Reliant on pole access, the Shaw/Bell Cache Creek project has been hampered by delays that BC Hydro alleges is because of miscommunication on Telus’ part.

Correction: a previous version of the digestible version of this story incorrectly said Shaw wanted to have representation involved in discussions about changes required to push through its projects in the province. In fact, it’s BC Hydro, not Shaw, that wants to be briefed and proactively involved on those projects.

Digestible version:

  • BC Hydro has blamed Telus for delays related to a fibre project run by Shaw and Bell, according to emails.
  • The Cache Creek fibre project, which relies on utility pole access, has been delayed because Telus allegedly did not communicate to BC Hydro why exactly a change in the poles was needed, according to the communications.
  • BC Hydro has said, as a result of this communication error, it wants to be more proactively involved and briefed on broadband projects in the province.
  • The BC government itself said it has taken the incident as an opportunity to be more proactive to ensure broadband projects are not delayed.
  • Shaw, which leads the federal-provincial-funded project, had asked for a permit to access the joint-owned Telus-BC Hydro poles since 2018 for the project between Whistler and Cache Creek.
  • Telus said it will respond to the allegations, but it is currently deploying resources to combat the Lytton wildfire.

Key quote:

“The lesson learned re Cache Creek is lack of communication from Telus to BCH. There is no shortage of will or capacity on the part of BCH to support Shaw/Bell and the government to support these projects.”

BC Hydro email

What this story contributes:

The story brings to light BC Hydro’s claim that Telus’ alleged lack of communication with the utility hampered work on access to poles for a Shaw/Bell fibre project.

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Deeper version:

BC Hydro said it wants to become proactively involved and briefed on broadband projects in the province, after the utility accused Telus of allegedly inadequately communicating with the Crown corporation about the purposes of a pole access change for a Shaw-led broadband project.

In 2018, Shaw submitted a permit to access the joint-owned Telus-BC Hydro poles along the proposed fibre transport route that extends from Whistler to Cache Creek, with the middle section under Bell’s domain. But in an October 2020 presentation by Shaw to the provincial government, the Calgary-based cable company said it had yet to see some of the work required by the permit bear fruit, and that the project was at risk of delays.

A January email, obtained by the downUP and sent from a BC Hydro to a provincial government official, pointed to an alleged lack of communication on the part of Telus to the utility as to why the permit work wasn’t accelerated.

BC Hydro “got request from Telus to make these modifications but Telus did not inform [BC Hydro] who/what/why these requests are for,” the email said. “Therefore BCH treated these requests like any other requests from Telus.”

Frank Lin, the BC Hydro official who wrote the email, added that it was only until the utility company was made aware of the situation last summer that “our involvement was necessary to support this project.” He said that BC Hydro “invited itself” to meetings held by Network BC and the project is “back on track.”

“We have now requested visibility from Telus and also from Network BC to involve us on all of these projects so we can proactively support these projects,” Lin said.

“The lesson learned re Cache Creek is lack of communication from Telus to BCH,” the email added. “There is no shortage of will or capacity on the part of BCH to support Shaw/Bell and the government to support these projects.”

Lin also said he would like a list of all upcoming broadband projects so the utility company can “start to plan our work accordingly to support them.”

In an email to the downUP, Telus spokesman Richard Gilhooley said the company is currently deploying resources to the Lytton wildfire and it intends to respond to the allegations next week. (This story will be updated to reflect that comment.)

What perhaps irked BC Hydro officials was the impetus for the reply. Lin was reacting to an email, sent by a government official, that said the “slowness of BC Hydro” on the Cache Creek project was “often raised” as a concern for the government.

Bell and Shaw did not respond to a request for comment.

Whistler to Cache Creek

It is unclear how far along the project is. The October presentation came within a month of the federal government announcing a $5.6-million pledge toward the Cache Creek fibre transport project. The funds went to a portion of the project, run by Shaw from Whistler to Mount Currie, that was completed in October. Bell will then take the line from Mount Currie to Lillooet, and then Shaw will take it from there to Cache Creek.

It’s the last stretch of the fibre’s journey where the pole access problems lie. Shaw requires access to 86 joint-use poles over a distance of about 80 kilometres (some of the fibre will be submerged under water). It intended to attach and activate the fibre by August.

Shaw said in its October presentation that it doesn’t have “visibility” as to the exact status of the make-ready work on the poles

The majority of the poles in British Columbia are owned jointly by BC Hydro and Telus, a product of a decades-old commercial agreement. For third-party internet service providers to gain access to those poles, which carry telecommunications equipment and fibre wires, the joint owners must first prepare the pole for additional attachments (poles can fall if weighting isn’t done, for example), called “make-ready work.” Afterward, the permit requester — Shaw in this case — is quoted on the work that needs to be done and pays for the changes.

There have been a number of initiatives across the country to speed up access to poles. Under the guidelines of the $2.75-billion Universal Broadband Fund, the federal government has said it will give preference to those telecoms and municipalities that make more accessible their support structures to third parties.

Ontario and Quebec, as well, are also taking this very seriously. Quebec has a coordination table set up to hammer out issues related to quick and cheap access to support structures, while the Ontario government has made access to poles a policy priority.

Read the email:

BC-Hydro-Telus

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