Bell MTS plans outage compensation
Customers offered free data for mobile devices
Posted: 2:00 AM CDT Friday, Jun. 17, 2022
Winnipeg Free Press
Bell MTS won’t say how many of its customers have landline outages, but it has told the CRTC it will double its number of service technicians and compensate customers by giving them free enhanced service — if they have a Bell MTS cellphone.
In a letter to the federal regulator this week, the company promised to hire and train more technicians as well as bring in workers from elsewhere.
"By the end of July, we will have doubled the number of line technicians available within the Winnipeg area since Sept. 2021," wrote Bell MTS assistant general counsel Philippe Gauvin.
"Since our (May 20) letter, extra technicians have been brought in from other provinces as well as other cities within the province of Manitoba and the increased repair load is being managed by a dedicated team under senior executive oversight.
He said the company was giving customers who had service disruptions 50 gigabytes of free data if they were a Bell Mobility subscriber. That would allow them to use the cellphone as a hot spot to access the Internet in addition to making voice calls.
Bell MTS is required to give the CRTC regular updates about landline outages involving its Winnipeg customers for the next six months after a flurry of service complaints chronicled by the Free Press.
Customers said outages had lasted for weeks, and in some cases, months. There were instances in which a broken landline would notify 911 and police would respond, only to find the homeowner hadn’t called them.
At first, the CRTC demanded answers from Bell MTS within seven days and, after receiving the confidential information, said it would need even more data every month until October.
In the recent update, Bell MTS continued to blame the outages on the record level of rain and snow the city has received this winter and spring. It says "the copper network in Winnipeg is particularly vulnerable to wet conditions as a result of network maintenance practices of MTS prior to its acquisition by Bell, which favoured very short-term solutions that left the network vulnerable to water penetration in the face of heavy rainfall."
The company reiterated its position that data it gives to the CRTC about service disruptions must be kept confidential and cannot be released to the public because it would be used by its competitors.
But, in one chart, it showed the number of voice-related outages at the end of May had jumped by 73 per cent from the same period last year.
Patricia Valladao, a CRTC spokeswoman, said once Bell MTS submits six months’ worth of information, the regulator will "assess whether additional steps are required."
Dan Reimer, who lives in the city’s Woodhaven neighbourhood, said his landline service was disrupted intermittently until Bell MTS fixed it earlier this month. Both he and his wife were given 50 gigabytes of free data for their cellphones.
"Over two hours, I would lose about one hour, but it would always reconnect intermittently," Reimer said about his landline outage. It also affected his internet and TV service.
"This is right at the end of the NHL season and you lost about 15 seconds every minute. It was a source of frustration. But, while they were always helpful, when you tethered to two bars of service, it doesn’t really help."
Joe Breland, business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 435, said Bell MTS has told them five technicians have been brought in from Eastern Canada to help fix landlines here.
"This is supposed to last for 30 to 60 days," Breland said. "Currently, Bell MTS has been posting job opportunities in our jurisdiction and some new technicians have been hired and are being trained for employment throughout Manitoba.
"In our opinion, there needs to be more company employees hired and trained to support the needs of Manitoba customers. We are hopeful that IBEW 435 work does not continue to be outsourced, by using contractors or out of province temporary workers."
As well, Breland said union members are willing to work overtime.