TIMMINS – The ONTC saga came to a head late last week in the form of an announcement by Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle.
Gravelle said the provincial government would be selling off Ontera and keeping four other divisions of the Crown agency.
Thus ends the two-year debate on divesting the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, which was introduced in the provincial spring budget of 2012 — and supported by both the Liberals and NDP.
At the time, the plan was to shut down the Northlander passenger rail service and sell off the remaining pieces of the ONTC.
In reaction to the following outcry by Northerners, Gravelle — to his credit — formed an advisory committee with stakeholders to look at completing the rest of the plan. Gravelle later said that privatization wasn’t the only possible solution for dealing with all of the ONTC’s assets.
Then came last week’s announcement. Ontera will be sold to Bell Aliant for $6 million in cash. That also includes an estimated $10 million in long-term revenue to the ONTC based on fibre-optic licensing agreements.
Ontera provides service to 30,000 customers in Northern Ontario in a territory spanning 200,000 square kilometres. Its telecommunications services help connect remote areas of Northeastern Ontario as far north as Peawanuck, as well as major Northern centres such as Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie and North Bay.
The infrastructure for Ontera assists in major growth for the telecommunications sector in the region.
There are currently 135 people employed by Ontera. Gravelle said Bell Aliant has no plans to cut jobs at this time.
Because it is such a key piece of infrastructure, the sale of Ontera is questionable.
“Selling off the fibre-optic line so critical to northern development, with 96% of its capacity still available, to Bell who already monopolizes the services in this region is deeply concerning,” said Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis.
“It allows Bell to directly own and control the last kilometre of fibre optics going into most communities which means there is no competition and they will control pricing.
“At the same time, their vested interest is their shareholders, not the people of Northern Ontario or the development of the North. We all should be quite concerned with this situation.”
While Politis may be bias, as he is the provincial Tory candidate for Timiskaming-Cochrane, his concerns are very real.
We would have been more comfortable to see Ontera remain in the ONTC family.
For the original version of this article, click here: http://www.timminspress.com/2014/04/08/ontera-vital-to-growth-in-northeastern-ontario