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New CityWest CEO outlines his vision to Prince Rupert city council

CityWest’s new CEO Bill Craig was at City Council Monday evening sharing his vision for the future of the company. - Monica Lamb-Yorski photo
CityWest’s new CEO Bill Craig was at City Council Monday evening sharing his vision for the future of the company.
— image credit: Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

City Council heard from CityWest’s new CEO Bill Craig on Monday evening that the company wants to focus on customers first, cuts costs that are controllable and expand its services.

“I was startled when I was shown the organizational chart of CityWest,” Craig told council.

What he saw were four colours, each designating what union someone was in or if they weren’t in a union.

“It was all divided along those particular lines, not along customer service or the customer,” he said.

Craig’s own experience as a customer has also been telling. He waited half a day to get telephone service, but three and a half weeks for cable hook-up.

“When the twisted pair guy came to my door, he couldn’t give me cable. I was stunned, and said it says CityWest on the side of your truck. You’ve taken two hours out of my time and you can’t give me cable?”

It was a case of different unions being able to do different things, but for Craig it was indicative of some of the things that need tweaking.

On the positive side, there has been growth in the company’s television and internet customer base, with 934 new customers added so far in 2011.

To build on that momentum, the company want to upgrade its TV services by adding video-on-demand in August and is testing it now. It also wants to be 100 percent digital by the fall, and Craigs wants to see the company drop the “wasteful” analog carrier in all of the systems.

Adding more HDTV channels are also a priority, and while the company can’t compete with satellite at the moment, it has to adapt, Craig said.

The company also wants to improve the signal quality to all packages.

When it comes to cellular business, Craig said the company needs a reality check.

“We don’t have licenses to function transmitters outside of Prince Rupert so that’s a challenge for us,” he explained.

By acquiring new 3G technology and expanding beyond Prince Rupert, some of those problems would be solved and could increase the market by 300 or even 350 percent, he suggested.

“I’ve been negotiating an agreement with Bell and will be on the phone with the CEO tomorrow to finalize it. They were only going to allow us to have 10 percent, but I’ve managed to get them to agree to 25 percent commission,” Craig said. The agreement will also allow CityWest to expand to Kitimat and Smithers.

In the futue, he also wants CityWest to consider an owned and operated 3G or 4G system.

CityWest is looking very actively at getting highway coverage so that customers can have cell phone coverage from Prince Rupert to Terrace.

In the winter time that’s a very treacherous road. You have avalanches or you can skid off the road and there’s absolutely no service,” Craig said.

He has talked to Industry Canada about accessing frequencies that aren’t presently being used and admitted it will be a rigmarole, but one he’s willing to tackle.

“One advantage we have of developing the path along the Skeena River up to Terrace is we’ve already spent eight and a half million dollars running a communications path up there. We’ve been in discussions with CN rail to use their power going up there,” Craig said.

Another area of consideration is the addition of more wifi hotspots, which he admitted are presently limited.

“You can’t even sit down at McDonalds here and use your laptop. You can at Cowpuccinos, but you can’t at Tim Hortons, and everyone huddles around the Starbucks at the supermarket because they’ve got a wifi signal there. We want to be able to service that market as well and it’s not an expensive buy.”

Financially the company is stabilizing after experiencing a slump. When it comes to expenses, Craig wants to look at the things the company can control.

Using a pie graph, he indicated that wages equal 36 percent, operating is 12 percent, TV costs total 29 percent, bandwidth is 6 percent, telephone goods and services are 8 percent, while tax and utilities are 7 percent.

An examination of the bills has revealed that Telus has been overcharging for telephone pole rental.

“Our preliminary shows we think we’ve got a fifty percent over-pole count by Telus. I’ve asked the engineers to go out and count how many poles we’ve got and will compare it to how many poles Telus thinks we’ve got,” Craig said.

According to Craig, areas that are controllable are wages, operating costs and bandwidth.

If the company wants to grow on the revenue side, it could say it needs more bodies, said Craig, but he’d rather reorganize and repurpose the existing staff to maximize them being in place. He’s not here to lay people off, he added.

“There’s a lot of disorganization in the company, things that are being done because the company’s been around for a hundred years. It’s come through a City environment. It hasn’t really had some of the disciplines of a commercial environment. The managers before me were always managers previously of city governments,” Craig said.

His are fresh set of eyes, he said. Not necessarily better, but new, he added.

Craig was born and raised in Toronto, and has spent time working in Bermuda, the US and China in his career, building cable, satellite and wireless television companies, running television networks, building websites, including iCraveTV.com, and has worked for Rogers Cable.

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