Government regulation of the telephone industry in Alberta began
with the City of Edmonton’s purchase of Alex Taylor’s system in
At that time, Edmonton already owned the Electric Light and Power
Company, which it had also bought from Taylor, and was somewhat
happy to add phone service to its list of public
interests—particularly as this move shielded Edmonton from the
encroachment of Bell Canada.
Before selling to the city, Taylor had entertained discussions
with Bell for the purchase of his system. Rate payers and officials
alike—for good or ill—feared the development of a monopoly by that
giant from the East, and so the city purchased the private system in
Taylor had been busy establishing long-distance connections
between Edmonton and surrounding communities, and the Edmonton
District Telephone Company was in the dark as to who should handle
its operation. Bell Canada, which was establishing lines of its own
in Calgary and rural areas, was interested in the Edmonton market.
The City of Edmonton asked the provincial government to purchase
Taylor’s interests instead, based in part on mistrust of the private
firm they believed might become a direct competitor to the municipal
The provincial government had been laying its own lines since
1905. Officials already had experience in the telephone industry,
and so it was not surprising when they bought out all of Bell’s
holdings and formed the public utility of Alberta Government
Telephones in 1908.
The original shift to public utility ownership, then, had been
undertaken to protect consumers from the pitfalls of an unregulated
Both the EDTC and AGT were plagued with efficiency problems from
the beginning but, as they were operating primarily for the public
good, they stayed on top of repairs and provided a high level of
Alberta saw a period or privatization after the Wall Street stock
market crash of 1929, when AGT began selling significant chunks of
its holdings to hundreds of little mutuals that had been formed
throughout the province.
In 1958, AGT became a Crown corporation in order to aid in the
costs associated with installing microwave technology. This made it
harder for AGT to buy back the holdings it had previously sold to
the mutuals. When AGT began repurchasing the lines in 1963, the
federal government was already involved in its dealings.
The provincial government privatized AGT in 1990, when it sold
the telephone interest to a newly formed company called TELUS. This
sale coincided with deregulation within the industry.
Being a privately held firm, TELUS itself experienced
difficulties with global long-distance competitors. This came to a
head in 1995. By this time, TELUS owned a number of subsidiaries
throughout the west that operated under their own brand names, so
that few people outside the industry were even aware that AGT and
EdTel, for example, were owned by TELUS.
The two Alberta subsidiaries actually were in competition, though
customers’ perceptions were that these companies still operated in
the same fashion as they had before deregulation.
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Heritage Community Foundation and
Telephone Historical Centre All Rights Reserved