SaskTel confirms plans to offer VoIP service

SaskTel, along with several other of Canada’s incumbents, is waiting for the CRTC to budge on its current position on voice-over IP, but the Saskatchewan provider said it already has plans for a rollout in the province.

Earlier this year, Bell Canada, SaskTel, Aliant and Telus collectively asked the federal government to overturn the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s ruling that VoIP be regulated the same as traditional telephone service. They argued that regulation around an Internet-based voice service would give other providers that aren’t fettered by incumbent status an unfair advantage in a war to win market share.

At the time, Maynard Sonntag, the minister responsible for SaskTel told ITBusiness.ca that “we should be able to operate on a level playing field. We’re just simply saying, very, very large companies up to 25 times the size of SaskTel can now come into Saskatchewan and operate in a very regulated environment that gives them a very significant advantage over . . . SaskTel.”

That appeals process is still in motion, but SaskTel confirmed Wednesday that it will go ahead with VoIP service in the province it serves.

The telco revealed its plan in part to answer charges from the Canadian Cable Telecommunications Association (CCTA) that SaskTel is deliberately preventing other providers from offering service in Saskatchewan. Michael Hennessey said in a statement that was published earlier this week in Cablecaster magazine that “eight years after the local competition decision, there is still no local competitor, no Vonage and no number portability in Saskatchewan. . . . The only thing standing between consumers and lower prices in Saskatchewan is SaskTel itself.”

In an interview with ITBusiness.ca, Hennessey said that SaskTel is immune from access issues because it is a government-owned Crown corporation. “Because of their history, they have 100 per cent of the market. I would say they’re in the most unique position of any telephone company in North America.”

SaskTel spokesperson Michelle Englot described Hennessey’s comments as “totally inaccurate.

“There are numerous VoIP providers in Saskatchewan already,” she said. “They’re either providing (local calling area) 306 numbers or numbers from other parts of Canada. SaskTel does intend to provide Voice-over IP service; we’re just working through the regulatory and technical requirements at this point.”

Englot said SaskTel will issue an official response to Hennessey’s comments as early as Wednesday evening.

Bell Canada was the first incumbent to launch VoIP service in March, initially for three cities in the Quebec market. Regardless of regulatory issues, it won’t be the last, said Iain Grant, principal with the SeaBoard Group in Montreal.

“The merits of voice-over IP, the features it offers, the prices that you can get and, essentially, the customer-friendliness of what you can accomplish are so compelling that today a circuit-switched network doesn’t compete,” said Grant. “To cling to that circuit-switched network . . . means that you are going to lose the race.”

The landscape in Saskatchewan is already set to change. SaskTel will provide VoIP in the province and will be joined by the likes of Vonage before too long. Vonage Canada was one of the first independent companies to offer VoIP service here and its coverage currently spans the nation with the exception of Saskatchewan and parts of Atlantic Canada.

Both of those markets will be filled, said Joe Parent, vice-president of marketing and business development for Vonage Canada.

He said that any current barriers to entry in Saskatchewan aren’t “government or regulatory. . . it’s really just technology. What will determine when we go in is purely an economic decision based on the cost of building out network in the province and our expected take rate. That process is well underway.”

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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