Crees will be hit with another whopping increase in phone bills starting July 1, with monthly rates in most communities shooting up 17 percent for a basic hookup.

Télébec, the Bell Canada subsidiary that serves northern Quebec, already charged the highest residential rates in the country.

Even before the latest spike, its rates had jumped 72 percent since 1995.

Télébec got permission to raise rates again across northern Quebec in a June 9 decision by the Canadian Radio-television and Communications Commission.

In a dissenting opinion, one commissioner opposed the rate hike, saying it is “not just and reasonable.”

Commissioner Barbara Cram wrote that Télébec’s financial assumptions “are flawed. In my view, Télébec does not require rate relief.”

A Télébec official admitted to The Nation that the company isn’t losing money, and in fact has a healthy profit margin.

Michel Gilbert, the company’s general manager of regulatory matters, refused to say how much profit the company made last year. He did acknowledge, however, that Télébec earned a very respectable 10.4-to-12.4-percent return on its equity.

Gilbert blamed the phone-bill hike on a legal dispute with Hydro-Quebec. Télébec didn’t get as much as it hoped for in a dispute with Hydro-Quebec over use of each other’s poles.

In a settlement in 1996 or 1997, Télébec got $6 million less than expected, Gilbert said. So the company decided to hit up residents to make up the difference.

Gilbert said residents of Chisasibi, Eastmain, Waswanipi, Wemindji, Waskaganish, Nemaska and Matagami will see their basic phone bills rise by $4, from $22.93 to $26.93.

Ouje-Bougoumou residents, who are in the Chibougamau-Chapais exchange, will get a hike from $27.83 to $31.10. Mistissini bills will go from $30.28 to $31.10.