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Telus, Shaw in damage control

Telecommunications company looks to Whistler businesses for Internet response plan

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By Vivian Moreau

Telecommunications giant Telus is asking small and medium-sized Whistler businesses for input into its response plan in the wake of last month’s loss of Internet service.

Telus said customers who lost high-speed Internet service for five days after a Dec. 14 storm downed a fibre optic line about 20 km north of Squamish are encouraged to contact a Whistler-based client services manager to discuss their concerns.

“We’re working with our small business service organization to gather information on customer impacts to come up with a recovery response to those impacts,” said Maureen Daschuk, Telus’s general manager of customer solutions delivery. Telus’s client services manager in Whistler, Linda Godin, can be reached at 604-932-2036 to discuss business owners’ concerns.

In addition, the telecommunications company is looking at two alternate contingency routes that would provide back-up service should another incident occur like the mid-December outage that left almost 3,000 Whistler businesses and residents without high-speed Internet service.

Internet connection was restored Dec. 19 at the site of the downed line beside Highway 99 and Culliton Creek bridge after crews spliced the severed fibre optic line together. Telus apologized for the disruption, saying it was “an unprecedented kind of outage.”

But that hasn’t been enough for some Whistler businesses. Prior Snowboards in Function Junction has switched providers, from Shaw Cable to a local Internet provider. Shaw Cable had been using Telus’s fibre optic line to provide Internet service from Vancouver to Whistler and their service was also affected as a result of the severed line.

Owner Dean Thompson said Internet service “has been cruising along very efficiently” since switching providers and he hasn’t been impressed with Shaw’s silence about the outage.

“The only thing we got from Shaw, rather than an apology, was a statement telling us we owed them some money.”

Shaw Cable’s president said he agrees with Whistler’s concerns. Peter Bissonnette said as president he is supposed to receive immediate notification of every Shaw outage and he didn’t hear about the Whistler outage until several days into the incident. When he did find out he arranged for regular information spots about the outage to be run on its cable television station but Bissonnette admits the company has some work to do to win back customer confidence.

“We’ve just acquired that cable system and our objective in acquiring the cable system was to improve significantly communication and levels of customer service… but now it’s our turn to demonstrate that in fact there is a real benefit,” Bissonnette said from his Alberta office.

He intends to have new technological and communications procedures implemented to prevent an incident like the December disruption from occurring again. Shaw has entered into an agreement with Bell Canada to share their buried fibre optic line that will run alongside railway lines from Vancouver to Whistler. In addition, more personnel and more trucks for Whistler are in the works.

“With respect to Whistler, which is a new system, we want to do this the Shaw way not the old way,” Bissonnette said. “Internally we’ve made a commitment that we will have someone really engaged and focused on Whistler,” he said, adding that will be accomplished within the next 30 days.

That may not be fast enough for some Shaw customers.

Rogers Chocolates in Village Stroll lost about $1,000 in business in the busy pre-Christmas week when its debit connection was lost as a result of the Internet disruption. Co-owner and Whistler councillor Tim Wake said he has been in contact with Shaw Cable but not received satisfactory results, saying Shaw offered to credit the shop’s account on a pro-rated basis based on its monthly charge.

“My position with them was ‘well, how much credit does Telus give you? Do they only give you the daily rate for the days that are down?’”

Wake said he was also concerned that Shaw made no effort to contact customers during or after the Internet disruption and that no contingency plan was in place.

“If we’re all relying on one fibre optic cable on transmission lines between here and Vancouver there ought to be some sort of back-up plan.”

Wake said he understands repair efforts were complicated, involving coordinating BC Hydro, Telus, and Ministry of Transportation highway crews, but says being without Internet is a major issue for Whistler businesses.

“For all of Whistler to be down with Telus for five days just before Christmas is a big deal and it really didn’t seem like a big deal to Telus,” Wake said.

The councillor said he has saved confusing and vague text and telephone messages from Telus that refer to cell phone but not Internet outages on days that don’t correspond with the actual days of the Internet disruption. When Wake did get through to Telus’s support lines customer service representatives also provided inaccurate information, he said, adding that Telus needs to improve its communications policies.

“Telus was just kind of shrugging their shoulders and saying nothing.”

Charlie Hastie, owner of Whistler Dream Accommodations agrees with Wake. Hastie says there is no way to know how much business his company lost during the disruption but would have appreciated clear information in order to prepare for what at first was thought would be just a minor delay.

“We would have spent more time trying to find a solution if we’d known it would be down for four or five days,” Hastie said, adding that Telus should have used other media sources to inform customers about the outage.

Neil Taylor, co-owner of Hub Internet in Creekside, says the shop lost 50 per cent of its business during the outage and is contemplating a claim for loss of revenue. He hasn’t yet switched from Telus as an Internet provider but is considering doing so.

“It’s more crucial now, knowing what they (Telus) are capable of, or not capable of,” Taylor said.

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