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Alberta's Telephone Heritage
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Regulation and Deregulation

Government regulation of the telephone industry in Alberta began with the City of Edmonton’s purchase of Alex Taylor’s system in 1905.

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 1904.

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 utility.

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 environment.

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 customer service.

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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