Some rural residents are accusing Nova Scotia’s phone companies of putting them at risk during post-tropical storm Arthur after their telecommunications services collapsed.
Earlier this week, Jerry and Carol Ann Fraser of Shelburne County had no cell or landline connection.
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"Yes, it’s an awful inconvenience when your power is out for several days and you lose the food in your refrigerator. That’s an inconvenience and maybe an economic hardship for some people. But the issue of having no communication could result in a tragedy,” said Jerry.
The Frasers say not being able to call 911 jeopardized public safety and neither the phone companies or politicians seem to think it was a big deal.
Both Frasers expressed concern for their senior neighbours.
"I think they're just neglecting the maintenance of the lines and they're thinking,'This is obsolete.' Young people maybe don't want landlines, don't realize how important a landline is and how important it is to maintain them,” said Carol Ann.
'The issue of having no communication could result in a tragedy.' - Jerry Fraser
For many rural Nova Scotia communities, landline phone service comes from a roadside box. If the power goes out, the unit relies on backup batteries. However, they only last between eight and 16 hours before a generator is needed.
"During power outages we make every effort to augment that through batteries and generators,” wrote Bell Aliant spokesperson Christine Manore in an email.
“While we were able to keep most customers in service through our efforts, full restoration of service required the restoration of commercial power.”
The province didn’t provide much comfort for the Frasers either.
“With the circumstances of the storm, those are circumstances we can expect. Part of the emergency preparedness initiative is to have homeowners prepare for the first 72 hours and incorporated into that would be backup communication plans in the event they were to lose landline and/or cell service,” said Mark Furey, acting minister responsible for Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office.
Retired EMO co-ordinator Don Bower disagrees.
He believes phone companies need to step up.
“They could very easily upgrade their battery strength and perhaps maybe get as as many as five or six days of use out of these things. That gives them more than enough time to run around with their little generators,” he said.
Bell Aliant and Eastlink say service has been restored to most customers, except those who still do not have power.
Both companies are urging anyone without service to contact them, if they can find a way to do that.
As of 4:30 p.m. AT, around 130 Nova Scotia customers were still without power. At its peak Nova Scotia Power says almost 200,000 were in the dark.
At the same time, the utility’s communications services faulted.
On Wednesday, CEO Bob Hanf apologized for the hitch.
Energy Minister Andrew Younger says Nova Scotia Power’s apology isn’t enough.
“I think the apology will ring hollow to a lot of Nova Scotians who have been without power and sort of want answers as to why the communications system failed and obviously they want to know whether the length of the power outage was reasonable,” he said after the government's cabinet meeting.
He says his department will investigate what happened once power is restored.
“We wouldn’t necessarily have the power to tell them how many people they should have at a given time or how those people are employed or so forth….What we do have authority on and where we do have some jurisdiction, is reliability and service standards and it’s something we’ve been arguing for many years should actually be ramped up,” he said.
“They’re required to have infrastructure that works."
Younger says he’s concerned if any customers were off the grid for an unreasonable amount of time.
“That’s not acceptable."