Alex Turner talked to the SRD board about the need to expand cell phone on the highway for communities like Sayward at a meeting earlier this fall. File photo/Campbell River Mirror

Strathcona Regional District keeps push on to expand cell service in region

Board dissatisfied with CRTC response from Nov. 1 and will contact federal minister

The Strathcona Regional District is hoping to make headway with the federal minister who oversees wireless communications to expand mobile wireless service on Vancouver Island.

The board has already written to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) this fall about the need for service following a presentation by Alex Turner of the Sayward Futures Society. Turner had called for wireless service through the Hwy. 19 corridor for economic and safety reasons.

RELATED STORY: Sayward residents want cell service along highways

The CRTC sent a response dated Nov. 1 to the regional district’s letter calling for expanded cellular service for highway corridors.

“I went through this hoping I was going to find an answer,” said Charlie Cornfield, one of the Campbell River council representatives. “I got no answer, and I got all kinds of gobbledygook about stuff that’s totally irrelevant to mobiles … to cellular coverage.”

He suggested the SRD needs to continue pushing further on the issue, citing the CRTC response’s own letter on what areas should be covered.

“Major transportation corridors are supposed to be covered by cellular service,” he added. “Hwy. 19 is a major highway transportation corridor.”

Area A Director Gerald Whalley said his interpretation of the situation was the north end of Vancouver Island is not under the CRTC’s jurisdiction, so he suggested the board get clarification.

Concerning safety questions in the meantime, John MacDonald, Sayward’s mayor and SRD representative, said he learned through the RCMP that even if someone is in an area with no cell service, they can still punch in 911 on a mobile phone and it will send a signal to a satellite with the location, though the caller will not talk to a dispatcher.

“I never knew that until a week ago,” he said. “We were told that by the RCMP.”

Other board members asked for the request to cover a broader area. Brad Unger, Gold River’s mayor and director, asked to make sure the SRD makes reference to Hwy. 28 as well as Hwy. 19, while Martin Davis, the Tahsis mayor and SRD representative, wanted a busy stretch and dangerous stretch of road covered near his community.

As evidence of the need for such service, SRD Chair Michele Babchuk referred to a recent incident in which a young man was rescued after several days following an accident in which his vehicle went over a highway embankment outside of Sayward.

READ MORE: Man survived for ‘days’ trapped in smashed truck north of Campbell River

The board passed a motion for the SRD to write to Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, who is responsible for the CRTC, saying the regional district does not consider the CRTC letter of Nov. 1, 2018 adequate and that it wants immediate action taken to address concerns about cellular coverage. The SRD is specifically looking at service for Hwy. 19 and Hwy. 28 along with the Head Bay Forest Service Road near Tahsis.

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