IQALUIT - North's largest internet provider says "business is business" in response to COVID-19 exploitation attempt
NorthwesTel offices, Iqaluit (File photo)
On March 16, in response to the impact of COVID-19, NorthwesTel submitted an urgent application to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to waive internet overage charges in March and April.
NorthwesTel is supported by the taxpayer and has a monopoly on providing internet in the North, which is why the CRTC must approve changes to its customer fees.
The CRTC quickly denied NorthwesTel's request because it came with strings attached that would massively benefit the company.
In its application, NorthwesTel made the waiving of overage charges contingent on the CRTC granting it a license for exclusive rights to oil and gas reserves in the Canadian Arctic.
"It was worth a shot," said Andrew Sorokin, NorthwesTel's Chief Financial Officer. "We asked for $64 million dollars from taxpayers in 2018 and 2019. Surprisingly, we got it. I guess we felt the CRTC was unlikely to deny another outrageous request, especially in light of the whole Coronavirus thing."
"I guess we felt the CRTC was unlikely to deny another outrageous request, especially in light of the whole Coronavirus thing." - Andrew Sorokin, Chief Financial Officer, NorthwesTel
Companies and financial institutions across Canada are working on ways to alleviate the social and financial hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Accepting economic losses is part and parcel of the support packages being offered.
Sorokin, however, claims that NorthwesTel was "simply doing what any other company would do" by seeking to exploit the circumstances created by the global pandemic. "Business is business. We saw an opportunity to get brownie points for being a decent company whilst at the same time getting a monopoly on oil and gas in the Arctic."
In a March 19 post on Twitter, NorthwesTel described its exploitation attempts as "normal."
Try and try again
Sorokin says NorthwesTel is working on a new application to the CRTC without the oil and gas clause. If successful, most internet customers across the North will see overage charges doubled until May 1. Customers relying on satellite internet will see their overage fees tripled.