Bruce Telecom

Delivering the best of urban services to rural customers

Much has changed since 2012 when we last reported on Bruce Telecom, a western Ontario telecommunications company, wholly owned by the Municipality of Kincardine, located along the eastern shore of Lake Huron. For more than a century, BT has delivered telecom services to the province’s underserved rural population including residential and business telephones, digital television, high-speed Internet and wireless cellular products.

“The focus for us really is on growing our business and with that making sure we’re providing excellent service to our customers with recent and innovative products that no matter where people live,” begins Bruce Telecom CEO Bart Cameron.

It’s a fallacy – or urban myth – that people in rural areas are more accepting of a lesser product than the more urban centres. Cameron says that’s just not the case. People are craving the latest products and services and it’s the objective of BT to ensure those are available in the marketplace they serve. “For us, when we talk about urban centres it might be a town of 1,000 people or less, but we think of those areas as key communities and where we’re in the process of bringing fibre to the home in a number of communities.”

Bruce Telecom is constantly examining methods for feasible solutions to get as many people connected into the wired world as possible. Fibre to the home is the best solution whereby customers are able to choose high-bandwidth packages and television services in what amounts to an extremely high-quality product.

It wasn’t that long ago when it appeared the organization was going to be sold. However, the deal was not consummated and since that time the municipality of Kincardine has made a full commitment to retaining ownership.

“The municipality has been very public about its support for what we are doing and they’re assisting us in looking at governance models; methods in which we can finance the company and look at expansion plans. The company is not for sale and Kincardine is committed to growing it and building a really strong asset,” Cameron confirms.

As a more compact but very successful telecom enterprise BT is nimble and able to react far more rapidly than larger entities in the same workspace. The company maintains a close relationship with its customers and always strives to remain in contact with them to ensure the products and services they receive not only meet expectations, but exceed them. Customers today are technically savvy and know what’s available in other parts of the country and they have the same expectations. BT has shown a tremendous capacity to stay at the front of the curve in that regard.

The ability to innovate and showcase disruptive products to the market quickly and stay in tune with what’s happening within the industry over the next few years will ensure a successful path according to Cameron. To that end, it’s often said that the success of any organization is directly intertwined with the commitment, dedication and intellect of its employees.

“It’s what enables any organization and we’re certainly no exception. We have many long-term employees and I think that speaks to the loyalty and genuine support that the staff has for the company,” Cameron notes. “At the same time, we’ve been able to attract new people and have a really good dynamic of people who want to see the company be successful.”

“An advantage to operating on a smaller scale is that we can quickly improve a process or develop a new process where we need to probably faster and easier than a large company,” adds Danica Chinnick, Marketing Coordinator at Bruce Telecom.

Quality of life is hard to beat in a beautiful, rural centre such as Kincardine, which can certainly be used as a selling point for attracting young, educated employees who will lead the company of tomorrow. The majority of people usually fall into two distinct camps in terms of where they want to live: either they want the full services and cultural experiences of a Toronto or they want the ability live a more serene lifestyle where they are able to go fishing or boating just down the road from where they work.

“For most people it’s either they absolutely don’t want to be in a rural area or it’s probably the number one reason they come,” Cameron remarks.

Bruce Telecom continues the migration from copper wire to fibre for its customers. At the time of the 2012 interview, BT had just completed a project they described as ‘fibre to the node’ or ‘fibre to the neighbourhood’. The technology in that case was VDSL using copper for the last mile. Since that time it’s always new fibre that is installed.

“We’ve done a significant portion of the community of Kincardine an upgrading from fibre to the neighbourhood to direct fibre to the home,” Cameron says.

In addition to their own territory, BT is expanding its fibre presence outside of their incumbent territory. For the certain areas where BT is the incumbent they are the provider that must stand ready. There are neighbouring communities, one of which is Owen Sound, where BT is a competitor. They have successfully penetrated that market and are in effect building their own fibre to the premises, both business and residential. Telecom boundaries are different than municipal zoning restrictions so companies such as Bruce Telecom can bid for jobs in whatever jurisdiction they feel would benefit their business and its bottom line.

As with any industry there are always challenges that need to be watched and acted upon at the appropriate juncture. There are three main areas in that regard: the competitive environment and how it’s always changing; new, innovative technologies; and the regulatory side of the business, including mandates and directives set down by the Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Community Involvement

Nowadays there are more and more people walking around with a wireless device in their pockets and the ability to access the internet without using their own data plans is certainly an attractive feature. A joint project in cooperation with the Municipality of Kincardine and the Kincardine local business association (BIA) is nearing completion to bring public Wi-Fi to the downtown core of the community.

“It’s a way for us to give back to the community and support tourism and local business. It’s an important project for us,” Cameron says.

Investing in not only its own infrastructure but also the local community, Bruce Telecom supports numerous events and a variety of initiatives in reinforcing itself as a visible and active community partner. One of the more substantial annual events that are embraced by the entire community is the Lighthouse Blues Festival.

“It’s been a really exciting thing to be a part of and seeing it grow from its beginning from this little festival that drew a couple hundred people in its first year to what it is today. It really is a sight to behold now,” Chinnick says. “Our staff are really engaged with this type of festival and have a lot of fun with it. The whole thing generates a lot of goodwill and tens of thousands of dollars has gone towards various initiatives.”

Another major entertainment event is Port Elgin’s Pumpkinfest. It is held every fall and provides a fun outlet for BT to get involved in trying to bring some of their expertise to the forefront by providing internet connectivity and Wi-Fi access. These events, and others, generate funds that go back into the community whether it is for children’s activities or other worthwhile causes.

Corporate Challenges

Staff at BT regularly participates in a number of corporate challenges in the community, including dressing up to raise awareness for various causes like ’80s day for the Women’s House, or wearing purple for epilepsy awareness day. There has been the purchase of raffle tickets for Alzheimer’s Coffee Breaks or special purple donuts for Saugeen Shores’ Liv-A-Little foundation. Being intertwined as a prominent presence in socially supporting the community is something BT is accustomed to doing.

“I’m quite proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish at our company in terms of getting staff engaged not only in the bigger events but some of these other opportunities we look to participate in,” adds Chinnick. “Our staff collects pledges and donate their own money to participate in things like the United Way’s Backpack Program or the big bike ride for the Heart & Stroke Foundation, which we did this year with a large team of people. We’ve also done the Parkinson’s Super Walk.”

An exceptionally fun initiative put on by BT last year involved a summer-long series of outdoor games and sporting events. Staff would make donations and would culminate at the end of the summer with Dunk Tank Day where individuals had the option to either sign up to be dunked or pay to dunk others.

“Over the course of the lunch hour people would gladly pay money for that,” Chinnick laughs. “They’d gladly pay money to dunk me in the water,” Cameron quickly interjects with a hearty chuckle. That particular initiative netted more than $3,000 in donations for the local chapter of the Canadian Tire Jump Start Program.

In addition to being part of the excitement and fun within the community, the company is also quick to act in showing its compassionate side during unsettling times as well. Last year a number of families in Owen Sound were left homeless following a string of arsons. Bruce Telecom was one of the first corporate citizens on the scene with a generous donation cheque and providing assistance to the United Way.

“The United Way offices are just shy of an hour’s drive from our head office and obviously the situation made the news around here in a big way,” Chinnick says. “We contacted the United Way and asked how we could help. They told us about their intention to pull together a telethon very quickly so we went with a donation cheque and some silent auction prizes and sent technicians there to set up phone lines so they could handle the extra volume of calls.”

“In a lot of ways it’s about being present and connected in the community,” Cameron adds. “So many times we have members of the community come up to our staff and say thank you and share stories with us.”

“I believe that’s why we get so many requests for support. People recognize we are a strong supporter of community causes,” Chinnick says.

Celebrating Success

BT has partnered with Employee Wellness Solutions Network since 2011 to deliver a variety of interactive programs as part of the overall corporate wellness initiative. The company won the Benefits Canada 2015 Workplace Benefits Award for Outstanding Health & Wellness Program for an employer under 1,000 employees after being a finalist in 2014.

“A group of us went to Toronto for the gala event to receive the award and we were very proud of that,” Chinnick says. “As a result we’ve been featured a couple of times in Benefits Canada magazine.”

On a personal note, Chinnick says she feels very fortunate to work for an employer that has such an amazing, robust wellness program. “We have a wonderful gym that has been refurbished and one-on-one wellness consultations during work hours. There are many fun, engaging activities to get people thinking about that aspect of their working selves.”

An observer from within the telecom industry once told Cameron that they could see the many challenges BT had to endure over the past few years, including notice of a sale, then the failed sale and finally the effort to recover, which it has been successful in doing. “That person described us as a resilient bunch of people. I took that as a really strong compliment. Through it all we’ve demonstrated solid financial results, committed to service and stayed the course.”

The corporate plan is now firmly in place and is one that Cameron and Chinnick are helping to spearhead as BT continues to expand its customer base and its products and services.

“In terms of strategy and business plans we want to see the company continue to grow, including expanding services and opportunities for our staff,” Cameron offers. “There isn’t a hard number that says we want to grow by x-percentage but I think at the end of the day delivering solid value to our shareholder, good opportunities to grow and making sure that we are viewed as strong community partner. Those are all motives that drive our organization and we want to see it on an upward curve in all areas.”

“It’s about being able to offer everything that the big companies are doing, being on par with those services and keeping up with all the latest technologies, while also maintaining that personal touch,” Chinnick concludes.