Large portions of rural B.C. can look forward to increased cellphone coverage and faster wireless internet speeds following the introduction of a new partnership between Telus and the government of B.C.
The East Kootenay region is among the areas expected to receive enhanced coverage, pending planning and construction of Telus network centres in the area.
Highway 93/95 along Kootenay National Park is included in the target area, and towns within the vicinity — including Invermere and Radium Hot Springs — can expect faster wireless speeds to become commercially available.
Also planned is to connect 450 B.C. schools and a number of hospitals to a high speed fibre optic network.
Premier Christy Clark announced the plan last Friday.
“As part of my commitment to making British Columbia stronger and more competitive, we have secured this partnership to help expand high-speed internet access to every community in the province, extend critical wireless coverage to highway corridors, and upgrade cutting edge communications technology in hundreds of schools and healthcare facilities,” said Clark. “I’m pleased to say work is already underway.”
“This undertaking is nothing short of transformational and will help to build healthier communities that can compete in the global economy, whilst supporting hundreds of local jobs,” said Darren Entwistle, Telus president and CEO.
“Importantly, it will ensure that our youth are able to pursue their ambitions by having equal access to education and that patients across B.C. benefit from new and emerging health care technologies.”
However, Shawn Hall of Telus media relations cautions that there are many challenges to overcome before increased connectivity can be established, including environmental concerns regarding new cell phone towers, as well as the logistics of building in one of the toughest geographical locations to develop worldwide.
Telus expects to connect over 1,700 km of previously unconnected highway segments over the next five years.
Approximately 245 km have been covered thus far.
Radium Hot Springs mayor Dee Conklin was happy to hear of the wireless network expansion, particularly along highway 93 which runs alongside Kootenay National Park.
“There’s no question that it needed to be done,” said Conklin, whose council has urged various levels of government to make cell service in the park a priority.
“The coverage isn’t so that people can talk on their phones, but for safety reasons — we do have various accidents and emergencies in that particular area.”
According to a government release, more than half of all 911 calls today are made on wireless phones, making rural highway connection an important public safety enhancement.