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Northwestel expanding digital features

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, April 23, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - Just because your TV is HD-compatible doesn't mean you can actually see Rick Mercer's nose hairs.

But that's about to change if you're a customer of Northwestel Cable.

The company is replacing all its customers' receivers with new machines that will allow viewers to watch television in all its high-definition glory.

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Troy Larson, senior customer service representative with Northwestel Cable, says he and his team have placed an average of 60 to 70 calls a day asking Yellowknifers to return their old digital cable receivers, pictured here, in exchange for new boxes that will enable them to watch digital and record television. - Guy Quenneville/NNSL photo

The switch, at no additional cost to the customer, is one of many changes afoot at Northwestel cable, which is combining all its services under one new storefront that will open to the public in mid-May.

The new showroom - complete with giant-sized, flat-screen display TVs, one showing analog television, the other showing its superior digital counterpart - will debut in Northwestel cable's current location on 49 Street, but in a newer, bigger room.

The new space will allow for a more interactive customer experience, according to Curtis Shaw, manager of Northwestel cable.

The storeroom was supposed to debut on May 1, but a counter and other furniture didn't make it across the Mackenzie River before the ice road closed.

"Customers can come in and test out our products," said Shaw of the new space. "A lot of the features that our new receivers offer only make sense (when) the customer can actually see them."

Those features include picture-in-picture, which allows customers to view one channel while flipping through others.

Other, more advanced features include digital video recording and Impulse pay-per-view.

"Right now, when you rent a pay-per-view movie, you have to phone in or go to a website. It's a little clunky. The new system is automatic. When you rent a movie, it's just a matter of 'click, click, click' and it'll be on your box.

"If you want to watch The Sopranos on Monday morning at 6 a.m., you can do that. You don't have to wait."

The customer service staff working in the upper-floor call centre have been busy calling customers and notifying them of the change.

Troy Larson, senior customer service representative, estimated he and his co-workers made 60 to 70 calls a day.

"But our turnaround has been great," said Larson.

In fact, according to Shaw, 2,000 receivers have been swapped so far, leaving only 400 to 500 left. The team started in December.

Leigha Burrill, a retail sales associate in Northwestel cable's current showroom, said she couldn't wait until she could move into the newer, bigger showroom.

"This room now is pretty cramped," she said. "It will make a big difference for us."