Manitoba communities hope MTS sale will bring improvements to service

The proposed sale of Manitoba Telecom Services to Bell Canada has some rural Manitobans hoping this will mean they will finally get cellular service in their area.

Many residents in the RMs of Stuartburn, LaBroquerie still live without cell service

Many people living in rural areas don't have access to cellular networks. Residents of some southeastern Manitoba communities are hopeful the proposed sale will change that. (Mahesh Kumar A./Reuters)

The proposed sale of Manitoba Telecom Services to Bell Canada has some rural Manitobans hoping this will mean they will finally get cellular service in their area. 

"There's little or no signal at all so it is quite a concern for everybody," said Jim Swidersky, Reeve of the RM of Stuartburn.

Swidersky estimates that within the rural municipalities of Stuartburn, Piney, and La Broquerie there are between 5000 and 6000 people who want to connect to local cell service. 

Some residents who have cell phones are forced to get into their vehicles and park along the road to connect to a cell tower, said Swidersky.

Problems with the lack of cell service in southeastern Manitoba were highlighted in the fall of 2012, when grass fires destroyed homes and farmland in Vita.

Emergency crews couldn't communicate with each other, which hampered response efforts. It was also difficult to communicate evacuation plans to residents. Swidersky says officials were going door to door.

"They basically had to yell from street corner to street corner what they were doing, so we were down to primitive ways of communicating instead of using telecom devices," he said.

Lewis Weiss, the Reeve of the RM of La Broquerie, recalled similar situations when fighting grass fires near Marchand, Man., where emergency workers had to break into a home to get to a land line.

"They were battling a fire and they couldn't communicate, there was a residence close-by and nobody was there...they broke a window so they could open the door and access the phone," said Weiss.

Weiss says companies like NetSet are working to bring internet to these areas but, so far, there is no plan for a cellular provider.

"The rural [residents] are very disappointed [that in] this day and age that there's no cell service...If their hard line goes out, they have got nothing. If they're driving, they've got nothing," said Weiss.

The RM of Piney which is 150 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg received some upgrades to its cellular services earlier this year.

Swidersky hopes that along with promises of better service, Bell will recognize those areas that don't have service at all.

"People in urban areas take it for granted that us people in the rural areas don't have this type of service, and they have the simple convenience of looking at their device and being able to talk or activate it or use the internet," said Swidersky.

Both Weiss and Swidersky say they hope Bell will be open to hearing the concerns of rural residents.