Melanie Kozik has lived at Bear’s Pass for 10 years. She has three children at home, and her career involves selling marketing software on the Internet.
For her, a reliable phone line is a necessity.
But Kozik said she’s not getting what she’s paying for and she is very upset.
“I’m sick of it. I’m [peeved] . . . . We can’t count on the phone working in an emergency. It’s not reliable.
“We are paying for a service, we live in North America, we are supposed to have a certain standard that we are guaranteed and we’re getting the shaft,” argued Kozik, who had to try “25 times” earlier Monday to call 611 for repairs.
Residents of Bear’s Pass have been experiencing phone problems since June, 1997—about the same time Bell installed a SR Telecom SR 500 phone switch in the area to give residents access to services like call waiting and caller I.D.
Upon installation, there was no fax, Internet, or pay phone service for six weeks. After constant complaints, Bell returned to the old system.
But then last June, Bell permanently adopted the new switch and abolished the ground network.
Problems immediately started up again and during the last two months, residents said the system has become increasingly unreliable. One claimed the switch does not communicate well with Bell’s network.
The switch must sometimes convert analog to digital when switching a call from point A to point B. In addition, it must convert Bell’s analog language to theirs, like translating Spanish to Portugese—similar but not the same.
This often results in a breakdown, leaving residents like Kozik consistently without a dial tone.
Bell regional manager Bernard Blake said his company is aware of the problem and has acted on it.
“I am working and my people are working with the community in Bear’s Pass related to their concerns,” he noted. “We do recognize that there have been some problems [with Internet connection].
“We are certainly working on a solution. We have a team [in Bear’s Pass] right now,” Blake added.
“We’ve not taken it lightly. We’ve gone to the degree of setting up a prototype in another location so we can try and simulate the problems our customers are experiencing so that we can put in the proper software fix,” he continued.
Jerry Korman also is a resident of Bear’s Pass. He has a computer science degree and runs a systems network consulting business over the ’Net.
And he has firsthand knowledge of the technology Bell is using.
“Switches that are approved for use in North America, especially the United States, must speak a common a language [no matter who you buy it from],” Korman explained.
“The problem with the switch here is that it doesn’t speak the same language. If other switches speak English, it speaks Swahili,” he claimed.
Korman is leading the charge to restore reliable phone service to the area. He and about 14 other people calling themselves the “Bear Passage Internet Users Group (BPIUG)” have written letters to the CRTC, Blake, and local MP Robert Nault.
Their concern is the slow Internet communication speed—if they can connect at all. Korman said faxes and modems need quieter lines for proper communication and that the slightest bit of static can end the connection.
Users report logging-on at 7.2 or 14.4—much slower than the Internet standard 56. Residents said they would be happy with even 28.8.
“We are paying the same as everybody else, we should get the same service,” argued Kami Leatherdale, a member of the group.
The mandate of the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), to whom Bell reports, clearly states “the main objective of the Telecommunications Act is to ensure that Canadians have access to reliable telephone and other [services].”
Korman said the switch is not capable of providing reliable service.
“As purely just a cost-cutting measure, [Bell] purchased—on the open market—a telephone switch that should have been meant to service people [in rural North America].
“This piece of equipment does not meet North American standards for telephone reliability or data services,” charged Korman, who has rewritten his driver software to improve his connection speed.
“It may have been the fraction of the cost of a proven solution,” he noted.
But Claude Sylvain, technical representative for SR Telecom in Montreal, disagreed. “It’s meant to be used in North America, absolutely,” Sylvain said.
“[In remote areas] instead of running wires and poles between [larger Bell switches] and the customer, they put our system in between to replace those poles,” he explained.
Sylvain said the closer you are to the remote switch, the better your connection will be. But he also admitted the connection the SR 500 makes with Bell systems has to be “optimized” in order for Internet users to connect properly.
“That connection was optimized for a regular voice connection. It’s never been optimized for modem,” Sylvain noted. “Now that’s what we are trying to achieve—to optimize the connection for modem between [Bell’s] switch and our system.
“We have a major improvement [in our test labs] right now,” he said, adding too many phones connected to your one house line also could affect your connection.
Sylvain said SR Telecom and Bell would share the cost of upgrading the switches.
Blake also dismissed Korman’s claims.
“We have our own engineering people and we don’t put [pieces of equipment] in service that don’t meet North American standards,” he said.