September 28, 2018 1 year 3 weeks ago

Letter to the Editor: Corporate squabbles must not endanger Canadians

AS THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE of Canada’s fastest-growing telecommunications company, I understand corporations operate to make a profit. Profits build shareholder value and create jobs.

And in competitive environments, corporations will battle. I get that. My company is currently entangled in a heated dispute with Telus Corp. in Canada’s North. Of course, we think we’re right and Telus thinks something else. Lawyers are involved. The regulator is involved. Even politicians are beginning to take notice.

The problem is that innocent Canadians are involved, too.

And this week, I received a phone call from a CBC reporter that underlined that point in an all too sad and disheartening way.

This reporter told me about a woman named Michelle Hagen who has stage four cancer. She lives in Behchoko, N.W.T., about 100 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife, and Ms Hagen must travel to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton for treatment. 

Ms Hagen contacted the reporter because recently her hospital repeatedly tried to phone her over a 48-hour period about her surgery, scheduled for October, but couldn’t reach her. The hospital finally got in touch with her brother in Ontario who then reached her via text telling her the hospital urgently wanted to speak to her.

And that’s where the corporate battle between Telus and Ice Wireless, a subsidiary of my Iristel Inc., comes into play.

Since May 29, Telus has been actively stopping calls from Telus customers to Ice Wireless customers. Telus falsely accuses Ice Wireless and Iristel of “traffic stimulation” – an industry term for pumping traffic to gain fees from other telecom carriers.

In our application to the CRTC, we outline how a Telus technician admitted to Ice Wireless that they knew they were intentionally stopping calls to Ice Wireless customers.

Unilaterally, Telus choked the phone network to the North, in violation of Section 36 of the Telecommunications Act. We have appealed to the regulator, the CRTC, to order Telus to stop its outlandish – and dangerous – actions.

In layman’s terms, think of a highway with 12 lanes like the 401 in Toronto and then all of a sudden 11 lanes are shut down. It would create chaos.

Callers – like Ms Hagen’s hospital – get automated messages like "all circuits are busy, please try your call again later."

While we wait for our application to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission to be dealt with, Ms Hagen and others are put in harm’s way. We’ve received complaints numbering in the thousands from our customers regarding their inability to receive calls from customers using the Telus network.

"It's just frustrating," Ms Hagen told the CBC. "People can't get ahold of me and it's not just the hospital. My daughter is very nervous when she can't reach me, or message me and I don't call her back. She just [thinks] the worst. She's getting stressed out because she can't reach us when she needs to reach us."

There must be better checks and balances in place to protect ordinary Canadians like Ms Hagen.

In the meantime, as we asked when this dispute began, the CRTC should order Telus to stop blocking calls while it is investigating.  It’s not fair to leave the ordinary Canadians caught in the middle.

Telus, like Bell and Rogers, are huge conglomerates controlling taxpayer-subsidized networks and they’re wielding so much power, as this lone case shows.

It’s not hyperbole to say it could be a matter of life and death if Telus continues to wantonly block calls to Ice Wireless customers.

Samer Bishay is President and CEO of Iristel, a Toronto-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) carrier licensed by the CRTC since 2000 and majority owner of Ice Wireless.