St. Ann's Bay phone woes

Area a cell 'dead zone' with un­re­li­able land­line ser­vice; pe­ti­tion calls on govern­ment, Bell to in­stall cell tow­ers

The Victoria Standard - - Front Page - CAROLYN BAR­BER

For Jim and Vi­ola Allen of Tar­bot, re­li­able land­line phone ser­vice is a mat­ter of life and death.

Both hus­band and wife de­pend on med­i­cal alert sys­tems, which in turn, rely on power out­lets and ac­tive land­lines.

On Aug. 22, road crew blast­ing on the St. Ann’s Loop broke phone lines op­er­ated by Bell Aliant.

“If my de­fib­ril­la­tor had shocked me, the clinic would have no way of know­ing,” he said in a Sept. 1 in­ter­view at his home.

If Jim’s heart rate goes into a tachy­car­dia rhythm (114+ beats/minute) his Im­plantable Car­dioverter De­fib­ril­la­tor (ICD) shocks his heart back to a nor­mal rhythm. The clinic mon­i­tor­ing his ICD in Sydney calls Jim, dis­patches an am­bu­lance and pre­pares to re­ceive him at the hos­pi­tal where the ICD data is read and in­ter­preted.

Vi­ola uses Life­line, a per­sonal emer­gency re­sponse sys­tem with two-way voice com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Her heart trou­ble and dizzy spells make her prone to fall­ing. In the event of a fall, she can speak with a Life­line rep by in­ter­com, while four des­ig­nated peo­ple nearby are no­ti­fied.

The Al­lens have a cell phone as back-up, but need to drive 20 min­utes to either Jersey Cove or the Gaelic Col­lege to make a call when the phone lines are down.

Land­line out­ages make Wayne and Mar­garet Ryan, of Goose Cove, anx­ious too. Wayne has Parkinson’s Dis­ease and is prone to falls. They have a cell phone, but the clos­est cell sig­nal is two miles away at Mon­roe’s Point, and is in­ter­mit­tent at the best of times.

“We feel we should all have cell ser­vice,” said Mar­garet who joined the in­ter­view with the Al­lens on Sept. 1.

Many other res­i­dents are in a sim­i­lar boat, in­clud­ing So­nia Macdon­ald of St. Ann’s.

“My hus­band’s health is not the best. If I need emer­gency help and the land­line is down, I don’t know what I would do. I have no way of get­ting a hold of any­body. I would have to drive to get help,” said Macdon­ald by phone on Sept. 10. She said she would get a pay-as-you go plan if a cell sig­nal was avail­able.

Land­line out­ages are

com­mon in St. Ann’s and un­der­score the need for cell cov­er­age. Jim Allen has been press­ing the is­sue for years with Bell and lo­cal of­fi­cials.

“I was told by Bell Aliant that there weren’t enough peo­ple to war­rant a tower. It wouldn’t be a good enough re­turn on their in­vest­ment.”

He dis­cussed the is­sue in per­son with for­mer CAO Sandy Hud­son three months ago and has also spo­ken with Dis­trict #4 Coun­cil­lor Mer­rill Macinnis.

The Stan­dard reached Coun­cil­lor Macinnis by phone on Sept. 1. Macinnis said Vic­to­ria County Coun­cil met two and one-half years ago with a Bell Mo­bil­ity cell tower spe­cial­ist flown in from Toronto. At the time, he es­ti­mated cov­er­age around the St. Ann’s Loop would cost $2.6 mil­lion.

Two re­peaters are needed to bring the sig­nal closer – one on Cape Dauphin and an­other near Meadow Road in St. Ann’s. Ex­ist­ing North Shore cov­er­age comes from the re­peater on Smokey Moun­tain and stretches as far as the Cluck­ing Hen Café. From there un­til the English­town Ferry, it’s a cell “dead zone.”

“They’re [res­i­dents] talk­ing safety and I can un­der­stand that. But un­less we in­crease the pop­u­la­tion ten­fold there’s no way they’re [Bell] go­ing to do it. If they put a $2.6 mil­lion tower in, how many sub­scribers would they get? Maybe 150, max­i­mum. It was spelled out to us when Coun­cil met with the Bell rep,” said Macinnis.

Jim per­sists in his quest for cell cov­er­age. He launched a pe­ti­tion on Sept. 8 call­ing on all lev­els of govern­ment, Bell Aliant and Bell Mo­bil­ity to bring re­li­able com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture to res­i­dents of Vic­to­ria County.

The Stan­dard asked Bell Aliant Me­dia Re­la­tions for a re­sponse to Jim’s pe­ti­tion on Sept. 8, re­quest­ing that they take into con­sid­er­a­tion the con­cerns of those who de­pend on med­i­cal alert sys­tems.

“A se­ries of con­struc­tion in­ci­dents this sum­mer had im­pacted land­line ser­vice for some cus­tomers in the area, and work is un­der­way to es­tab­lish ad­di­tional net­work re­dun­dancy to avoid sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions in the fu­ture. Ad­vanced wire­less net­works are ex­pen­sive to build and op­er­ate, and the busi­ness case can be hard to make in re­mote or sparsely pop­u­lated ar­eas. While we cur­rently have no plans to ex­pand ser­vice in th­ese Vic­to­ria County com­mu­ni­ties, we are al­ways open to dis­cuss fund­ing part­ner­ships with all lev­els of govern­ment to ex­pand and im­prove our net­works in ru­ral and re­mote ar­eas that do not sup­port ad­di­tional pri­vate in­vest­ment,” replied Bell Me­dia Re­la­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tive Is­abelle Boulet by email on Sept 11.

MP Sydney-vic­to­ria Mark Eyk­ing echoed the need for part­ner­ship.

“There were two or three sites we were look­ing at in Vic­to­ria County. The last one was suc­cess­ful near Mid­dle River and Bad­deck area. Why not keep mov­ing ahead with this? We’re com­mit­ted as a fed­eral govern­ment to help­ing with this. If the County, the Prov­ince and the com­pany [Bell] are will­ing to step up to the plate, we’ll be there to work with them,” said Eyk­ing in a Sept. 8 in­ter­view.

It’s a part­ner­ship, with one part­ner hold­ing all the cards.

“We know there are gaps. Vic­to­ria County is part­ner­ing with other ju­ris­dic­tions, other lev­els of govern­ment and cell phone providers to find so­lu­tions. While we have in­put, and are a fund­ing part­ner, the in­fra­struc­ture is not ours and the fi­nal de­ci­sion of where th­ese tow­ers go is up to the ser­vice providers,” said Leanne Maceachen, in­terim CAO and Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance Vic­to­ria County on Sept. 11.

MLA Vic­to­ria-the-lakes Keith Bain is ready to act. He says he will raise the is­sue with Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs and Emer­gency Mea­sures Op­er­a­tions when he re­turns to Hal­i­fax. He’ll take Jim’s pe­ti­tion with him to ta­ble in the leg­is­la­ture.

“I think this sit­u­a­tion over the last cou­ple of weeks has cer­tainly been an eye opener for ev­ery­one. It shows the ur­gency in get­ting it cor­rected,” said Bain.

The pe­ti­tion can be signed at the Wreck Cove Gen­eral Store, Bad­deck and English­town post of­fices, Kluskap Ridge RV and Camp­ground, Stone’s Phar­masave, Cluck­ing Hen Café, Danc­ing Moose Café and Sim­ply Pizza. Jim will be col­lect­ing sig­na­tures at Vic­to­ria Farm­ers Coop on the fol­low­ing days: Sept. 16, 21, 25, 28 & 30 from 1-4pm and Sept. 13, 9am1pm.

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