SaskTel defends relationship with Huawei despite NDP criticism

NDP calls for end of Huawei’s involvement in SaskTel network

The provincial NDP is raising concerns about SaskTel’s possible ties to Huawei, a Chinese company that has been connected to espionage concerns.

NDP leader Ryan Meili called on Premier Scott Moe and SaskTel to place an immediate moratorium on further contracts between the entities, provide the public with a description of all of Huawei’s involvement with SaskTel and safeguards in place, request an analysis by the Canadian Security Intelligence Services (CSIS) of any risks and provide an assessment of the cost of ending current contracts with Huawei. That last proposal also calls in Saskatchewan to assess the cost of removing any technology “that poses risk and outlining a process for ending this engagement should that be the wiser course of action.”

“Today, I have written to the Premier to outline our concerns over Huawei having backdoor access to our essential communications infrastructure,” Meili said in a press release. “The most recent revelations of alleged espionage and security threats by Huawei underscore why this government needs to exercise extreme caution and may need to extricate SaskTel from its contractual relationships with this company.”

The press release said that since 2010, SaskTel ratepayers have paid Huawei more than $181 million for services. The agreement includes the provision of 5G service to the University of Regina.

According to the NDP, the United States, Australia and New Zealand are among the countries that have taken steps to block Huawei from being a part of building 5G networks.

“This partnership with Huawei was questionable at best when the Sask. Party signed SaskTel on for it,” said NDP SaskTel Critic Warren McCall in the press release.

“Given what we know today, this relationship must be subjected to appropriate scrutiny and actions must be taken to protect the privacy of Saskatchewan people and security of Saskatchewan businesses.”

According to the Regina Leader-Post, SaskTel’s chief technology officer Daryl Godfrey told reporters Tuesday that testing completed by an independent third party is one measure the government has taken to mitigate any risks.

Godfrey added that removing the equipment would put SaskTel at a “significant” disadvantage in rolling out 5G networks and that the province is “comfortable” that measures taken have mitigated any risk.

Godfrey said the Crown corporation does not want to spend millions to end its “positive relationship” with Huawei.  He did not say how much it would cost to replace the equipment with equivalent technology from another company.

Monday outage caused by partner network

A Monday outage faced by some customers that prevented them from making or receiving long-distance or toll-free calls was caused by another telecommunications company,  SaskTel said.

The outage was resolved at about 12:30 p.m. SaskTel would not reveal which partner carrier was the source of the outage.

Telecommunications companies use networks outside of their home base to allow customers to make long-distance calls.

“So the issue in this case wasn’t with SaskTel’s network at home, it was with a partner’s network outside of the province,” said Jacobs.

Because the outage was intermittent and extended to both landline and cell phones, Jacobs said it would be “nearly impossible” to calculate the number of SaskTel customers affected. Jacobs said the outage was widespread and province-wide.

Both the Prince Albert Police and the RCMP non-emergency lines were unable to receive calls during the outage.

–with files from the Regina Leader-Post