St. Ann's Bay phone woes
Area a cell 'dead zone' with unreliable landline service; petition calls on government, Bell to install cell towers
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.