Leveling the Playing Field

SSi has a solid track record of being a champion for the consumer. We’ve invested significantly in the belief that Northerners deserve broadband services as good (or better!) as what’s available in the rest of Canada. For years we’ve been fighting before the CRTC for a fair marketplace and lower costs to benefit all consumers. 

What does this mean for you? Well, fair competition means a level playing field where YOU win, regardless of who you purchase your services from. It means a greater choice of providers and plan types, with more usage at lower cost! Whether it’s your home Internet connection or your cellphone plan, fair competition benefits everyone.

SSi: The people’s Internet provider

SSi Micro has spent over five years and significant resources to lower the price that Northwestel charges competitors like SSi to access its high-speed Internet pipeline from the Northwest Territories to the south. The battle is benefiting the North with lower prices, greater choice and better technology for consumer Internet, cellular and phone service. We are doing this because we believe Northern consumers deserve service equal to or better than what’s available in the rest of Canada. And we believe they deserve those services at reasonable prices.

Pricing was Unfair

Long story short, Northwestel has the only high-speed fibre-optic Internet connection (fibre “backbone”) from Yellowknife and other NWT communities to southern Canada. This connection is a good thing because it allows for reasonably fast Internet speeds in and out of the North. But because Northwestel has a monopoly on this connection, competing ISPs (Internet Service Providers) like SSi have to “buy” the connection to southern Canada and the rest of the world from Northwestel. Even though our wireless network in Yellowknife is “state-of-the-art” and high speed, we are still dependant on Northwestel to connect to the south. As a monopoly, Northwestel has an obligation to treat customers without discrimination, and without unfairly benefiting themselves.

For years, Northwestel sold us, and other competitors, access to this “backbone” for as much as 30 times more than what southern carriers charged for similar service. That meant we had to charge our customers much more money for much less bandwidth, which we didn’t think was fair. So we took our concerns to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), which regulates all things Canadian in terms of communications.

At each stage of the process up to August 2015, the CRTC essentially agreed with our arguments and ordered Northwestel to lower the prices it charged competitors to access its fibre “backbone”. But unfortunately these prices were still not low enough. In August 2015, the CRTC denied SSi’s application regarding a further review of Northwestel’s wholesale rates, even though we clearly made the case that we would be better off reselling Northwestel’s retail Internet packages at zero margins than providing our own Internet service using their wholesale pricing. To put it simply, the cost per gigabyte of usage at wholesale rates today is higher than what a Northwestel customer pays for retail Internet.

While this CRTC denial was a setback, the fight is far from over. In March, 2016, due to concerns raised by the Canadian Network Operators Consortium (CNOC) about how wholesale rates were analysed, the CRTC ordered Northwestel and other wholesale service providers to submit new cost studies based on revised parameters. SSi agrees with CNOC and in June 2016, with the “case” essentially reopened, submitted its intervention and arguments for lower wholesale prices based on Northwestel’s most recent cost studies.

Broadband Internet Declared a “Basic Service”

We have also pursued other avenues, one of which was the CRTC review of the Basic Service Objective (BSO). The BSO determines the minimum level of telecoms service to be delivered into every community across Canada. Until December, 2016, the BSO only covered traditional local phone and dial-up Internet access. In February, 2016, SSi submitted detailed evidence that “broadband is the new basic“, and in April of the same year we presented our position, The Qimirluk Proposal, at a CRTC public hearing.

In December, 2016, the CRTC declared access to broadband Internet a basic service for all Canadians and established a $750 million fund to attain new high-speed Internet targets. View SSi’s response to this important announcement.

SSi Broadband Fight – Q and A

After five years in front of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), true competition in Internet, cellular and phone service is getting closer for the North. SSi is leading the fight to lower prices and offer greater choice in communications services for Northern consumers. During this process, a few questions we’ve been asked include:

Why did you spend over five years and a lot of money to fight this? We’re a truly Northern company and we genuinely care about the people here. That means we believe in the rights of the Northern consumer to have choice, quality and affordability of Internet, mobile and voice services – similar to what’s available in southern Canada. With CRTC rules in place that protected Northwestel’s local monopoly in voice, and with rates Northwestel was charging us and others to access its high-speed Internet connection to the South, this was never going to happen. Every year, Northwestel receives millions in subsidies, which are supposed to be spent delivering and improving upon its service offerings and infrastructure. It was clear this wasn’t happening and we didn’t agree with it.  Again, in the end, it hurt the consumer.

What does the result of the CRTC process mean for the consumer? Essentially, it will mean you no longer have to say “I love SSi……but they don’t offer high enough usage caps for the price.” When we finally get the price reduction we are working so hard for, we’ll be able to roll out competitive plans that will offer people and businesses a real choice when it comes to their Internet service, especially in Yellowknife. It means that you will have the choice to buy Internet from a local company, get great service and pay a competitive price. It also means SSi will be able to move forward with plans to enter the mobile and voice markets and, again, offer people other attractive options. Other companies will also enter the market or expand their service offerings. It might surprise you to know we’re just as happy to see new products from our competitors as we are to develop them ourselves. This is mostly because we’re confident we can deliver on our commitment to offer the best possible services to the market – earning and keeping your business.

What’s the big deal about the price of Internet, anyway? The Internet is a tool for schools, businesses and life in general. It’s not a stretch to say it has changed the way we think and do business. And access to reasonably fast and inexpensive service has become an expectation across Canada. Higher prices for Internet mean businesses might not expand or hire, and schools can’t use online tools in the classroom as much as they would like to, which affects the quality of our education system. In some cases, expensive Internet can make it hard to recruit talented people who are used to fast service at low prices elsewhere. Finally, it also means fewer people can afford to make full use of the Internet.