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More cell coverage announcements likely, Rogers says

A Rogers Communications executive says we can expect more announcements in the coming months like one last week to bring cell coverage to Pass Creek and Crescent Valley.

Warren Fletcher, vice-president of access networks, told Vista Radio his company takes seriously the bridging of the “digital divide” between urban and rural areas.

“It will take us years to get there, but every day we’re getting a step closer,” he says.

Fletcher says Rogers has reached out to many communities to hear their priorities for bringing cell access to rural and remote areas.

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COVID has been one driver, he said, as more people work from home or from rural locations where telecommunications companies have not traditionally invested in a lot of infrastructure.

Additionally, the provincial and federal governments have provided funding that industry can access for such projects.

“These smaller projects came from us listening to the regional districts and communities and saying ‘What it is you actually require and need?'” Fletcher says.

In the case of Pass Creek and Crescent Valley, Rogers pay up to $2 million to install two towers. Fletcher says the Regional District of Central Kootenay had it ranked the area on their list.

“This one came out quite strongly as an area that has been overlooked. We realized it wouldn’t take that much to do something here. If we just put these two [towers] up, that would cover most of the issues in this region.”

But Fletcher says there is still a long regulatory process to go through. He estimated it will take 12 to 18 months to get the required permits, which includes back and forth with the land owners.

The locations for the towers has not been determined. Fletcher says depending on the circumstance, they could co-locate with existing carriers, use Crown land, or make a deal with a private landowner.

Once those arrangements are complete and the permits are in place, it takes about six months to build a tower, although that is partly weather dependent.

In addition to the local project, Rogers has announced cell projects for Highways 16, 40, 95, and 97 elsewhere in BC.
Fletcher says more are on the way.

When the merger between Rogers and Shaw is complete, a $1 billion rural and Indigenous connectivity fund will be established to connect remote communities in Western Canada.

“That money will be for projects like this, where there aren’t a huge number of consumers, but connectivity is still a requirement,” Fletcher says. “You’ll see a lot more announcements in the next 12 to 18 months as we navigate that merger.”

The Regional District of Kootenay Boundary recently passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to help pay for cell service on local mountain passes, including the Paulson summit.

Fletcher says it is “notoriously” hard to build cell towers in the mountains. Their Highway 16 project calls for 12 towers, including three that will be helicopter-access only. Five have no easy means of power, so they will use a “hybrid solution” of generators backed by energy sources like solar or wind.

“We’re looking at more of those applications in rural and high mountain areas that don’t have access to commercial power, which is a big show stopper for us generally, but there are ways around it and we’re getting more and more inventive about how we build these things.”

Fletcher said this year’s fire and floods in BC highlighted the urgent need for basic communications access in remote areas.

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