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County of Barrhead ups its fight for better cell coverage

Councillors hope to engage RMA to improve cellphone service in the municipality
County of Barrhead reeve Doug Drozd said during the Jan. 16 council meeting that he was confident the municipality would find a seconder for its proposed resolution on the need for the RMA to pressure the CRTC to do something that would help improve cellular coverage in rural Alberta.

BARRHEAD - It is time to bring in the big guns.

In recent years, the County of Barrhead council has attempted to improve cellular service for its residents, largely by lobbying the telecommunication companies directly to improve the service they provide to rural, less populated areas, with limited success.

That is why councillors hope to elicit the lobbying power of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) to have the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) address the lack of reliable cellular network coverage for mobile wireless, a.k.a. cellular phones.

Councillor approved a resolution, "Access to Mobile Wireless (Cellular) Services", for endorsement at the RMA Jan. 23 District Zone meeting.

If the resolution receives enough support at the district level in the form of a seconder, it moves on to a final vote at the RMA spring convention for final adoption.

The RMA is an independent association comprising Alberta’s 69 counties and municipal districts. Its purpose is to act as an advocate for issues impacting rural municipalities at the provincial and federal levels.

County manager Debbie Oyarzun said over the last year they've, put a lot of effort and money into improving broadband access for residents.

"But we still have a lot of residents in the county that are having trouble accessing basic cellular service," she said, noting in a discussion in October that Jared Stoik pointed to several problem areas in Div. 7 alone. Coun. Bill Lane noted several trouble spots in Thunder Lake as well.

This is despite the fact, Oyarzun said that the CRTC reports 99 per cent of Albertans have access to cellular services.

"Albertans rely on cellular service. The legislation and the CRTC say that we should have access to (reliable cellular service), and the CRTC claims everyone does, but we know that is not the case," she said.

To add insult to injury, Oyarzun said cellular service is a resident and a rural business' only option as landlines are becoming more difficult to come by.

"When a business owner must rely on going to a high spot on one's property, it makes it difficult to operate and grow," she said.

Reeve Doug Drozd agreed, saying it is almost impossible to add a new landline installed or have an existing one repaired.

"Instead, what they get is an (Internet) hub," he said.

Moreover, Oyrazun noted that access to reliable is essential in "emergency situations", which run the risk in rural and remote areas of becoming critical when there is no access to 911."

Coun. Walter Preugschas asked who was inventorying information on areas with no cellular coverage.

Oyarzun said it is a good question.

She noted the CRTC provides coverage maps on major roads with LTE (long-term evolution) Internet that supports cellular networks.

"But we know for a fact, some of the areas or highways that they've identified as having continuous coverage that there are dead spots," Oyarzun said.

She added the coverage map the CRTC is given is supplied to them via the cellular providers.

"It is clear that the data hasn't been field tested," Oyarzun said.

Drozd called the resolution "spot on" and was confident it would pass at the district level.  

"Some of the municipalities closer to an urban centre might look at you like you had a third eye, but most of the members are rural and have the same issues we have," he said.

(The Pembina Hills zone inclues Westlock County, Athabasca County and Woodlands County, along with counties closer to urban centres such as Parkland and Leduc) would have the same issue.

Drozd also noted that directly lobbying the three telecommunication’s companies has not helped the county and a new tact is needed,

“RMA has a lot of resources behind it, perhaps they can make some headway where individual municipalities have failed,” he said.

Barry Kerton,


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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