Canada’s north sees local phone service competition

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Newly-launched Iristel to compete with NorthwesTel for residential, business customers. Local telephone competition has arrived in Canada’s North.

Toronto-based telecom Iristel Inc. said Monday that it has launched a new local phone service that will vie with NorthwesTel Inc. for residential and business customers in northern markets including Yellowknife, Whitehorse and Inuvik.

Iristel’s northern debut will mark the first time that residents living in the vast 867 area code will be able to switch local phone companies–a benefit that most Canadians have enjoyed for about 15 years.

Although the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission introduced local telephone competition to most of Canada in 1997, it has been just over a year since it issued a groundbreaking decision that paved the way for new players to operate in the North. Until now, NorthwesTel, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCE Inc., has been the only option for most people living across Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Because competition bears the promise of lower prices and modern services, Iristel’s launch will be closely scrutinized. That is because the CRTC has started a sweeping consultation to overhaul outdated communication services across the three territories, while also probing the future plans of NorthwesTel.

“Our network is fired up, connected to the south and ready to go for people in Canada’s North who are tired of high monopoly prices for landline phone service,” said Samer Bishay, chief executive officer of Iristel.”We’re offering more advanced services at lower prices than the incumbent phone company.”

Customers who make the switch can keep their phone numbers, he said. Because Iristel is a voice over Internet protocol service provider, customers will also have the option of taking a phone number from any other area code in Canada, he added.

For example, if a Yellowknife resident has family living in Toronto, she has the option of taking a 416 number. That would allow her Toronto-based relatives to call her free. Her outgoing calls to Toronto, however, could still be subject to additional charges, he said.