Editorial

The entitlement granted to a federally-regulated utility comes with the requirements to maintain essential services in a reliable manner and to be transparent about failures. When faced with these responsibilities, Bell MTS seems to have lost connection.

The entitlement granted to a federally-regulated utility comes with the requirements to maintain essential services in a reliable manner and to be transparent about failures. When faced with these responsibilities, Bell MTS seems to have lost connection.

An untold number of Bell MTS customers recently lost their ability to communicate with the outside world, suffering frequent outages of their phone, television and internet service. Such isolation is almost incomprehensible in an age where instantaneous global communication is almost taken for granted.

The Free Press first brought the issue to light when it reported that a senior in Crescentwood had suffered for the past year with intermittent outages on a range of Bell MTS services. She reported the problems to MTS but got either no response, or repair efforts were unsuccessful.

An untold number of Bell MTS customers recently lost their ability to communicate with the outside world, suffering frequent outages of their phone, television and internet service.

To phone the newspaper about her plight, she needed to use a neighbour’s phone to make the call. Her loss of connectivity is not just an inconvenience. In the senior’s case, she subscribes to Lifeline, a 24-hour-a-day monitoring service that allows a vulnerable person in distress to summon help. No phone, no Lifeline.

Publication of the senior’s frustrating attempts to get reliable service prompted reports from dozens of other customers with similar experiences. Some told how — in addition to doing without services like emergency monitoring, burglar and fire alarms — the loss of these services is contributing to a profound sense of isolation. As Manitobans continue to suffer through the late stages of a pandemic, they can ceertainly do without anything that amplifies the isolation many feel.

What’s remarkable, and tragically ironic, is that when the Free Press attempted to contact MTS to find out why these customers were without service, and to identify the magnitude of the problems, representatives couldn’t be reached. That is a bad look for a telecommunications company.

<p>DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Karen Kirk and husband Peter Ogrodnik’s landline telephone service was malfunctioning for more than a week and even dialled 911 several times, unbeknownst to them, leading to a late night visit from police.</p>

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Karen Kirk and husband Peter Ogrodnik’s landline telephone service was malfunctioning for more than a week and even dialled 911 several times, unbeknownst to them, leading to a late night visit from police.

Bell MTS may have been able to continue ignoring its customers, and the news media, if not for the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. After reading the Free Press stories, the CRTC contacted the company to demand "comprehensive answers, including rationale and any supporting information." These answers must be provided by the end of this week.

Silent since the issue first arose, a Bell MTS spokesman finally responded via email statement to say that recent inclement weather had driven up repair requests by more than 60 per cent over a normal spring. Given that some of the people who contacted the Free Press have been without reliable service for up to a year, that seems a disingenuous response. Outed for failing its customers, the last thing in the world Bell MTS should do is fib about the circumstances.

Outed for failing its customers, the last thing in the world Bell MTS should do is fib about the circumstances.

This issue reveals quite a lot about Bell MTS, a private company that still largely maintains the monopoly it held when it was a Crown corporation. The privatization of MTS in the 1990s was a controversy unto itself. In the years since, both before and after its acquisition by Bell Canada, the company has continued to dominate many areas of the telecommunications market. Including, it appears, customer complaints.

Bell MTS should restore service to its customers as soon as possible. But as well, the company owes Manitobans a full and complete explanation of why things got so bad in the first place.

That explanation may come as a result of the CRTC inquiries. But it would look so much better, and mean so much more to aggrieved customers, if Bell MTS just told people why this happened in the first place.