Incoming CityWest CEO Chris Marett originally started with the company five years ago on a three-month contract at the Prince Rupert office

Marett takes the helm at CityWest

Technology is moving at an exponential pace and CityWest is ensuring it keeps up under brand new leadership heading into 2017.

Technology is moving at an exponential pace and CityWest is ensuring it keeps up under brand new leadership heading into 2017.

New CEO Chris Marett will be taking the reins for the municipally-owned telecommunications company from long-time 37-year employee and outgoing CEO Don Holkestad.

Marett originally started with the company five years ago on a three-month contract at the Prince Rupert office, but stayed on after witnessing the brisk pace of the telecommunications industry and the unique position that the company finds itself in serving customers in the north.

“It was both the industry and the people here. I find people here are great,” he said last week.

Marett took the position of chief financial officer for the company in early 2012 and since then, has learned a ton under telecom-whiz Holkestad.

“He’s just been a great mentor to me overall. [He’s taught me] what it takes and what it means to be CEO of a telecom company. We’ve worked pretty closely together,” Marett said.

Holkestad also earned praise from Bob Long, chair of the board of directors for CityWest.

“Don has been instrumental in building CityWest into a more competitive company and he leaves the position having earned the respect of his peers, his staff and the board. We would like to thank him for his many years of service in a very fast-changing industry,” said Long.

CityWest finds itself as one of only a handful of municipality-owned telecom companies left in Canada, and one of only approximately 30 independent ones in Canada, with the majority located in Ontario and Quebec.

“It’s a company that’s over 100 years old and you don’t last that long without doing a few things right,” said Marett.

Serving 15,000 residences and businesses in Prince Rupert, Port Edward, Terrace, Kitimat, Smithers, Telkwa, Houston, Metlakatla, Kispiox and Hazelton, CityWest is experiencing an unprecedented demand for Internet speeds, bandwidth and data usage. They have also taken requests to expand into other areas, but there are no plans to do so right now, said Marett.

Services like Netflix have entered the fray, providing on-demand TV shows and movies, and using up customers’ Internet.

The CEO said the company is responding to that demand through large-scale growth in all its markets and connecting to Vancouver and Seattle infrastructure.

“Basically a few years ago we built a circuit to Prince George and then from there last year it went to Vancouver and most recently to Seattle. What that allows us to do is we peer directly with companies such as Microsoft and YouTube and that provides our customers with a better experience because it’ll offer them faster internet service, but it also allows us to provide higher speeds,” said Marett.

“Four years ago you could only buy, through a third-party, 0.6 gigabytes of Internet. Now, total, we’re 12.5 gigs and that’s a 2,000 per cent increase in the amount of Internet we can offer.”

Internet is by far the company’s most in-demand product, confirmed Chris Armstrong, director of marketing.

“That’s been our biggest product over the last few years. A lot of people want the higher speeds but I think most of our customers are really happy with the fact we have no data caps and people can surf the net without worrying about having an extra fee on their bill at the end of the month,” Armstrong said.

Another area of growth is HD programming, which CityWest continues planning to address in adding more HD channels in the coming year. Most recently, they’ve added Channel 310, which is CityWest Community Channel 10 in HD. Everything from city council meetings, to Prince Rupert Rampage games to Rotary auctions will be broadcasted in high-definition by securing the right equipment.

Differentiating themselves from the big players like Telus, Bell and Rogers has always been a focus and will continue to play a role moving forward, said the new CEO.

“Telus is a competitor, but they’re also a supplier of us and we’re a supplier of them. That’s just the telecom world,” said Marett. Customer experience, offering different cable, phone and Internet packages and investing in the company’s network and people will always be the main focus, he added.

As for 4K programming, Armstrong said the organization is aware of a couple sport channels that offer 4K, as well as Netflix carrying 4K content, but that there hasn’t been much demand for it so far, due to 4K TVs still being expensive for the average customer. He recommended for customers to have the higher Internet speeds to be able to watch 4K programming with CityWest.

Distribution payment made to city

For at least the third straight year, CityWest provided the City of Prince Rupert, its sole shareholder, with a distribution payment of $400,000.

The company presented the cheque to Mayor Lee Brain, members of city council and staff, and board chair Bob Long.

“We’re expanding. We’re increasing our revenue, we’re increasing our operating income, but at the same time as this growth period, we’re also able to offer a distribution cheque to our shareholder. So we’re increasing the value of the company, but we’re also providing a payment to the shareholder,” said Marett.

“With any company you have a decision on whether or not you put money into expansion to offering new services for the future, or do you pay out money right now? And we do a combination of both. Although obviously most of our funds go into providing better services and a better customer experience.”

Board chair Long was pleased with the payment.

“It is a great asset for the city and for Prince Rupert as a whole to have a local telecommunications firm that gives back to the community, employs residents and circulates more dollars back into the regional economy. We look forward to seeing the continued improvement of CityWest services under new leadership,” Long said.

CityWest has provided the city with $6.7 million in dividends and distribution payments since it moved to a private corporation in 2005, as well as $1 million in local taxes and levies.