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 Posted in    |  on March 24th, 2017  |  by

Locals push for cell phone coverage in Kootenay Park

A group of valley residents are lobbying to get cell phone coverage established in Kootenay National Park.

The idea of extending cell coverage had first been discussed as early as 2011, and eventually grew into a tentative proposal to build six cell towers in the park, but the plan ultimately never went through, with Telus citing, in 2014, the expense and lack of power sources for the towers as the main reasons it chose not to proceed.
Now, however, efforts — led by Invermere resident Tracy Litchfield — are underway to get Telus to change its mind.

“Telus has a mandate to provide cell phone coverage throughout the province as stated in their contract with the B.C. government,” Ms. Litchfield said in an email to The Pioneer.’

“The lack of cell phone coverage in Kootenay National Park is a safety issue, especially in the evenings when there is less traffic and no Parks Canada employees patrolling the road,” she added. “Action needs to be taken by all levels of government to address this situation.”

Invermere council has already agreed to give Ms. Litchfield a letter of support. Radium Hot Spring mayor Clara Reinhardt, however, took a practical approach when The Pioneer sought comment from her,
saying “my thought is that realistically we are not going to get cell phone coverage throughout the park, given the terrain, the fact that it’s a national park, and the need to get (electrical) power to the cell phone towers that would need to go up. I think perhaps instead we should talk with Parks about setting up a few hot spots, maybe two or three, throughout the park. They could easily go were there is already established infrastructure, at the ranger station at Vermillion Crossing and at Kootenay Park Lodge, and these can be used in emergencies.” 

Mayor Reinhardt also raised the concern that having cell phone coverage and Internet connection throughout the park could led to more accidents. 

“I understand people’s desire to feel safe, and that we live in and rely on being technologically connected, but I do worry about the potential for distracted driving. On heavy weekends in the summer, we already have a lot of traffic accidents,” she said, adding
that Highway 93 through Kootenay National Park is a road that, given the terrain, already requires heightened attention, and one which already contains distractions in the form of bears, deer and other wildlife. Adding the potential for distracted driving due to using cell phones would come on top of these other risks, she said. 

Windermere resident Colleen Roberts is, along with Ms. Litchfield, part of the push to get cell service in the national park and recently sent a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) outlining her safety concerns about the lack of coverage, pointing out in her letter that “when accidents occur, victims must wait until Parks Canada personnel with a VHF radio or truck drivers with satellite radios drive by to call emergency services.”

“Are there CRTC policies that could be used to persuade them (Telus) to provide the facilities necessary to deliver cell coverage in this much needed area?” she asks in the letter.

In late February, Ms. Roberts received a reply from CRTC Client Services manger Michelle Edge, saying “the CRTC does not require wireless service providers (WSPs) to offer service in areas where wireless service is not currently or is only partially available. WSPs are solely responsible for making the business decision of providing service in a particular region.”

Ms. Edge advised Ms. Roberts to instead seek the help of local governments.

Steve Hubrecht
Email: steve@columbiavalleypioneer.com
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Reporter Steve Hubrecht arrived in the Columbia Valley after working for newspapers in Fernie, B.C., and Beijing, China. He spends as much time outside as possible – if he's not at the Pioneer and Echo office, he's probably out telemarking or hiking. He grew up in southern Ontario and graduated with an MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario in 2006.

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