Heffley community group makes strong case for cell service

Mel Rothenburger is the TNRD Director for Electoral Area P, including Whitecroft and Heffley Creek. He was the mayor of Kamloops from 1999-2005 and a former newspaper editor.

We tend to take cellphone service for granted, until we haven’t got it.

Most of the area between Heffley Creek and Sun Peaks is a dead zone, and the Heffley Lake Community Association has been trying for the past several years to talk Telus into providing cell service.

I’ve talked with Telus a number of times about this, and I understand their reluctance — the company has to go wherever it can make a profit, and it’s hard to make a profit by providing mobile phone service to less populated areas.

Because of this, Telus focuses its business plan on highway corridors. But the community association makes an excellent case.

For one thing, there’s a clear need. It could be argued that cell service is even more important to rural areas than it is to urban centres. When there’s an emergency — such as an auto or farm accident — in a rural area, cell service is often a life saver.

The road to Sun Peaks is a high-traffic, high-volume road, and RCMP have joined the call for cell service. RCMP received 242 calls there in 2016, including several with injuries and at least one fatality.

And quite a few Sun Peaks employees live in Whitecroft, and their only reliable service is by cellphone, except they can’t get it there.

The association also points out that a number of tourism accommodators and recreational businesses that provide such things as fishing, boating, hiking/biking and horseback riding lose business if visitors know they can’t get cell service.

Those businesses have joined the police, mayor and council of Sun Peaks, the Tk’emlúps te Secwe̓pemc, MLA Terry Lake, MP Cathy McLeod, myself and now the entire board of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District in calling on Telus to look seriously at installing cell service in the area.

Telus says installing a single cell tower can cost up to a million dollars. The community association argues that in their area it can be done much cheaper because Telus now has access to fibre optic cable running up the valley to the mountain.

Telus counters that, nevertheless, costs are high, and there are stretches of major highways elsewhere in the province — such as Highways 3, 16, 19, 20 and 97 — that remain without service. Priorities must be set.

Telus isn’t the bad guy; there are no bad guys. But when it comes to the safety of people living in rural areas, the big telecom companies have to step up.

At the least, the Heffley Lake community’s situation deserves a detailed cost analysis and to be put into the company’s planning priorities list accordingly along with some weighted value based on public safety.