Map indicates current cellular coverage in northwestern B.C. (Image courtesy the North West Regional Hospital District)

Better northwestern B.C. cell service wanted

UBCM action called crucial for health and safety of travellers

Northwestern health officials are in Whistler this week pushing the province for better cell and broadband service in the region.

Directors of the North West Regional Hospital District say better service to eliminate dead zones is crucial for the safety and health of residents and travellers.

“This is a health issue as broadband is needed for our health authorities to provide telehealth services. Due to the distances between communities and inability to have specialists in remote communities this service is a vital part of our health care system,” states material prepared for a meeting with provincial citizen services minister Jinny Sims at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities Convention being held in Whistler.

The move to press for better service follows a reported increase in the number of dead zones along Highway 16 between the Hazeltons and Prince Rupert.

READ MORE: Cell service improves along Hwy 16 (2014)

“It has been reported that this has been caused by the bandwidth being narrowed to improve service within communities. Regardless of the cause, there is a noticeable increase in dead zones,” the material indicates.

“Visitors expect to be able to use their cell phones on our highways. This impacts access to 911 in emergency situations and is a safety issue. There is a need for more infrastructure to provide cell coverage for 911 along our entire highway.”

The directors say provincial financial support is needed because it’s not profitable for service providers to build the needed infrastructure.

They either want the province to build the infrastructure or provide incentives for service providers.

Improved service will also attract entrepreneurs and investors, driving innovation and economic development, the directors added.

“It will open the doors for online education along with telehealth services making it easier for industry to attract workers to the area.”

Northwestern cellular service even drew the attention of federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh during a visit in July.

“It should never be seen as a luxury in any way. This is a necessity and having access to it is fundamentally important, and I’ve seen how bad it is sometimes,” he said.

Regional hospital directors are named from the directors of regional districts stretching from Haida Gwaii to Houston.

They’re also meeting with provincial finance minister Carole James to gauge the progress of the business plan to replace the aging Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.

READ MORE: B.C. health minister announces plan for new hospital

The release of that plan is expected later this fall and follows a commitment made by the province in February to replace the hospital with a structure estimated to cost in the $400 million range.

– with files from Brittany Gervais


 


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