His young drivers especially rely on their phones. It’s a community issue, too, he says. Lately, younger people have been returning to the island.
“They are older and wiser and want to settle into something closer to home,” he says. “Good cell service is something they expect.
BUILDING A MODEL
Colin Corcoran, a chartered professional accountant who is director of finance at the Genesis Centre at Memorial University, used to own the Keltic Knot restaurant in St. Mary’s Bay on the Irish Loop. The region includes four towns and a total of 13 communities.
“Tourists on their cellphones came in trying to catch a few bars,” he says. “When they can’t use Google Maps and Trip Advisor, they finally look up from their phones. We are not a diversified economy. We need to help the tourism sector. We are competing in the global market.”
The solution came from a social enterprise, SMB Connect. As a private company, Bell Aliant couldn’t justify the expense, says Corcoran.
“We came up with a business case and the financial model that shared the cost among the carrier, the province and the community. It was a creative way to deal with an economic development issue.”
The result was a $1.1-million infrastructure deal for St. Mary’s Bay, with Bell paying 50 per cent and the province and the community paying 25 per cent apiece.
The backdrop is the changing fabric of the community, including the economy and demographics.
“When I ran the bar, I would talk to young fellows who said they would like to move home,” says Corcoran. “A large per cent
fly in and fly out. They would like to move back. We all romanticize our connection to ‘the Rock.’”
This is the only way for rural regions to succeed, he says.
“We wrapped the model in a social enterprise, where there is the triple bottom line of profit,
and also benefits for society and the environment.”
The Cellular Service Pilot Project, as it is called, reached more than 12,000 people. The Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation is extending the pilot initiative in 2019-20. During the 2019
provincial election, the Liberal party committed to enhancing cellphone coverage across most of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Bell’s partnerships to date with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s cellular service pilot project include
the communities of Mainland and Three Rock Cove, several communities on the Great Northern Peninsula, in St. Mary’s Bay and Southern Labrador, as well as King’s Point, Pouch Cove and Lord’s Cove.