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Better cell service for Island’s West Coast coming, how much better unclear

Rogers announces new towers for Alberni/Tofino link, Ucluelet mayor wondering what that means
Rogers Communications has announced plans to bring cell service to Hwy. 4 between Tofino-Ucluelet and Port Alberni. (Westerly file photo)

Canadian communications giant Rogers has announced plans to bring cell service to Hwy. 4, but Ucluelet’s mayor isn’t hitting the celebration button just yet.

“We are reaching out to Rogers to understand what this announcement actually means so we can digest it fully. The announcement sounds wonderful, but I think we need to understand how Rogers sees this rolling out and how this affects non-Rogers users,” mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly News. “There’s lots of unknowns. I don’t want to be a buzz joy here, I think it’s a great win for us. I just like to understand the small print of this announcement.”

The company announced on Monday that it expects to construct six new cellular towers and upgrade two existing towers to provide cell service along the highway, which is currently a dead zone for connectivity.

“We are proud to continue to invest and build in B.C., constructing highway connectivity projects and building critically needed networks to bridge the digital divide” said Rogers’ chief technology officer Jorge Fernandes. “Highway 4 is a vital route and this project will provide 85 kilometres of new service and resolve spotty coverage, improving safety and reliable connectivity as soon as possible for all who depend on it for commercial transportation, tourism and travelling to and from their homes.”

Mid Island – Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne had lobbied hard for cell service on Hwy. 4 during her tenure as Tofino’s mayor and said Rogers’ project will enhance safety for commuters.

“For people travelling between Tofino and Port Alberni, whether they’re locals, people visiting family, or those here to enjoy the beauty of the West Coast, Highway 4 can be a cause for concern,” Osborne said. “Our government is hard at work making safety improvements to the highway and increasing cellular coverage along the same stretch means people will be even safer. I want to thank Rogers for doing this work and improving service for everyone on our coast.”

The project is part of a partnership between Rogers and the provincial government through the Connecting British Columbia Program.

“This is a critical route for people travelling for work, for commercial truck drivers carrying goods and for people on holiday, and safety is of the utmost importance,” said Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare. “This cellular connection will significantly boost safety for people travelling this route—especially at night and during bad weather events.”

Noel said the announcement came as a “complete surprise” to Ucluelet’s council and questioned why the pending project was kept a secret from local governments.

“For me, I shrug my shoulders and ask, ‘No one could have reached out and done some engagement?’ I’m glad that it’s happening, I just find it a little bit strange that, to my knowledge, local governments on the West Coast had not been approached,” he said. “Our table was not made privy to this whatsoever prior to the announcement.”

He noted most West Coast residents are Telus Communications customers as Rogers does not currently have strong services around Tofino and Ucluelet and added that his trepidation about the announcement is partly fuelled by his experience with Rogers at Sproat Lake.

“That infrastructure, which is a bit of an eyesore at Sproat Lake, only benefits those that are Rogers users. It doesn’t benefit the entire region unless you are a subscriber,” he said.

“We’ll see. Maybe this will actually motivate Telus a little bit now. If you’re a betting man, I’m going to assume this is going to motivate Telus because they’re probably feeling they may have missed the mark on this one.”

In an email to the Westerly News, Rogers’ vice president of access networks for Western Canada clarified, “The solution will provide wireless services for Rogers existing customers and visitors who choose to roam on Rogers.”

During its Jan. 25 regular meeting, Ucluelet’s municipal council reviewed a letter from Telus explaining that the company is planning to submit an application for funding assistance from the Connecting BC Program to provide improved wireless internet service along Hwy. 4.

“Now more than ever, we understand the impact that improved connectivity makes on the thousands of British Columbians and Indigenous people living in BC and now working, learning and receiving healthcare from home,’ the letter reads, in part. “More notably, coverage on major highways ensures we protect the health and safety of all those that regularly travel across the region to live, work and visit the beautiful communities and region.”

The letter asked council to provide a letter of support for Telus’ application to the province.

Coun. Lara Kemps said she found the timing of the request interesting due to the Rogers announcement, but added she was happy to support Telus’ pursuits.

Council unanimously agreed to provide a letter of support to Telus.

“I think it’s still important to support Telus, because we’ve been begging them for years,” said Coun. Marilyn McEwen.

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