When you drive Highway 19 north of Campbell River the communities are few and far between. You can drive long stretches of road without seeing another vehicle, especially at night, and if you run into any kind of trouble there is no cell phone coverage to call for help.

“It’s a concern because first of all, it’s a safety factor on that highway,” said Sayward Mayor John MacDonald.

Bad crashes happen on a regular basis and anyone calling for help may have to drive half an hour or more to find cell service.

“I had an accident myself,” added MacDonald. “There were two deer on the road and I went to miss them and I ended up in the ditch on the other side. If it hadn’t of been for all the people that were there, nobody would have known about it.”

There is a small cell phone tower in Sayward but it doesn’t reach the highway 10 kilometres away, which is where some people say it’s also needed for economic development and tourism.

“For tourism, it’s very important,” said Alex Turner who lives near the highway.

“People make the decision where to stay on the road now and we don’t have an opportunity to reach them because we don’t have cell service here so we want to augment our service to tourists coming through the area.”

Turner has been lobbying the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to push local providers like Telus, Shaw, Rogers or Bell to provide service but the commission says those companies are under no obligation to provide service, adding it’s a business decision to be made only by those companies.

Telus Mobility provided this statement:

“We understand the concerns about the lack of connectivity on some remote portions of highway in this area, and continue to engage the municipality, regional district and province to discuss possible solutions. It’s important to note that these particular challenges are not unique to TELUS, in fact, there are a number of challenges all carriers face when looking to build new sites along corridors that lack reliable access to power and require extensive engineering and environmental considerations. However, TELUS is unique in that since 2015 we have invested more than $17 million to enhance connectivity in this area for the benefit of Sayward residents. We completed a massive construction project and developed an environmentally sustainable way to lay 150 km of fibre optic cable between the Sayward Junction and Port McNeil, preserving the majority of trees that line the highway while bringing high-speed Internet to 11,000 local residents, including to some communities for the very first time. We also built three new cell sites near Sayward to bring wireless coverage to the community and portions of Highway 19, enhancing the safety of travel. We remain open to exploring potential options to further enhance coverage in this geographically challenging area.”

Rogers Communications provided this statement:

“We offer extended network coverage to our Rogers and Fido customers in the Village of Sayward, between Sayward and Highway 19 and in the community of Woss. Rogers is working hard to improve network service throughout British Columbia including on Vancouver Island. In addition to a recent wireless investment in Qualicum Beach, Rogers has improved service in Langford, Nanaimo, Victoria and Saanichton. We are always reviewing our expansion options and we continue to work with our government partners.”

Dean Stoltz