Source: The Videotex Industry in Quebec
Bell Canada's Alex Project
With the agreement of the federal Department of Communications, Bell Canada, the largest telephone company in the country, has put the Alex system into effect and has been attempting to popularize it in Québec since December 1988. This network allows its subscribers (provided with an Alextel terminal rented at $7.95 per month or a microcomputer equipped with simulation software and a modem) to have access to many services: home banking, leisure, compushopping, travel and transportation, current events and information, sports, education, games and lotteries, electronic billboards and party lines, and so on. Billing adjusted to use and activity is in effect. In January 1989, Alex had 110 services originating from about 40 suppliers. In November 1989, Alex offered almost 450 services provided by 120 suppliers (La Salle, 19 89). Bell Canada has invested $60 million into this project and expects that service suppliers will add about $50 million.
The launching of the project was well publicized. In December 1988, it was announced that the objective was to quickly attain 20,000 subscribers in Greater Montréal.
As of April 23, 1989, ALEX had 10 477 subscribers using 5 414 Alextel terminals and 5 063 microcomputers equipped with emulators. The number of calls had passed 400 000, with an average duration of 7.5 minutes per call. (Bernatchez, 1989, p. 18)
However, one can observe that: (a) Most first-time users, after a free two-month trial period, returned their terminals to Bell Canada, which means that there has been a very quick turnover among new users. (b) After receiving their first phone bills, which showed prohibitive costs for the Alex service,8 many subscribers gave up on the very idea of using this type of service, while others formed the Association of Users of Alex Services to encourage Bell to lower its rates.9 (c) The suppliers have too few clients (there is an average of 5,000 hours of connections per month, which is insufficient to make the network profitable [La Salle, 1989]); as a consequence, they lack the financial resources to improve service: it becomes hard in turn to attract new subscribers. A vicious circle is created that hinders the development of the system.