VICTORIA—A B.C. provider of broadband wireless internet access is cashing in on the week-old strike by Telus employees.

MetroBridge Networks Corp., the Lower Mainland’s

largest supplier of wireless broadband access, says the number of customer inquiries it is fielding has jumped 15-fold since members of the Telecommunications Workers Union struck Telus on July 21.

About 9,500 union members are behind picket lines in B.C. and Alberta.

MetroBridge chief operating officer Dorian Banks said in an interview Thursday that his company has added about 40 clients just since the strike started, bringing their total in the Lower Mainland to more than 500.

“Our average customer is a $400-a-month customer,” Banks said. “We’ve had a lot of new business in the downtown (Vancouver) core.”

MetroBridge, which provides only commercial service, is picking up three kinds of business because of the strike. The first is from companies that ordered service for new offices before the strike, but now cannot get Internet, fax or phone connections. MetroBridge is also hearing from companies with outstanding repair orders.

“They realize now it’s never going to get fulfilled,” Banks said.

As well, some businesses are “hedging,” by asking for access through MetroBridge in case their Telus service is disrupted.

MetroBridge charges $499 per month for 100 megabit service.

Cable internet access is not an option for many businesses, since cable, originally used just for television signals, is available only in residential areas, he added: “As soon as you get into an industrial park, there’s no cable. Shaw and Rogers never went through.”

Banks said no providers are able to supply new ADSL service in the Lower Mainland at present.

“We’re the only people that can supply new internet access throughout the Lower Mainland right now,” he said.

But Bruce Okabe, vice president for Telus Business Solutions, said Thursday that Telus is maintaining full customer service.

“We’ve got a pretty well-developed contingency plan,” Okabe said. “It’s a lot like triage.”

Last week, a cable was cut in Ladysmith, north of Victoria, affecting service to about 150 customers. With the help of some of the 7,000 managers and unionized staff from Alberta who are filling in, the cable was quickly repaired.

“If somebody had phoned at the same time to complain about a crackle in the line, that would have had lower priority,” he said.

The standard set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Communications is that 80 percent of the phone calls to customer service should be answered within 20 seconds, Okabe said.

“Since the strike began, we’re meeting or beating those figures,” he said.

On July 25, a section of a five-centimetre cable in the Lake City industrial area of Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb, was removed.

The cut affected 900 Telus customers, 250 of them businesses.

“That was repaired within 24 hours,” Okabe said.

(The union has denied its members are involved in the damage, and has suggested that this and similar incidents were the result of work by thieves, hoping to sell the copper.)

Okabe had no estimate of how many customers Telus has lost due to the strike.

“From time to time we miss the occasional one, but we’re doing pretty well,” he said. “Customer service is the number one issue here, and we’re making sure that we’re maintaining it.”

The union has predicted the strike, which began after Telus imposed a contract settlement, will last between six and nine months.

Okabe had no comment on the likely length of the disruption.

“The union walked out—they know how to solve this,” he said.

In a TWU bulletin issued July 21, the union said the strike was about workers’ “right to job security and a decent standard of living versus Telus’s unrestricted corporate greed.”

TWU officials could not be reached for comment by ITBusiness.ca’s deadline.

Telus is the largest telecommunications supplier in Western Canada with 4.8 million network access lines and 4 million wireless subscribers.

Its 2004 revenue was $7.6 billion.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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