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$23 million Bell Aliant contract with P.E.I. government revealed

By the year 202, the P.E.I. government will have paid $23 million to Bell Aliant for telephone services.
By the year 202, the P.E.I. government will have paid $23 million to Bell Aliant for telephone services.

The 11-year, sole-sourced Bell Aliant contract with the P.E.I. government is worth $23.3 million, according to the full document, released under freedom of information Monday.

The contract between the company and the province has been the topic of heated debate and criticism over the years, notably because government hailed it as a means of providing provincewide high-speed Internet, yet many Islanders remain without true high-speed service.

Until now, only a redacted version of the Bell Aliant contract was available to the public, with all financial details blacked out by the company.

But, thanks to a recent ruling by the province’s privacy commissioner, the contract has now been released in its entirety.

It shows that by 2020, the P.E.I. government will have paid Bell Aliant $23.3 million for telephone services.

It also shows the province agreed in 2013 to give up more than $1.4 million in previously negotiated discounts to its telephone rates in exchange for Bell Aliant expanding its DSL and fibre optic networks in rural areas of the province.

The original 2008 agreement saw Bell Aliant commit to build a broadband network for a list of 56 rural communities in P.E.I. at a cost of $8.2 million.

The company agreed to shoulder these costs and, in exchange, government handed Bell Aliant its telephone services contract, locked in for five years.

No public tender was issued for this deal.

This drew criticism from other telecommunications companies at the time who said they would have welcomed an opportunity to bid on the lucrative government contract.

The agreement was extended twice without public announcement, first in 2010 and again in 2013. Both extensions involved Bell Aliant expanding its fibre op and DSL networks in exchange for extending the length of its exclusive telephone contract with government.

It was the second extension that saw the pricing structure for the province’s telephone bills altered.

Bell Aliant proposed to expand its fibre op services to 5,000 additional homes and businesses in Souris, Montague, Georgetown, Kensington, Miscouche, Alberton and O'Leary by the end of 2014.

In exchange, government agreed to extend its telephone contract to the year 2020 and also agreed to lower discounts for its telephone bills, which were part of the original 2008 contract.

This was done “in order for the province to fund Bell Aliant’s FibreOp and DSL expansion on Prince Edward Island,” the contract states.

However, despite the fact taxpayers funded it, Bell Aliant retains exclusive ownership of “each and every portion” of the fibre optic network infrastructure.

The contract also says government “shall not have any authority over the manner in which services are provided,” and that Bell Aliant is not barred from downgrading broadband services once the contract is up in 2020.

Economic Development Minister Heath MacDonald was reluctant to share his opinion of this deal Monday, noting it was negotiated under the previous Ghiz administration.

But he did say all future contracts between government and private companies will be negotiated through a competitive process.

“Everything that we do will be (requests for proposals) and every company will have an opportunity to bid on the services required.”

MacDonald also stressed his support for the public release of this document, pointing out it was Bell Aliant that fought the release of the unredacted contract.

“If you’re doing business with government, the public and the taxpayer should be aware of it at the end of the day,” MacDonald said.

Records – Agreement 

Addendum 1_Strategic Partnership_2020_2

Addendum 2_SPA_Signed_Mar 2013

 

 

Teresa.wright@tc.tc

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

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