Cree opposition is growing to Télébec’s proposed hikes to phone bills in the North.

Expect to see a $3 increase on your next phone bill, part of a $14.40 total increase Telebec has proposed between 1997 and 2002. Monthly phone bills will jump by 64 per cent over five years if Telebec has its way.

The Mistissini band council adopted a resolution November 23 that “vehemently opposes” any rate increases until Cree concerns are met. The band calls for free long-distance between all the Cree communities, a service similar to what Hydro-Quebec enjoys among its installations in James Bay. Mistissini also calls on Telebec to provide preferential training, jobs and contract opportunities to Crees; services in Cree; and affordable rates.

The resolution also throws support behind efforts of the Chisasibi band and Chisasibi Telecommunications Association in helping to spearhead a Canada-wide campaign against phone-rate hikes in the North.

The campaign is supported by 200 organizations and communities across the country, which have come up with a manifesto to spell out their demands: the “Consumer Charter for a Connected Canada.” The Mistissini, Nemaska and Chisasibi band councils have passed resolutions endorsing the charter.

Behind the charter is a feeling that many Canadians are being bypassed by the Information Highway. The charter laments the fact that rural Canadians “continue to lack affordable access to high-quality telecommunications services,” at a time when “telecommunications has replaced postal service as the primary method of distance communication.”

The charter says rural and remote communities must have service and rates comparable to those in urban areas.

Télébec’s rate hikes are being studied now by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission.