Yukon News

Whitehorse council puts phone contract on hold

Lori Garrison Wednesday April 12, 2017

Mike Thomas/Yukon News

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City council is reviewing a proposal for its current Northwestel phone contract renewal.

Want to know which company will provide phone service to the City of Whitehorse? Please hold.

City council voted April 10 to further review a proposal to renew the current Northwestel contract for another three years at a cost of more than $186,000 per year.

Council first visited the issue under the belief that Northwestel was the only possible provider for phone service. That’s technically true under the city’s current traditional landline system. What is up for debate is whether the city should stay with that system or move to an internet-based voice over internet protocol (VoIP) system, which would open the phone service to other local competitors.

Martin Lehner of Whitehorse-based telecommunications provider Tangerine Technology told council it should switch to VoIP services, specifically one offered by Calgary-based Telin Systems. Tangerine Technology would have a “partnership” with Telin Systems, he said.

The current landlines, Lehner said, run off a system called centrex which basically “leases space from a large (central) system the phone company owns,” and represent an “older technology.” Lehner said this technology is becoming outdated.

VoIP would provide all the services the centrex system currently provides and could make long distance phone calls “a thing of the past,” he said.

He estimated the city could save as much as 30 per cent by using Telin VoIP system instead of Northwestel.

“VoIP is certainly growing and many people and businesses are switching over,” Lehner said.

Coun. Roslyn Woodcock said she was concerned about the long-term costs of switching to the internet-based system, including hardware and software upgrades and maintenance.

“The contract with Northwestel is not the only cost associated (with phone service),” she said.

Woodcock also had concerns surrounding what would happen in the event of an internet outage.

“One thing to remember is, that is there is a major outage … it can affect landlines as well,” Lehner said. He recommended that, if the city switched to VoIP, that they keep a few landlines around as “a redundant service.”

Lehner recommended the city hold off on signing a new three-year contract with Northwestel and sign a one-year contract instead. This would allow other service providers to submit ideas and give the city time to “figure out what it would need,” he said.

City staff said a three-year contract with Northwestel would cost $186,000 per year and a one-year deal would cost $275,000 per year. If council signed a one-year contract and then decided to renew with Northwestel the next year, it would cost the city nearly $100,000 more than signing the three year contract.

Rick Steele, TechYukon’s executive director, echoed Lehner’s recommendation.

“We concur with Tangerine Technology,” he said. “There is no anti-Northwestel sentiment behind this … but (if you keep the current plan) you may be buying into a technology which is obsolete.”

Both Northwestel and Tangerine Technology are members of TechYukon.

Steele did not advocate for a specific VoIP provider.

After listening to the delegates, council was divided on both the financial and practical merits of opting for VoIP services over traditional landlines.

“Our concern is the timing of the service,” said Mayor Dan Curtis. “ I think we recognize the need (to switch) and get there…. But our concern is implementation.”

Coun. Rob Fendrick, who attended the meeting via conference call, was in favour of the traditional services.

“(Phone service) is not just making calls to your bestie and setting up meetings,” said Fendrick. “There are a lot of complex things dealt with through phone lines.… VoIP is great technology for an office. But we don’t run an office. We run 12 different businesses and it’s highly technical.”

“What I have learned is that Northwestel is not the only option … and that centrex is obsolete,” said Coun. Betty Irwin.

Council sent the proposal back to administration, which will review issues such as cost and benefits, internet outage contingency plans and bandwidth usage before reporting back at a council meeting next month.

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4 Comments

Groucho d'North wrote:
11:47am Thursday April 13, 2017

The City also has to consider that their telephone network is a critical tool in their emergency response system and procedures, so it has to work when they need it. Going fully cellular is foolish as it has been displayed to fail due to subscriber overload when things go bad and everybody wants to talk about it with their friends.

A VOIP system adds too many additional frailties due to additional equipment failure or a backhoe digging up a line south of here.

Yep Centrex is now dead, but the fire department has new trucks rather than relying on the old trucks from long ago. The telephone system is a vital tool the City depends on to do its work. Going cheap will not serve the public good and may even contribute to bigger problems down the road. Find some other place to cut expenses and pay the bill. It galls me that NWTel will get the job with their inflated prices and history of corporate performance.

What are their business needs? wrote:
10:09am Thursday April 13, 2017

1960’s rocket technology is “obsolete”. While it is still in use, there are newer technologies that are cheaper, and more reliable.

Old and Obsolete are different. I use legacy (old) telephony technology, cellular, and VoIP. There is a quality difference between the three.

The City shouldn’t get caught up in tech speak from self-interested parties. They need to figure out what their business needs are, and then determine which solution bests fits their needs. Not a simple task given the organization’s complexity and the plethora of telecom/datacom options available, but it seems like they have time to make a sound decision.

Doug Rutherford wrote:
9:58pm Wednesday April 12, 2017

While there is a capital cost associated with installing a VOIP system, most people who do pay for it in 2 years or less due to the reduction in monthly costs. Also, when we have an internet outage, we also lose landline and cellular service most of the time so this is not even a consideration.

yukon1 wrote:
12:35pm Wednesday April 12, 2017

Well this inept bunch will need any extra cash that can be saved by putting in a sub standard system to pay off wrongfully dismissed managers and councilors . More cash wasted while these fools are paralyzed with indecision .

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