Nfld. & Labrador

Full bars on Blackmarsh Road coming soon, as St. John's cell tower readies for service

Some residents in St. John's haven't had cell service since February, when a snowstorm felled their local tower — but that's soon to change.

Old tower crashed into bowling alley in February

This new cell tower on Blackmarsh Road is almost up and running, a crucial bit of infrastructure residents in the area are looking forward to. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)
Jamie Lewis has been working from home during the pandemic, and the lack of cell service in her home has been a challenge. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The struggle for cellphone service for some residents in the west end of St. John's will soon end, as a new cell tower is almost up and running, its presence promising to end almost five months of connectivity problems plaguing the neighbourhood.

The trouble began in February, when a Bell Aliant cell tower crashed into a building housing a bowling alley on Blackmarsh Road. Ever since, residents nearby have said it is almost impossible to get cell service in their homes, often having to drive up the street to send a text message or make a call.

In late May, a new tower was spotted in the area. A spokesperson for Bell has informed CBC News the tower should be operational in the coming days.

That news comes as a relief to Jamie Lewis.

She, like many others, has been working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the lack of cell service has added an extra headache to the challenges of staying productive, healthy, and keeping kids on track.

"It's definitely been difficult. That might be a bit of an understatement," Lewis said.

Lewis, who works in communications and marketing, said her job has been much harder as a result of the lack of service — and knows she isn't alone in saying so.

"Working in communications, oftentimes it's a lot easier to just pick up the phone and call someone, and that's not an option because of the cell service issue," she said.

"It's just a lot of back and forth that doesn't need to happen. The great thing about talking to someone on the phone is that you can just pick up the phone and talk to them, as opposed to long email threads and stuff. So it just adds another layer of difficulty to an already difficult situation."

She said that as cell service dropped, internet speeds in the area also a hit throughout the day as more people are working from home. 

Lewis and her partner have thought about adding a landline to their home, but she said they shouldn't have to invest in a service they don't need and add another bill to their budget.

"It's a hard pill to swallow when you're paying for a service that you're not receiving," she said.

Lewis contacted Bell looking for information about her service issues and the status of the new cell tower, but she didn't get far on the phone, thanks to her lack of bars.

"I did reach out to them, and they got frustrated because they couldn't hear me on the phone," she told CBC News.

As the new tower was under construction, Bell Aliant said it expanded capacity of its nearby sites and added a temporary tower in Mundy Pond to address service problems in the area.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Jeremy Eaton