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TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS: CANADIAN RADIO-TELEVISION AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION, Public Notice CRTC 2001-36

HELD AT Château Frontenac, Québec, Québec, November 13, 200, BEFORE Jean-Marc Demers Chairperson, Andrée Noël Commissioner, David Colville Commissioner
PRESENTATION
Cree Nation of Chisasibi Mr. Jimmy Neacappo; Chisasibi Telecommunications Association Mr. Gordon Neacappo; JBCCS / Grand Council of the Crees Mr. Raymond Menarick, Mr. Buckley Petawabano, Mr. Hyman Glustein

98 Our next presentation will be given by Mr. Jimmy Neacappo, representative of the Cree Nation of Chisasibi.

99 THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Neacappo? Hello?

100 MR. JIMMY NEACAPPO: Good morning.

101 THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning, sir. Please go ahead.

PRESENTATION / PRÉSENTATION

102 MR. JIMMY NEACAPPO: Thank you.

103 Members of the Commission, good morning. My name is Jimmy Neacappo. I'm a councillor for the Cree Nation of Chisasibi. I'm a businessman involved in financial management and economic development and, I have a long-time interest in the field of telecommunications and services.

104 I thank the CRTC for allowing me an opportunity to present my remarks.

105 Chisasibi, like all Cree communities, needs a modern and efficient telecommunication system, the same way we need postal service. Today, we still face Télébec as a monopoly environment in both long distance and local telephone services, but we look forward to the new day coming when others may enter the market and we may have a choice.

106 Chisasibi, like other Cree communities, is subject to the high-cost services from all suppliers, whether it's gas stations, groceries, industrial supplies or even simple commodities. But high cost should never represent low quality, though in the case of telephone services this seems to be the menu.

107 We receive notices from Télébec that they will be providing service improvements along the system, but somehow these improvements never seem to get to us even in the area of competition.

108 They admit they don't intend to upgrade their system until at least year 2004 and, maybe 2006.

109 In the southern communities there is a 911 service. There are emergency services that answer in the language of the community. It doesn't take weeks or sometimes months for a repair crew to find a problem, but many of these telephone services available to others are not available to us.

110 Also, in the southern communities, Télébec provides better service to people with second residences, with country homes, than it does to our people, in their own homes.

111 We are not asking for cellular phone services for our hunting or fishing lodges, only for the basic services of our primary residences.

112 We are also asking for a telephone service at our airport, which is within the boundaries of the community. We don't have many instances because of the lack of telephone service just at the airport.

113 We are not asking for the high-speed Internet lines from the telephone company. All we want is the same service that the phone company provides in southern communities.

114 After all, Télébec is proposing to charge the same rate across its territory, but is not proposing to offer the same services everywhere for the same rates, whereas the new rates mean every home faces an increase of 15 per cent in January and another 11 per cent, the next year. In the large towns and cities, there is no increase at all. Still, the larger centres will benefit from their service improvement plan.

115 We want to know why if we pay the same price as Val d'Or and Amos, why we are not treated the same way!

116 We are not asking for a special status. All we are asking for is that we be treated fairly.

117 We ask the Commission to consider Télébec's application for increased rates and, whether they should have the right to charge all customers the same price for a different set of services.

118 Once again, I thank the Commission for allowing me to make this presentation.

119 Thank you.

120 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, sir, for providing us with your observations.

121 Thank you and, have a good day.

122 MR. SPENCER: Monsieur le président, our last presentation by teleconference, this morning, will be given by Gordon Neacappo, Chisasibi Telecommunications Association.

123 THE CHAIRPERSON: Mr. Neacappo?

PRESENTATION / PRÉSENTATION

124 MR. GORDON NEACCAPO: Yes, good morning, people.

125 THE CHAIRPERSON: Good morning, sir. Please go ahead.

126 MR. GORDON NEACCAPO: Okay, good morning. My name is Gordon Neacappo. I'm a program manager here, in Chisasibi. It's CHFG FM.

127 I am speaking to you today as a spokesperson for the Chisasibi Telecommunications, but I would also like to speak as a lifelong resident of the Chisasibi. I would like to talk about the changes that I have seen and, my hopes for the future.

128 Many of the recent changes in our community are the result of innovation in the world of telecommunications. It was not long ago that our community was relocated from Fort George, an island in the middle of the La Grande River with no electricity, no telephone, no radio and no airport.

129 We are fishers, hunters, trappers who have followed traditional pursuits, for ages. Today, we have to work hard to continue our ways. But, we have also joined in the market economy and, we have a number of workers in the technology sector like programmers, computer operators, technicians and radio operators.

130 Today, our 3,000 residents have a full range of facilities that can connect us to any continent and, we provide our own support and maintenance of these systems.

131 One hundred kilometres down the road, we have the world's largest hydroelectric dam that gives us electricity, but it also blocks our rivers.

132 We have our own cable television system that provides us a wide range of all-news and all-sports channels. We provide our own radio station so that we can benefit from all that information in the Cree language.

133 We have Internet services fed by satellite and distributed on the cable system, so that our hospitals and our schools can benefit from the widest possible sources of knowledge. We can teach Cree syllabics to our children, so that our culture can maintain alongside the changes.

134 Just because we jealously guard our customs, our culture, our language, does not mean we want to be isolated. We want to be who we are, for now and forever. To us, that also means that we want the same telecommunication system that exists for others. We want our radios, TVs, computers and telephones to serve us so that our culture can be just as strong as the cultures of the south.

135 Our community has a radio-telephone services so that the hunters and trappers can stay in touch with their families, when they are in the bush. That service is provided by the community in the south. When people are away from their households, they can stay in touch by cellular phones, by call-forwarding, by messaging services, by pagers, all provided using telephone technology.

136 In Amos, all the services that are incorporated into the telephone network are part of the Télébec system. The local portion is paid for, in their local rates. In January 2002, their rates will not increase a penny.

137 In Chisasibi, we have similar services that we can use, but we use our own radio, short-wave and whatever other types of services we can develop, all of that at our own expense. Yet, our telephone rates are going up by over 15 per cent and, a year later, by another 11 per cent. And, Télébec has made no offer to invest in any of this to improve facilities as part of this increase.

138 We think it's time for Télébec to seriously reconsider its approach. They call us a high-cost area, but they provide little in the way of cost-reducing measures. We feel that their rate increase is unfair. We feel the rate increase should reflect rate increase in service. We feel that our communities need to communicate with each other in one toll-free zone. We feel that Télébec should provide jobs to local personnel so that we can deal with telephone problems in our own language in our own community.

139 We have qualified people who maintain the local Internet, who repair computers, who maintain the cable TV system, who are technicians at our radio station. We have the capacity to do the task, but Télébec refuses to offer us any job in their telephone system.

140 We ask that you oblige Télébec to provide better quality services, to respect local community standards and, to deliver on their promises to improve services.

141 I would like to thank you, very much.

142 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, Mr. Neacappo. Thank you, for your observations.

143 MR. GORDON NEACAPPO: Okay.

144 THE CHAIRPERSON: We have no questions. Have a good day, sir.

145 MR. GORDON NEACAPPO: You, too!

174 Our next presentation will be by Mr. Hyman Glustein, Mr. Raymond Menarick, the James Bay Cree Communications Society and, Mr. Buckley Petawabano Grand Council of the Crees.

PRESENTATION / PRÉSENTATION

175 MR. GLUSTEIN: Mr. Chairman and members of the Commission, I just want to present the two presenters beside me: Raymond Menarick to my right and Mr. Buckley Petawabano on his right. Raymond Menarick will begin.

176 MR. MENARICK: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, my name is Raymond Menarick. I am the Vice-President of the James Bay Cree Communications Society, a non-profit organization. We thank the CRTC for providing this opportunity to present the views of our constituents concerning telephone services in the James Bay region.

177 The James Bay Cree Communications Society is mandated by open membership communications societies in each Cree community to represent the telecommunications interests of our communities: Mistissini, Chisasibi, Wemindji, Waskaganish, Waswanipi, Ouje-Bougoumou, Nemaska, Eastmain and Whapmagoostui. Over 12,000 Crees live in these communities and, with the exception of Whapmagoostui, all are served by Télébec Ltée.

178 Two years ago, on behalf of the Chisasibi Telecommunications Association, I presented to this Commission a brief about High-Cost Serving Areas, about our villages such as Chisasibi where to call 20 kilometres to LG1 is long-distance, about our rates have increased dramatically since 1996, about the high cost of long distance calling, and about how Télébec has not provided any jobs for local residents. Since then, our service has changed very little.

179 None of the issues that we presented two years ago were resolved. Now, down the road, we face even higher local rates, no long distance competition and no jobs in the communities.

180 Recently, we were warned that Télébec is increasing its rate for all our communities: in the case of the coastal communities of James Bay, by over 15 per cent next January and, another 11-per-cent increase the following year.

181 In addition, Télébec is proposing a service improvement plan that is intended to benefit the southern communities. It seems that none of the benefits in this plan will be spent on any of the Cree communities but, the rate increases will be added to our bills.

182 We noticed, for example, that towns such as Amos, are listed as a beneficiary in the plan and, they will have no increase at all, while the coastal communities of James Bay will face two increases, one in 2002 and one in 2003, and we don't receive any benefits from this improvement scheme.

183 We are aware that the ARC and ACEF have proposed a formula for a more moderate approach to the new rate. Their approach may help the people of our area who find that the telephone will become a major expense. Almost $375 a year, set for local service but, our concern is this: what do we get for the higher rate?

184 The answer, unfortunately, is very clear. We get no improvement, no advantages that the people in the south get. For communities with no Internet service, we stay that way. For communities without 911 service, we stay that way. For communities looking for ways to employ our young people, we get no jobs. For communities where the cost of living rises monthly and expenses rarely meet revenues, we get more of the same.

185 Our communities have developed a substance of inter-reliance. Our air service, Air Creebec, provides transportation on a daily basis, between all nine Cree communities. Our trucking service also operates between every community south of the La Grande. Now, it's time for the telephone to serve all of the James Bay area, with modern services.

186 For example, Télébec can link all Cree communities into one dialling area. It already provides the service to Hydro-Québec camps, some up to 400 kilometres apart. And, customers in both camps pay the same rate that Télébec charges its Cree customers.

187 Also, Télébec does not hire local service crews and personnel, despite its promises to explore this issue. During the high-cost serving areas hearing, Télébec offered to consider hiring local crews to perform repair and installation. To date, Télébec has ignored this issue and has not hired any local staff.

188 Télébec service in the James Bay area has been far below the standards supplied to other telephone services. We believe that, by introducing competition into all of the Télébec area, the CRTC will provide to the aboriginal communities of the region as well as the non-aboriginal development settlements, a means for social advancement and economic opportunities.

189 We need a competitive atmosphere to control communications costs and, to bring Télébec rates in line with other Canadian centres, but we don't have it.

190 During the competition hearings, on opening Télébec territory to alternative services, we faced a situation where we had to call on this Commission to tell Télébec to provide the same services that everyone else in Canada had.

191 In both hearings, Télébec told us that their 20-year old switching system in Chisasibi and Wemindji, could not handle competition and they wanted the areas to be exempted from competition.

192 We asked this Commission to oblige Télébec to deal with this problem using modern technology. If it couldn't switch calls locally, then they should be obliged to reroute their calls regionally. Télébec replied that we were raising issues that they did not want to consider but, we are pleased that the CRTC saw the issue otherwise.

193 When the CRTC ruled that Télébec could use rerouting technologies to deal with the problems their equipment creates, it was a step forward for new technology. It was a step towards bringing Télébec in line with other Canadian telephone companies. It was a move to bring modern telecommunications to the North. It was an important decision and, we are encouraged that the Commission endorses this approach.

194 Now, we face the issue of service improvements. What we want is community lines joining all Cree towns into one exchange; new services, hotlines, Internet, information services -- it is possible to have uniform numbers for emergency services suicide hotlines, poison control centres, medical information and even short news services all in Cree; Telemedicine and distant learning for medical specialists and post-secondary education; new regional businesses for businesses in many communities -- local intercommunities dialing as necessary; payphones with e-mail and computer capability for out-of-town visitors and for visiting personnel -- Télébec boxes are so badly dated that some shut down when the calling box is full; employment, local service representatives and technicians.

195 Are we all offered by Télébec is higher rates! We think these rates should be tied to the services we are buying. And, if Télébec wants more revenues, they should be obliged to provide more!

196 Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, we thank you for this opportunity to speak before you. And now, I present Buckley Petawabano who is representing the Grand Council of the Crees.

PRESENTATION / PRÉSENTATION

197 MR. PETAWABANO: Good morning. My name is Buckley Petawabano, and I am the delegated representative of the Grand Council of the Crees of Eeyou Itschee, Cree Regional Authority. The Grand Council represents nine Cree nations of James Bay, Eeyou Istchee in Cree, our land in English.

198 The Council is committed to providing responsible and accountable political leadership to meet the social, economic, cultural and political needs of First Nations, and improving the quality of life for our people.

199 As the delegate to the telecommunications committee, my responsibility is to represent the interests of the Grand Council on issues affecting telephone and regional communications services. At the moment, we are examining ways to improve the telephone system as well as develop alternative services.

200 The objective of the Telecom Committee is to develop a comprehensive technology plan that meets the telecommunication and information needs of the residents, businesses, social and political entities, and communities in Chisasibi, Eastmain, Nemaska, Mistissini, Oujé-Bougoumou, Waskaganish, Waswanipi and Wemindji. As well, it intends to develop an inclusive approach that also serves Whapmagoustui with linking ability.

201 Modern telecommunications infrastructure is necessary to enable the local communities to directly connect the residents and businesses of these communities to national and international services.

202 This objective is in keeping with Industry Canada's National Broadcast Task Force recommendation that, by 2004, broadcast facilities and services should be deployed to and within all Canadian communities. As the report states:

Access to broadband in First Nation, rural and remote communities should be available at a reasonable comparable price to that charged in more densely populated areas.

203 Advanced telecommunications infrastructure and services can provide unique benefits to residents and businesses including: the availability of Internet access and data transmission capabilities; access to long distance learning for adults and post-secondary students without the need to relocate; teleconferencing and videoconferencing for schools and government; telemedicine and consultations for residents and health professionals judicial services.

204 We are concerned that Télébec has failed to serve our communities fairly and adequately; and Télébec is seeking substantial rate increases. We feel that Télébec neglects improvements in the James Bay area, preferring to work on its network in southern centres. As a result, when it comes to new services, our communities are the first to pay the increases and the last to see the services.

205 We feel that Télébec has used its local area monopoly to privilege itself in the long-distance market and, has used its overwhelming position to keep out competition for Cree telephone subscribers.

206 We appreciate the recent decision of the CRTC to permit competition throughout the James Bay area, although we understand that, realistically, few companies see our area as a significant and lucrative market.

207 We are deeply concerned that Télébec does not offer jobs for Cree technicians and service representatives. Also, for our numerous construction outfits, some of whom have been trying to be Télébec suppliers for years, Télébec does not offer contracts to Cree construction crews. Télébec prefers to send in trained crews from their other centres rather than provide training.

208 There are a few other issues that I would like to briefly comment on: Internet, intercommunity dialling and service improvement charges.

209 Regarding Internet, we ask the CRTC to consider an appropriate mechanism that would allow the public greater access to these types of auxiliary phone services and would limit potential abuses by telephone companies.

210 Télébec is actually a relatively new player in the Internet business. CreeNet was created in Wemindji long before Télébec expressed an interest in Internet through its Lino division. Other communities, as well as Chisasibi, also saw the opportunity before the start-up of Télébec service and invested substantially in satellite Internet technologies.

211 These two Cree communities invested over $250,000 in setting up their own services because Télébec would not provide -- probably, they could not provide -- these services. They put up the money to deliver a service that Télébec sells to its southern customers through its phone service and through its newly bought cable companies.

212 The cost of upgrading the telephone network in the south, the cost of installing and implementing the lines to carry Internet -- to Télébec, these costs are the price of doing business. But for the Cree communities, Télébec claimed that the costs are too high. In fact, they were not -- the costs were within the parameters of a sensible business investment and the communities went ahead on their own and took the risk.

213 Today, in Val d'Or and ins Amos, Internet exists as a Télébec business; in Wemindji and Chisasibi, Internet exists no thanks to Télébec; in Waskaganish, in Eastmain, in Nemaska, for the general public, it exists only by long distance.

214 Regarding intercommunity telephone service, we studies toll-free dialling for all Cree villages in Télébec territory, similar to the type of plan called the Neighbourhood Calling Plan offered by Bell Canada elsewhere in Canada. This would allow all Cree communities toll-free access to each other.

215 In response to our presentation before the High-Cost Serving Areas hearing, Télébec offered us a form of this service at $5 million for a 10-year agreement. Our own studies showed that among businesses and local government, current expenditures run about $450,000. Télébec did not consider our needs worthy of more than an advance payment.

216 Finally, I will turn to the issue of service improvement. We were surprised when Télébec sent out a notice of rate increases explaining their policy of service improvements. According to the documents supplied to this Commission, these improvements will only apply to communities south of Amos. However, their rate increases will apply to all customers, whether they benefit from these service improvements or not.

217 We submit that if the Cree communities will not benefit from the service improvements that the rate increases should not apply, we ask the CRTC to review the rate increases in terms of who benefits from their improvement plan.

218 Thank you, for this opportunity to present our statements. I will pass you to Hyman Glustein, to conclude our remarks.

PRESENTATION / PRÉSENTATION

219 MR. GLUSTEIN: Mr. Chairman, members of the Commission, I am Hyman Glustein and I have worked in the Cree communities in the James Bay region, for the past 30 years. With technologically innovative people, we have built new radio stations, developed cable TV outlets, created Internet service providers in places where conventional broadcasters and, telecommunications companies shamelessly back away.

220 Now, the Cree Nations have embarked on a new phase, examining their options in data and voice services. I was asked to work with the telecommunications committee that was set up by the James Bay Cree Communications Society and, by the Grand Council of the Crees.

221 While reviewing our options and how we could improve telephone services, the Télébec notice of a rate increases, arrived in the mail. Subscribers turned to the committee for an answer: Why are they being charged more and still not getting the basic services, they asked.

222 The committee was meeting three weeks ago in Mistissini and -- here I digress and I am going to get into a story about a personal experience about basic telephone services -- we broke for lunch.

223 At the cafeteria, we were lining up when all of a sudden, a rather scrawny -- excuse my language, I don't mean to insult him but a rather scrawny teenager -- was standing in line beside us, and he fainted. He spilled his hot food all over himself. Someone shouted, "call an ambulance" and, fortunately, there was another customer in the restaurant who actually knew how to find a phone number for the ambulance and, the medical staff arrived and the youngster was looked after.

224 In most places, the phone number for emergencies is 911, and if not, there is usually a card on top of the payphone, to tell you where to call. In this case, there was no card near the phone on the wall and, I asked my colleagues where the number was posted.

225 They pointed to the telephone book and asked if I could find it! This is the telephone book, here! (indicating)

226 This is glaring example of how Télébec provides little in the way of basic service, which is namely the telephone book!

227 The first page of the phone book lists emergency numbers, which, as you can see, the only number listed is 911. This number does not work, in Mistissini.

228 I turned to the Blue pages, under Municipalities -- this section in here -- where the first listing for each town is, "Urgences". Mistissini is not listed. In fact, none of the Cree communities, except for Waswanipi is listed in this section of the telephone book.

229 I looked in the directory. I found a rather bizarre way of organizing things. Towns are organized by their telephone switching system, not by their location. Mistissini has its own section, which is called "Lac Mistissini".

230 Ouje-Bougoumou, which is about 75 kilometres down the road, you know, it is listed under "Chibougamau-Chapais". Waswanipi, which is the next town, which is another 40 kilometres down the road, that is listed under "Abitibi-Témiscamingue". The other Cree communities are listed under "Baie James".

231 I would challenge any visitor to this region to give a hand to someone in distress, using this strangely organized telephone book!

232 Anyway, back to my story about Mistissini and the teenager. I looked in the Lac Mistissini section under Emergency, under "Urgences", under "Police", under "Ambulance". There was no listing.

233 Under the Cree Board of Health and Social Service of James Bay, which is highlighted at the expense of the customer, within the services sections one can find a listing for Ambulance Services a listing on page 306, column 2, about three-quarters of the way down the page.

234 Fortunately, there was a local resident in the restaurant who knew how to use this telephone book.

235 Now, I point out this story, not to blame Télébec and, not to accuse them of hiding the goods, rather as an example of how Télébec does not respond to the basic needs of the community.

236 Télébec will, no doubt proudly defend their telephone book. They did so, eloquently, at the High Cost Serving Area hearings. There, we explained that using the emergency listing for the hotline -- which is on the front page, for the suicide hotline -- led people in distress to a French-speaking service that had no capabilities of helping out in English or in Cree.

237 Also, that unilingual recorded operator messages were often more confusing than informative, especially to the elderly.

238 Télébec explained that they could not provide information in Cree or in written Syllabic, even though their parent company, Bell, provides a similar service for smaller communities, to the Inuit communities north of the La Grande, which is this phone book here, which is in Inutituk.

239 If you would like to see it, I will gladly bring it up for you to take a look at it.

240 Télébec spoke about their advertisements in a private telephone directory which is published by a Cree magazine, The Nation. Well, we ask: Does buying ads constitute delivering basic telephone services? We don't think so.

241 The telephone book is just one element of essential telephone services. It is one where Télébec could easily afford a basic improvement, but despite our information it continues to be neglected.

242 We also have substantial concerns about their other policies. They have no employment or training for young Cree personnel. They do not engage Cree community construction firms in bidding for their local or regional contracts. They stated that they do not intend to improve the local switching system for Chisasibi and Wemindji until after 2004, possibly 2006, depriving local Internet providers from using telephone lines for high-speed Internet service.

243 They want an increase in rates in 2002, again in 2003 in the Cree communities so that they can afford service improvements in other areas, areas with secondary and recreational lodging, and to get back to my story about the teenager, they have not plans to provide a basic telephone book in Cree or with locally defined information.

244 We feel that the rate increases are not warranted. Recently, in a CRTC ruling, it was noted that Télébec enjoys the highest rate on equity rate for telephone companies. We also noted, that from the submissions to the High Cost Serving Areas, that Télébec currently, has the highest average subscription rate of any company. Télébec is proposing to increase the price cap while maintaining the service gap.

245 On behalf of the telecommunications committee, we ask the CRTC to address these issues.

246 Thank you, very much.

247 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you for being with us.