New Brunswick

Ice storm magnifies importance of rural cellphone service

A man who lives about 20 minutes from Miramichi says the recent ice storm, and extended power outage, was a stark reminder that many rural New Brunswick residents need improved cellphone and internet service.

Trout Brook resident fights for rural cell service, but Bell Aliant says it has no plans to expand

Darren Walker of Trout Brook, in Northumberland County, says he'll continue to 'rattle the cage' in hopes of persuading Bell Aliant to provide cellphone service to his rural area. (Submitted by Darren Walker)

A man who lives about 20 minutes from Miramichi says the recent ice storm, and extended power outage, was a stark reminder that many rural New Brunswick residents need improved cellphone and internet service.

I've got some elderly neighbours... and my big concern was if one of them fell over or had a health issue — there's no way for them to get a hold of anyone.- Darren Walker, Trout Brook resident

​Darren Walker, who lives in Trout Brook, lost his power for nearly four days during the ice storm, and he and his neighbours had no way to contact emergency services, he said.

Walker told Information Morning Moncton that landlines weren't working because backup batteries died during the long power outage, and his area doesn't have any cell service.

"It's an issue that's been going on here for about 15 years," he said. "We've been trying to get some kind of cellphone service, and we've had petitions sent to Bell Aliant, and we're just really getting nowhere with that side of things."

Walker worried about his young family and his neighbours.

"I've got some elderly neighbours ... and my big concern was if one of them fell over or had a health issue. There's no way for them to get a hold of anyone."

'It's just a matter of time'

Walker said he accepts that he and his family have to forgo some services because they have chosen to live in a rural area, but he sees internet service as "essential."

Sooner or later, someone will get into an emergency situation, with no way to call for help, he said.

The recent ice storm in New Brunswick that left thousands without power for days raises questions about emergency services. Darren Walker and his neighbours in Trout Brook lost their landline service and don't have access to cellphone service. (Bridget Yard/CBC)
"There's snowmobile trails everywhere, ATV trails, we have trucks coming with wood and gravel out of the woods," Walker said. "So all these people don't have any cellphone service and it's just a matter of time I think ... before someone really needs that cellphone service urgently."

A spokesperson for Bell Aliant said in an email that the company recently completed an upgrade across its network in New Brunswick, connecting 98 per cent of the population, but that won't help Walker and his neighbours.

"We currently have no plans to expand service in Trout Brook," said Katie Burgess.

"Advanced communications networks are expensive to build and operate, especially in smaller, more rural areas."

Walker wasn't deterred by Bell Aliant's response and said he will continue to ask the company to upgrade service to rural areas.

"When it's such a small portion of the population, the only thing you can do is keep rattling the cage and see what happens, because I'm not going to give up such a beautiful lifestyle ... just because we don't have cellphone service."

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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