Residents and travellers along the Trans-Canada Highway, from Malakwa to the Three Valley Gap, can expect to have cellular service in the next three months.
Telus spokesperson Shawn Hall says construction is currently underway on two cell tower sites, one in Malakwa and one in Three Valley Gap, that he expects will “go live” in a few months time.
“It’s a fairly extensive construction project because of the rural areas that they’re in,” says Hall. “We have to put in power, we have to put a link into our network and the like… And they will provide coverage along that stretch of Highway 1 there that currently doesn’t have any wireless service. Once complete, I don’t have the final figures right now, but the two sites will represent an investment significantly north of $1 million by Telus.”
Nathan Lobb, owner of Perfection Concrete Services in Malakwa, is already benefitting from the local tower, as his company was subcontracted to pour the concrete base.
“They said it’s a 60-metre tower,” says Lobb. “That pad alone, I bet cost $50 to $80,000, just the concrete work. It’s way bigger than what they usually pour because of the volume of snow they get out there. The pad was 10 metres by 10 metres by four-feet thick.”
But Lobb says the tower will be a substantial benefit for Malakwa residents and businesses alike, who will no longer have to rely on (or pay for) a land line. He also expects cellular service to be a huge plus when it comes to safety for snowmobilers who utilize the popular Eagle Pass, and other local sledding areas.
Columbia Shuswap Regional District Area E Rural Sicamous-Malakwa Director Rhona Martin says she and the regional district board have been encouraging Telus for quite some time to bring cellular service to the area. She says it will be a significant benefit to contractors like Lobb, and for overall safety in the area.
Burner Restaurant & Lounge owner Tamryn Koebel says people have been talking for so long about extending cellular service to Malakwa, she’ll believe it’s happened when her phone says there’s service. That said, Koebel explains her business currently relies on high-speed Internet, which works intermittently at best, and takes an additional hit when customers want Internet access.
“But then it bogs down our systems and our debit machines are on it, so our debit machines are constantly being kicked in and out,” says Koebel, noting cellular service would be more consistent.
However, for Koebel, the bigger issue is public safety.
“Because RCMP come from Sicamous, you have to get back to a land line to be able to call for help, and then there’s already going to be that delay in getting help out to Malakwa…,” says Koebel, adding when there was an accident on the Malakwa bridge last year, the witness had to drive back to the Burner to call for help. “Now, if the Burner had been closed, they’ve got to drive all the way back to, I think it’s Cambie Solsqua, before they can get service again. That’s a huge issue, especially when you’ve got fatalities or people needing immediate assistance.”
Albatross Plumbing owner Marco Warger is of the same mind. While he stands to benefit business-wise from cellular service, which would allow him to respond more quickly to emergencies, Warger says the safety benefits are huge.
“The amount of traffic going up and down that road every day, and with the accidents and breakdowns, and the people you see with flat tires or overheating, they’re totally at the mercy of trying to find somebody who can drive into cell range or knock on somebody’s door,” says Warger. “With today’s technology, that’s just terrible.”
Hall confirmed that Telus has been looking at providing cellular service to the area for some time, adding these are not “short-term projects where it’s just a matter of flipping a switch.”
“We have to go and acquire a site, whether that’s on Crown land or provincial or private land with a landlord who wants to rent space. We have to undergo environmental reviews…,” Hall explained, adding Telus has been contracted by the province to provide cellular service to 1,700 kilometres of highway corridor.
“The geography of British Columbia, including right around that Salmon Arm area and this area specifically is very mountainous, it’s rugged. These are challenging projects to undertake and they’re quite capital intensive.”