Increased safety aim of improving northwest cell service

Tower locations south along Hwy16, including Terrace and Thornhill

AN agreement between Telus and the provincial government could mean heightened safety along Highway 16.

According to Telus spokesman Shawn Hall, currently 60 per cent of 911 calls come by cellphone, so having service along the highway could reduce all sorts of risk.

“I can appreciate the specific concerns of northern communities,” said Hall. “Whether you are talking about Highway 16 or Highway 4 or Highway 1 there are important public safety reasons for coverage.”

The plan to install new wireless towers along Highway 16 is part of a ten-year telecommunication contract between Telus and the province aiming to provide roadside coverage along 1,700 kms of highway in B.C.

Achieving continual coverage between Terrace and Prince Rupert is a bit of a long shot.

“Like many corridors it presents a challenge,” Hall said of the Skeena River valley. “Wireless sites are low power, 50 or 60 watts … They have to be close to where you want the coverage. The signal doesn’t turn corners.”

To get continuous coverage along the 190 kilometre stretch between Terrace and Prince Rupert would require sites every 10 to twenty kilometres or so, Hall said, and would also mean putting in new power lines and fibre optic cable.

The cost of this telecommunications project is still undetermined, but each tower costs between $500,000 and one million dollars.

Hall said Telus is speaking with regional districts in areas which currently have shoddy coverage, such as Thornhill outside of Terrace and Telkwa east of Smithers.

Hall said Telus is “fairly close” to finalizing the locations of sites in Thornhill and Telkwa, and expanding coverage in the Port Edward area.

“We are in the process of identifying appropriate sites now and looking at where we might best get in. From there we have to do the proper environmental and archaeological studies and get our permits in place and go from there,” Hall said.

Hall sees increased coverage as something that is transforming the north, drawing in a sector of workers who might normally be restricted to urban areas.

“Someone could move up and work as a graphic designer in their home in a rural are,” Hall suggested. “It also provides better access to health care services, educational services.”

Telus’s agreement with the province includes expanding fibre optic connections to 450 schools to increase their internet speed.