Telus – ensuring the future is not friendly.

One of the ways I ended up at Vancity was that I left Telus, Canada’s second largest Telecom and BC’s main phone company, during the strike of their Telecommunication Workers’ Union employees during their 2005 strike. It was an ugly affair, especially for me, as I had never before crossed a picket line and was suddenly sent away from my job as a project manager to a suburb, Surrey, which is an hour away, to run wires in a big concrete building. The whole experience was difficult and ridiculous, especially because my son was only several months old at the time and we “managers” were all required to work 12 hour days, six days a week. Between those hours and my commute, I only got to see my son on my one day off.

Needless to say, I left the company for one whose business model I respect, switched to VOIP and never looked back.

At Vancity I became a big proponent of the social web and believe strongly in having a business model where openness is widely adopted, making it easier to engage in online collaboration under the auspices of your brand. I used to use Telus as an example of a company that doesn’t have the fortitude to allow itself to leverage the social web. Now, reading Wikinomics, it’s even more clear to me that companies need to harness the power of collaboration to make their business stronger. I believe that isolation will increasingly lead to poorer performance.

But lately I’ve been feeling like I may have been too harsh with Telus. Time heals all wounds, I guess.

And then I read this excellent article in The Tyee that shows a pattern of blocking access to websites on its network, removing videos from YouTube that they may not even own, and other big-brother practices. Holy moly. I guess time wounds all heels instead. How could a company, which is one of the biggest ISPs in Canada, start shutting this stuff down. Which executives think this is a good idea? I remember when they blocked a TWU-supportive website during the strike I thought it was a horrible act resulting from maintaining an extreme position during the strike. But now, when I assume they are still trying to heal rifts left over from that strike between union workers and everyone else, it reveals something much darker about the intentions and nature of the company.

Telus is a clear example of a company that doesn’t get it. Its brand tagline is The Future is Friendly. When I worked there we used to joke that the future better be friendly, because the present certainly sucks. Anyone with experience in marketing or PR knows that a company’s tagline is their consumer promise and has to reflect reality for it to be believable. I hope there are VPs at the company who kick and scream over these actions, because it reveals the image of the company as an empty promise, something they’re trying to portray, totally divorced from reality.

The thing that boggles my mind is that in their fight for high-speed internet dominance, Telus execs should know that consumers want to be able to trust their ISP? That if the public associates Telus with blocking websites to their customers, many people would simply choose another provider for this commoditized service? And if they can’t trust them for web service, can they trust them to have transparent rates on long distance (a well documented no), or fair fees and service charges, or… well, the list just goes on and on.

I would guess that over time they will either need to wake up and reform and become more open or become a fossilized old-boys boardroom clueless as the world becomes a little more egalitarian.

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