Mobile service lacking outside of cities

Northern Manitoba may suffer from poor cellular service, but there are some of surprising areas of darkness in the south as well.

Editor's note: One day after The Westman Journal's print-edition deadline, Mantitoba's provincial government announced it had awarded the tender for replacement of the province's public safety communciations service to Bell Mobility. The project, with an expected cost of $380 million, will see the implementation of a digital, two-way mobile radio system for emergency vehicles and personnel and is expected to take three years to complete. This is a positive step forward, however, it does not change the lack of availability of cellular service to the general public who require immediate emergency assistance in rural areas of the province .

Last summer, Bell MTS said they were moving forward on infrastructural improvements and service expansion to better serve its customers in Northern Manitoba.

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However, there’s still work to be completed further south.

In February 2017, the federal government approved BCE Inc.’s (Bell’s) acquisition of Manitoba Telecom Services (MTS) for $3.1 billion. The approval included conditions that Bell MTS provides wireless spectrum, six retail stores and 24,700 subscribers to competing company, Xplornet. This and other conditions were established to help Xplornet become a fourth player in the Manitoba wireless market alongside Bell MTS, Telus and Rogers.

On a recent camping trip to Oak Island Resort, located just 40 minutes east of Brandon and less than 10 minutes south of the Trans Canada Highway, the quality of mobile phone service was spotty at best. On most portions of the campground, it was non-existent.

How can mobile phone service in 2018, a year after a multi-billion dollar privatization of a crown corporation was supposed to improve said services, be suspect just moments off of Canada’s national highway? Are the areas outside of Manitoba’s largest cities so remote that a single bar of service cannot be found at one of Westman’s busiest summer recreation sites?

One can understand the infrastructural challenges mobile phone companies may encounter while trying to serve residents in Northern Manitoba. The communities are far more widespread and the terrain can be a detriment to tower coverage.

In no way is this an excuse for these companies not to ensure the northern half of the province is provided with quality, sustainable mobile coverage. After all, virtually every thoroughfare has sections where the nearest emergency service is hours away.

However, what are the reasons behind the same lack of service in the province’s most populated rural areas? Should not the Trans Canada, Yellowhead and other major Manitoba highways be granted thorough service coverage considering the amount of traffic they bear at all times of year, every year?

Like many summer recreational outdoorspeople, my family and I do enjoy stepping away from our electronics when camping, fishing, hiking or participating in other wilderness activities. However, it is quite disconcerting that should an emergency arise – particularly in an area with dense seasonal occupancy like Oak Lake – one would have to track down a land-line in order to call a police service, ambulance or fire brigade on short notice.

Considering our heavy reliance on our mobile technology, it would seem proper that private companies providing what is supposed to be a wide-ranging service of convenience would ensure that recreational areas such as Spruce Woods Provincial Park or Oak Island Resort be effectively covered with cell phone service.

Like many contemporary families, mine is one that doesn’t even own a landline. Our mobile phones are our only source of telephonic connection. How are similar families who want to cut household costs able to “go mobile” with such inefficient service? The simple answer is they can’t.

To the west, there are areas along the Trans Canada Highway in Saskatchewan that do have a lack of mobile service coverage, but these dark spots are fewer in number and shorter in distance than what I have experienced in Manitoba.

One does not wish the Government of Manitoba get involved in the private operations of almost any business. It is then highly suggested that mobile companies and their partners providing infrastructural coverage ensure they are committed to serving their customers best throughout the most rural areas of the province.

Considering the less-than-satisfactory wireless supply in and along the most densely populated areas of the province, it is a wonder how those in the north – specifically the businesses and individuals who rely heavily on contemporary technology to function on a daily basis – can use even the most basic function on their devices; make a telephone call.

The government should not get involved in the cellular business again. But considering our experience in Oak Lake, one wonders how customers can motivate private corporations to ensure they are providing the services they so widely proclaim. Most, if not all, use the same infrastructure to provide their coverage.

Could they not work together to ensure every Manitoban is served to meet their basic individual needs?

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