Bell West says it will comply with a judge’s order that it participate in a dispute-resolution process to resolve its differences with Axia NetMedia over the construction of the Alberta SuperNet, a high-speed broadband network that will ultimately link all of Alberta to the Internet.
In the meantime, though, Bell West will continue construction on the network, scheduled for completion by late 2004, said Bell West spokesperson Jamie McNaul. The company is looking for subcontractors to finish the work initially contracted to Axia.
However, Art Price, president and CEO of Axia NetMedia Corp, which sought an injunction in Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton in early February to require Bell West to submit to arbitration, said that the contract between the two remains in force during the dispute-resolution process.
“We have a set of contracts, an arbitration process that a judge said is applicable, and rights,” said Price.
“Whatever Bell does, it does.
“Embedded in this arbitration process is the obligation to continue while this arbitration goes on. The company is free to ignore things and take the damages that are the result. This whole process was to force Bell to submit to arbitration and that’s what was awarded by the judge.”
Bell West is the prime contractor for the $300-million SuperNet project in which the Government of Alberta is investing nearly $200 million. Axia was to be responsible for building the rural portion of the network. The Calgary-based firm has a separate 10-year contract to operate the SuperNet that is not affected by this dispute.
Axia argued in Court of Queen’s Bench in mid-February that Bell West had no right to terminate the contract. Justice Del Perras, in a decision handed down late last week, granted the injunction and ordered the two parties to submit to the dispute-resolution mechanism provided for in the contract.
He refused two other injunction applications – that Bell West be required to continue to employ Axia under the contract and that Bell West be prohibited from telling others Axia’s contract has been terminated, ruling they are both outside his jurisdiction.
Bell argued in court that the project would be over budget and not completed on time if Axia continued as subcontractor. Axia blamed cost overruns on Bell. Both sides are claiming victory in the judge’s ruling.
Price said in an interview that the judge granted the main injunction, “the one that Axia wanted and that the Government of Alberta was supporting.”
The ruling is good news for Albertans, as it means Bell can move to ensure the SuperNet is rolled out to 422 communities by 2004 as planned, said Brian Olafson, vice-president of the Alberta SuperNet project for Bell West.
McNaul said Bell West will comply with the judge’s ruling that the two parties submit to the dispute-resolution process, “but Axia has to initiate the process. Bell will, as directed by the court, fully participate in this process as required,” McNaul said.