|Telus 'retreats' on Internet Grants|
No strings attached to support for schools following letter to CRTC
March 19, 1997
Journal Business Writer
A small Edmonton Internet service provider is claiming victory over Telus.
The telephone company has made clear its position that Alberta schools are free to choose their own Internet service provider when they accept cash grants from the Telus Bright Futures Foundation, says Graham Fletcher, president of Corporate Computers Inc.
Fletcher said Telus began advising schools they could use whatever Internet provider they wished after he sent a letter of complaint to the Canadian Radio Television and Telecommunications Commission.
"We caught them doing two things at the same time-publicly saying it was open to any provider, but the real machinations were they were trying to lock people into closed deals," he claimed Tuesday.
Fletcher said his letter to the CRTC has forced Telus to reverse almost everything they have been saying about the program for the past year.
"It sounds like they have made a major retreat," he said.
Telus spokesperson Jeff Welke said the company has been contacting schools across Alberta for the past two months to make sure they understand there are no strings attached to foundation grants.
"It was never the intention of Telus to mislead anybody," Welke said.
The effort to clarify the program began after Fletcher sent a letter of complaint to Telus in November 1996, he said.
The Telus Bright Futures Foundation was launched in May 1996 to provide $7.2 million to connect all Alberta schools to the Internet through what it called the Telus World Learning program.
In his Jan. 2 letter to the CRTC, Fletcher alleged the foundation was abusing its tax-free charitable status by tying Internet access grants to the company's Internet service provider, Telus Planet..
He wrote that while senior Telus staff were saying schools could choose any Internet service provider, Telus sales representatives were saying the money was a grant available only to Telus Planet connecting customers.
"The net effect of the Telus announcement was to halt and cancel all discussions that schools were having with Internet service providers, other than Telus," he wrote. One of his companies immediately lost up to $1 million in business that would have closed and been billed by September 1996, he said.
Until that time, Corporate Computers had signed up about 25 schools, he said.
Welke said Telus has no information that anybody was told to use Telus Planet. "There may have been some misunderstanding," he said.
Fletcher said his client schools would have been connected to the Internet by Sept. 1. On the other hand, as of December 1996, the Telus program had failed to connect any schools to the Internet, he wrote. Welke acknowledged the effort is taking longer than expected. "It's the first time we have had this kind of offering. It's province wide, so it is quite an undertaking," he said.
Since January, about 800 of 1,800 eligible schools have been connected, he said.
Facts about the Telus World Learning Program:
- Provided by Telus Bright Futures Foundation.
- Provides eligible schools with grants to connect to the Internet and two years of free service.
- Grants are not tied to using Telus Planet Internet service. [anymore! Choose a real service provider.]
(Source: Telus corp.)