the roadway. I have seen some of the insulators and pegs from this time, and a few may still be standing. Service came via underwater cables, at first into Rouse Bay, and later to the north end, False Bay area.

When I arrived on Lasqueti in 1974, there were very few phones, on the order of 40, nearly all of them grouped together on a small number of 10-party lines. The lines were underground, and I don't know where the power for them came from. It probably was through the underwater cables that they were using at the time to connect us to Vancouver Island.

BC Telephone Company had acquired the service, and has been (or at least was) required to maintain and upgrade it. The first upgrade I remember increased the number of lines and put most subscribers on 4-party lines. The next major update, as I understand it required by the CRTC, was a new cable buried most of (but not all) the way down the island. After that, everyone was moved to private lines, and seven digit dialing.

During one of these upgrades, the underwater cables were abandoned and a microwave tower was built adjacent to the school. Telus installed a small, portable building that included a generator to provide electricity for the system. Soon afterwards, they contracted with the school district to purchase surplus electricity from the school's generators. They maintained their own generator as a back-up.

The new cable was buried underground by Telus, using two "Ditch Witch" machines that they owned and brought over to the island by barge. They and the crew that buried the cable were on Lasqueti for approximately one week. In a few areas they were unable to bury the cable, because of underlying rock. In these instances they covered the cable with a couple of feet of soil.

My understanding is that Telus soon afterward completely reconditioned and rebuilt the Ditch Witches, and then for some reason sold them. Telus is "required" to maintain their cables and other infrastructure at grade because they chose to dispose of the equipment they owned and used to bury it below road grade. It is at grade because of choices that Telus has made, not because of the community.

The same applies for electrical service to power their telephone infrastructure. The school has had probably the most reliable electric supply on Lasqueti, with two generators, each of them able to supply all the power needed by the school, Telus and a small bit of close-by Regional District infrastructure (recycling center and fire department). Recently the school has had a huge solar array and battery bank installed, which now will provide a large proportion of the electricity needed by its users without using diesel fuel and generators. Other than capital costs (mostly covered by government grants) and small maintenance costs, free energy from the sun, with no moving parts! Telus has chosen options that apparently require large amounts of electricity generated on Lasqueti. The community has not advocated for this, or desired it. It has been completely Telus' choice to need non-commercial electricity - which incidentally is much more reliable than commercial electricity, especially on islands.

It is true that Lasqueti does not have BC Ferries type of service. Vehicles and large equipment does need to be brought here by barge, but there has always been barge service to Lasqueti, often provided by more than one barge service. There is commercial accommodation on Lasqueti, and it is Telus' choice whether or not to barge needed equipment to Lasqueti, and also their choice whether their workers come for the day, or stay here overnight. On several occasions that I am aware of, they have stayed on Lasqueti for week-long periods, going home for weekends. For years, Telus bragged that they won awards for the efficient fleet of aircraft they operated. They chose to fly their maintenance people from the Qualicum airport to False Bay and back. I don't know if they still have aircraft, but it is their choice to have their workers use the passenger-only ferry. They could also use water-taxi or charter boats to get to Lasqueti, if they wanted to.

Telus is blaming Lasqueti Island and its residents for the non-standard situation that they have acquired and are being required to maintain and upgrade. It would be much easier for them if everyone in BC lived in Burnaby-like situations, but we don't, and all of us will not. They should stop whining about how difficult and non-standard the situation here is, and do the best that they can to maintain and upgrade their telephone service. They do not offer any other service here. We had to organize our own off-grid, non-standard broadband internet service, because we could not get it from Telus. We did have some government grants, but we have put the system together and operate it and maintain it. Telus has far greater resources, and should shut up the sniveling.

Finally, at one of the major upgrades, Telus moved a system that they had previously used elsewhere to Lasqueti Island. It worked quite well at first, but I understand that it has been an orphan system for years, with decreasing availability of replacement parts. Now, I understand, there are no parts left to keep the system working, and it showing by the horrible service record and reputation that they have earned for themselves over the years, and especially in the last year or two. The situation is intolerable, but most of us are tolerating it because we believe that Telus is required to provide at least basic telephone service at a reasonably reliable level.

Further comments:

The use of poles to replace at grade infrastructure will not be a solution. The island is heavily forested, and trees blow down regularly and often, especially in winter storms, but year-round. If lines were to be strung on poles, to avoid them being destroyed by falling trees a clearing twice as wide as the height of the tallest tree would need to be created. The road right-of-way, where it exists, is not wide enough for this clearing, and it doesn't exist at all for parts of the roadway. Telus could not afford to pay landowners for the trees that would need to be removed, or to continue to trim and remove trees, even if poles were otherwise a viable option. Repairs of downed wires would be required at least once a week in winter, and on islands it takes much longer to get repairs scheduled and done.The more remote and non-standard the island, the longer it takes.

In addition, relatively large parts of the roadway are "Section 42" roads, and only the roadway and the ditches are MoTI maintained. The private property owners whose property the roadway crosses would have to consent to Telus (or anyone else) using part of their property. This would be at least complicated, and probably expensive.

I have for years suggested and advocated to Telus regional management that they hire a Lasqueti person to do preliminary exploration and examination when there is an outage or a repair is needed. There are a number of former Telus workers living here, and I am sure that they could train someone to do necessary work to discover and communicate to Telus the type of outage and/or repair needed, so that they could send over the required personnel and equipment and supplies. This would save multiple trips and repeat visits before repairs can be made.

I believe that the comments I have made, and the history of telephone service on Lasqueti as I remember it, make it clear that the following paragraph from Cheryl Grossi's November 4, 2016 email communication to Ezra is not fully informed and needs to be reviewed and revised:

"In light of the above factors, Commission staff accept that TELUS continues to be faced with significant challenges that have contributed to the heightened likelihood of above
ground cable being damaged and the resulting quality of service issues for island service and delays in completing the work required. In Commission staffs’ view, the obstacles identified directly above are beyond TELUS’ control and require action by the community first if the provision of phone service to the island is to be improved"

I hope that further work will be done by Telus and by the CRTC, and that service and equipment will be upgraded on Lasqueti, so that minimally acceptable basic telephone service - getting a dial tone and being able to make a call, whether for pleasure, business, or emergency reasons - will be available to subscribers on Lasqueti Island. I am available any time if more information is needed, or if you would like to give me more information.

One final request: That Telus institute an email address where we can report telephone outages. Currently is is very difficult to report a telephone not working if you don't have a working phone. It's possible to do it using Telus' "chat" feature on its web site, but it is extremely slow and cumbersome. If Telus wants to give good service - at least the service of making it easier to report an outage and need for repair - they would institute this immediately. I would like the CRTC to require this of Telus.

Thank you for considering all of this, and re-thinking the decision and judgement three paragraphs above.

You will be able to telephone me after December 15, which is the date at which my repair (reported last week) is scheduled to be carried out. Email is available now, and is far more reliable than the Telus service on Lasqueti.

Peter Johnston
Lasqueti Island
250-333-8785

joseph's picture

Telus the Monopoly

When I hear Telus complain about the difficulties of servicing a "remote" community, and the CRTC basically supporting that position, I can't help but feel a knot of anger and frustration. Here's why...

My father worked for BC Tel -- the heavily regulated telephone monopoly that pre-dates Telus. BC Tel had a mandate - a requirement of its monopoly status - to supply reliable phone service to every BC community, regardless of how remote or difficult to access. My father was a microwave engineer -- one of the best at BC Tel. His role was to design microwave systems, like the one on the tower above False Bay School, to provide phone service to remote communities up and down the coast. I clearly recall his tales of the difficult terrain, and the expense of the towers and engineering to get a line-of-sight signal into some small hamlet in a steep-sided inlet.
But that's what BC Tel was there for -- to provide a communications network that spanned this province, with reliable service for all, regardless of the steep valleys and rough terrain typical of much of the province.

"The deregulation of the phone industry in the 1990s combined with the competition of copper lines with cell phones, totally changed the business environment. In a 1999 "merger of equals", BC Tel merged with Telus, the telephone operating company in Alberta." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BC_Tel

I remember this 'merger' well -- Telus got a pretty sweet deal, for a pittance they acquired all of the distribution lines, and infrastructure, along with gaining a monopoly on land-line phone service in BC. The catch? Telus would assume BC Tel's original commitment to ensure all BC communities would receive reliable phone service. And thus, we were told by the government of the day, Telus would get a lot of publicly-subsidized infrastructure for next to nothing, but that we would be compensated by their support for maintaining the communications network to unprofitable areas of the province.

Now, just 17 years later, how easy it is for Telus, and the CRTC it seems, to forget their commitment. To wish they could focus their business on the profitable centers, and abandon those unprofitable, nuance, rural communities... Wake up Telus -- this isn't a fantasy, and you still have a contract with the people of this province!

If you are wondering "why does Telus even bother -- if servicing Lasqueti is so difficult and expensive, why do they even offer a land line service here?". The answer is simple -- they have to. I don't know where that is written, perhaps someone could dig up the statute or regulation, but I am sure it is true. They are a monopoly and this is part of their regulation.
So, Telus has a duty to supply reliable phone service on Lasqueti. Period. And believe me, it is not ever close to being the most remote and difficult to access service they maintain -- I know, my old man worked in those places.

Communications between CRTC and PRRD

Merrick posted this set of documents: http://lasqueti.ca/files/crtc-prrd-correspondence.pdf

It contains a series of correspondence between the PRRD and the CRTC about Telus phone service on Lasqueti, initiated by the PRRD back in June 2015

Letter to CRTC

Here is our letter to the CRTC regarding this issue:

https://medium.com/public-letters/letter-to-crtc-re-telus-service-58035a...

non-response from Telus, and my response to them

I received this email today from Telus, and my reply to them and to the CRTC is below:

Dear Mr. Johnston:

The CRTC has forwarded to TELUS a copy of your correspondence regarding the quality of telephone service on Lasqueti Island.

TELUS’ cable repair team visited Lasqueti Island Thursday, December 1, 2016. Appropriate repairs were made to the equipment that services your residence. The technician followed up with you on the same day and confirmed that the service is working.

As previously communicated, there are significant operational challenges on Lasqueti Island. TELUS continues to be faced with unusual and non-standard conditions, such as at-grade cable that services the island and lack of commercial power. Technicians do visit the island usually every second Thursday to repair any outages that may arise.

TELUS is striving to provide the best possible service to the residents of Lasqueti Island with the tools and resources we have in place given the challenges we are faced with. However, the fact remains that many factors affecting operations are beyond TELUS’ control.

As you are aware, the CRTC has noted that they are aware of the challenges and are satisfied with the explanations and details that TELUS has provided.

Please continue to report any outages to TELUS’ repair department as per normal practices and procedures.

Thank you for bringing your concerns to our attention.

Yours truly,

Darlene Dasilva
TELUS, Regulatory Affairs

C: CRTC

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE

This e-mail message is intended only for the above named recipient(s) and may contain information that is privileged, confidential, and/or exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If you have received this message in error or are not the named recipient(s), please immediately notify the sender, delete this email message without making a copy and do not disclose or relay this e-mail message to anyone.

From: CRTC DONOTRESPOND/NEPASREPONDRE [mailto:crtcdonotrespond [at] crtc [dot] gc [dot] ca]
Sent: November 23, 2016 01:13 PM
To: pjohnston [at] lasqueti [dot] ca
Cc: Regulatory Complaints <regulatory [dot] complaints [at] telus [dot] com>
Subject: CRTC Case ID: 756924

November 23, 2016

Dear Peter Johnston:

Thank you for contacting the CRTC on November 22nd about the quality of telephone service on Lasqueti Island.

The CRTC has concluded a public hearing and online discussion forum on Basic Telecommunications Services to determine what services (e.g. voice and broadband) are required by all Canadians to fully participate in the digital economy. To review the entire proceeding, and to follow its outcome, you may consult here: https://services.crtc.gc.ca/pub/instances-proceedings/Default-Defaut.asp...

In light of your concerns, I am forwarding your correspondence to your service provider requesting the Company to respond directly to your concerns within 20 calendar days in accordance with Part 2 of the CRTC Rules of Practice and Procedure. By copy of this message, I am requesting it to provide the Commission with a copy of its reply to you. Upon review by CRTC staff, should further regulatory action be required by the CRTC, you will hear from us.

For more details on the CRTC complaint process, here's a link to "How to make a complaint about your telephone service" http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/INFO_SHT/T12.htm

IMPORTANT NOTE: To respond to this message, please click here and follow the prompts: https://applications.crtc.gc.ca/question/eng/public-inquiries-form?lang=...

Regards,

Michelle Edge
Regional Officer | Agente régionale
Western & Northern Region | Région de L'Ouest et du Nord
CRTC Client Services | Services à la clientèle
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission | Conseil de la radiodiffusion et des télécommunications canadiennes
Government of Canada | Gouvernement du Canada www.crtc.gc.ca
858 Beatty Street, Suite 290, Vancouver, BC V6B 1C1
Telephone | Téléphone 1-877-249-CRTC (2782) / TTY | ATS 1-877-909-CRTC (2782)
Outside Canada | Hors Canada 819-997-0313 / TTY | ATS 819-994-0423
Facsimile | Télécopieur 1-819-994-0218
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Cc: TELUS

Copies of electronic replies/reports to complaints should be sent to the following CRTC address: replies [at] crtc [dot] gc [dot] ca

Please quote our Case ID number on your electronic response.

Dear Ms Dasilva,

My correspondence with the CRTC was not about this specific outage of my telephone, nor about the continuing series of failures of my telephone service, nor even about the excessively long time we must usually wait for a repair. I reported the outage, I believe, on November 19, and we were given an "appointment" for repair December 15. It was only because of the good will and spirit of your repair team, knowing that a large number of telephones (six) that I know of) in our neighbourhood were not working, that they found time to come and repair the telephones much earlier than scheduled.

As far as I am aware, I was not contacted by any technician, though one probably would have confirmed that the repair had been made.

I was surprised, when our bill arrived recently, to find that there had been absolutely no credit allowed for the time our telephone was not working. I have tried several times to contact Telus by phone, 310-2255, but each time I have been informed that there would be a wait of at least 20 minutes, and up to 45 minutes. I was not willing to spend that much time.

Telus should immediately set up an email address to which customers could address concerns about their telephone service or bills. The excessively long delays in speaking with a Telus representative by phone, or beginning a "chat" via your web page, are not acceptable. You clearly do not have enough people working to handle the call volume you are getting. You are, I believe, making it very difficult and inconvenient for your customers to contact you, even when their phone is working, and especially when it is not.

To the point of my letter to the CRTC, copied to you, to which you are allegedly replying:

The situation under which Telus is operating on Lasqueti is of its own making, or is not as it says. I refer you to the letter from David and Laura Slik, which outlines some of your miss-statement or miss-apprehension of the situation. If you will re-read my original letter to the CRTC with an open or enquiring mind, you will realize that your response to me is inappropriate, as it doesn't address any of the issues I wrote about. You seem to be saying merely, "the CRTC believes us, so tough ..."

I believe I did not mention in that letter that the best option for cables on Lasqueti, least expensive and most secure from damage, would be to lay them in a conduit (poly pipe, probably) along the outside edge of the ditch. Then the lines would be safe from animals and equipment, as long as Telus kept the vegetation down around the pillars and posts along the roadside, so the mower and other machine operators had a chance to see them and avoid them in the course of their work.

I am hoping that the CRTC will release the report that they have on conditions on Lasqueti, and will hold Telus to account for the misleading whining that you have been doing to them about the difficulties of operating and maintaining equipment and service on Lasqueti Island. If Telus spent some money on equipment that was not orphaned and out of date, and laid its cables outside the ditches along the road, and maintained the pillars and posts along the lines, and seriously considered hiring someone on Lasqueti to do some of the preliminary diagnosis and simple repairs, then your service would be much improved, and your customers would be much happier and better served.

I hope to hear whether the CRTC considers your response to my letter (which I also sent to Telus, by the way) satisfactory and answering my complaints. I certainly do not.

Peter Johnston
Lasqueti Island
250-333-8785 - and working these days, too!</regulatory [dot] complaints [at] telus [dot] com>

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