Cell phone and Internet access remains hit and miss for many rural residents in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
During a presentation to the Cariboo Regional District, Bert Braybrook, TELUS general manager of customer solutions delivery for the community, heard that message from many rural directors.
Chad Mernett, director of Area K in the East Chilcotin wondered if there are any plans for his region, and heard TELUS has yet to reach the break-even point along Highway 20.
“We’re dealing with a lot of mountains and corridors along river beds, with a lot more challenges,” Braybrook said. “As a business we’re looking to invest where we can get a solid return and right now, unfortunately, given the sparsity and the challenges it’s not something on our immediate horizon.
Area H Director Margo Wagner said at every single community meeting she’s asked if cell service and high speed Internet service is coming soon.
Fibre optic cable goes through the Forest Grove area, yet people aren’t able to connect to it, she added.
“We’re not hooked up to any high speed Internet because my understanding is you guys won’t make any money off of it,” she told Braybrook.
She hears an “unbelievable” amount of frustration from residents because ABC communications is in the area with a couple of towers, she said.
“I appreciate that you’re a business and you have to make money, but I don’t think you realize the amount of summer residential properties that are in my region, primarily owned by people who live in the Lower Mainland or are from Alberta that would be more than willing to pay a seasonal connect and disconnect,” she suggested.
Braybrook confirmed there is fibre optic in the area, but said other factors come into play when cell sites are built, such as the availability of power and whether it’s sustainable, as well as real estate.
“Some people are more forgiving of having a cell tower in their close proximity and obviously we want to put them in where the greatest populations are.”
Wagner told him she has lots of land and would be willing to offer some for a cell tower.
Echoing Wagner, Wells mayor Robin Sharpe said fibre optics comes out to his community and to Barkerville but there’s no high speed Internet.
“How much is the cost to put one in and would it be viable in the Wells area,” he asked, to which Braybrook answered on average the cost is $500,000 if things go well.
He also said sometimes the capacity within a fibre optic system is allocated for existing network related activities and sometimes is not available to TELUS.
Area E director Byron Kemp said cell phone service in the fringe areas of Williams Lake is nil or spotty, and he receives many complaints.
“I’m getting an awful lot of complaints with regards to this particularly with Eagle View which is only eight kilometres out of Williams Lake up the hill,” he said, adding his old bag phone got better coverage than the cell phone he owns.
Area A director Ted Armstrong said he has received no communication from TELUS about a cell tower planned for a site near his home.
“I haven’t had a phone call, letter, email or anything,” Armstrong said.
Quesnel Mayor Mary Sjostrom said everyone wants service but whenever cell towers are proposed there is opposition.
“If people want the service they have to support it, but communication and education would probably alleviate concerns. When I was in Fort St. John last I saw a huge cell tower in the parking lot downtown by Safeway.”
High speed Internet would be an asset in Barkerville and other spots in his region, Area C director John Massier said. “We’re trying to set up a conservation learning institute and turn our 1860s classroom into a more modern technological venue for people to learn,” Massier said.
Braybrook said TELUS invested $4.5 million into the Cariboo region in 2012 on cellular upgrades or installation of new sites.
“Some of those sites were mostly along Highway 24, Deka Lake, Lac La Hache, a new site at Enterprise and as well as Soda Creek to try and fill in thte blank spots throughout the Interior.”
There won’t be quite as much investment in 2013, but TELUS is looking at doing some upgrades, in and around the 100 Mile House area to increase capacity. The last couple of years the challenge has been the shift in technology.
Presently traditional copper wire service is what’s in place in most areas and one of the things TELUS is considering is changing to fibre optic technology.
Strictly in the planning stages and assessing costs, the company doesn’t have any firm dates to offer as to when and if the changes might take place.
Recently phone service was installed for the Canoe Creek Band, he added. New wireless sites will be installed in 2014 possibly at 108 Mile and McLeese Lake, and increased capacity at Mount Bigbie, Williams Lake Airport, 150 Mile, Alexandria, Deka Lake and other areas around Williams Lake.