ARCHIVED - Telecom Commission Letter addressed to Stan Thompson (Northwestel Inc.)

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Ottawa, 15 October 2019

Our references: 8660-C12-201000116, 8000-C12-201909780


Mr. Stan Thompson
Chief Financial Officer & Vice-President
Northwestel Inc.
P.O. Box 2727
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 4Y4

Re :  Response to Request for Information regarding major telecommunications disruptions in the North - Request for disclosure on the public record of certain information filed in confidence

Dear Mr. Thompson:

On 15 August 2019, Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) staff sent a letter to Northwestel Inc. (Northwestel) requesting information on major telecommunications disruptions in the North. Northwestel provided confidential responses to the request for information (RFI) on 30 August 2019.

On 5 September 2019, Mr. Marc Nanni requested disclosure of the confidential responses to the first five questions in the RFI and any associated attachments.

On 6 September 2019, Commission staff sent a letter to Northwestel, setting out 16 September 2019 as the reply date for the request for disclosure.

On 16 September 2019, Northwestel filed its response to the request for disclosure, in which it disclosed additional information in abridged versions of questions 1 through 5 of the RFI.

In his request for disclosure of the confidential information contained in Northwestel’s response to the RFI, Mr. Nanni submitted that Northwestel’s requests for confidentiality were nothing more than blanket statements, much of which did not correspond with proper reasoning of confidentiality for the questions posed. Mr. Nanni further submitted that millions of dollars in business are at stake for communities when network resiliency is non-existent or subpar, and that if phone, mobile and TV services do not operate or are at subpar levels, this affects the ability of Canadians to contact emergency services, vulnerable people and loved ones, to complete distance learning and to broadcast special warnings.

In its letter of response, Northwestel indicated that it undertook a paragraph by paragraph review of its responses to the RFIs with a view to separating information which must remain confidential from what can be placed on the public record. In the abridged versions of its responses, Northwestel released some additional information originally designated as confidential information pursuant to section 39 of the Telecommunications Act and the directions provided by the Commission in the Appendix to Broadcasting and Telecom Information Bulletin CRTC 2010-961, Procedures for filing confidential information and requesting its disclosure in Commission proceedings, dated 23 December 2010, as amended in Broadcasting and Telecom Information Bulletin CRTC 2010-961-1, dated 26 October 2012.

In Northwestel’s response, the company argued that releasing further information could enable persons to target aspects of the network to maximize outage time, identify perceived vulnerabilities in the network, circumvent efforts to restore service outages and disrupt service for the greatest number of customers. In addition, the company stated that identifying communities that do not have redundancy could result in targeted attacks on the facilities, and that details of network components, operational processes to achieve resiliency, service continuance during commercial power failure and knowledge of the facilities used to provide power at remote sites could enable persons to defeat or sabotage the facilities and strategies.

Northwestel also indicated that with the ongoing RCMP criminal investigation into the intentional fibre cuts that occurred, revealing details such as the number of customers (density of area), redundant routes, resiliency and problem detection mechanisms could potentially help the vandals perform additional acts of vandalism. Finally, Northwestel submitted that some of the information that was requested to be disclosed is competitively sensitive, as it contains specific details of the locations of key aspects of its network that it consistently treats as confidential, including its microwave routes and IP/MPLS points of presence, which could be used by competitors to develop strategies to more effectively compete against it.  Additionally, Northwestel identified that the Mackenzie Valley Fire Link (MVFL) is not its facility but is owned by the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) which the company operates on GNWT’s behalf.
In evaluating a request for disclosure, an assessment is first made as to whether the information falls into a category of information that can be designated as confidential pursuant to section 39(1) of the Telecommunications Act (the Act). Subparagraph 39(4)(a) of the Act states that the Commission may require the disclosure of information designated as confidential submitted in the course of proceedings before the Commission if it determines, after considering any representations from interested persons, that the disclosure is in the public interest.

In conducting this assessment, consideration is given to whether the disclosure would likely result in specific direct harm and whether that harm outweighs the public interest in disclosure. Harm may be more likely to outweigh the public interest where the information is more disaggregated or where the degree of competition is greater. Conversely, the public interest may be more likely to outweigh any harm where disclosure of the information is more important to the ability of the Commission to obtain a full and complete record on which to make its decision.

Further information on the procedures for filing confidential information and requesting its disclosure in Commission proceedings can be found in Broadcast and Telecom Information Bulletin CRTC 2010-961, which describes the four step process for filing confidential information. Commission staff has analyzed this request using those criteria.

With respect to the information filed in confidence that was not subsequently disclosed in the abridged versions of questions 1 through 5 filed by Northwestel on 16 September 2019, Commission staff considers that it falls into the categories of information that can be considered confidential under section 39(1) of the Act, as it constitutes technical information that is treated consistently in a confidential manner, and information the release of which could reasonably be expected to result in material financial loss to Northwestel.

Regarding Mr. Nanni’s request for Northwestel to disclose the confidential information contained in its response dated 30 August 2019, and in light of the fact that some additional information has been disclosed by Northwestel in the abridged versions of those responses filed on 16 September 2019, Commission staff is of the view that the public interest in releasing this information is outweighed by the likelihood of specific direct harm to the company, its customers and the Government of the Northwest Territories as owner of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Link.

As a result, no further disclosure of information is required by Northwestel.


Original signed by

Michel Murray
Director, Dispute Resolution and Regulatory Implementation
Telecommunications Sector
c.c.:  Marc Nanni,
Valerie Plaskacz, CRTC,
Wendy McClintock, CRTC,

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