'We have been left behind': Petition calls for better cell service in Winnipegosis

'We have been left behind': Petition calls for better cell service in Winnipegosis

Most smartphone owners in southern Manitoba take for granted that they can pull out their device and have a world full of information at their fingertips within seconds.

Not so for Winnipegosis business owner Reid Procyshyn. When CBC News called Procyshyn for an interview, he answered, but only because he was visiting Dauphin.

"Once I get about 5 to 10 minutes away from Dauphin, I lose all cell coverage and my Samsung smartphone all of a sudden becomes a paperweight," he said.

Procyshyn has started an online petition calling on cellular providers including Bell MTS, Telus and Rogers Wireless to expand LTE service in the community.

His family owns South Shore Lodge, about one kilometre outside Winnipegosis. He said his community has never had LTE or 4G coverage. Instead, people have relied on older-style flip phones which use CDMA transmitters.

"While all these cellphone companies are always talking about upgrades and they want their customers to upgrade their phones, we have been left behind without any coverage because of that," he said.

Older technology phasing out

Now, Procyshyn says even the limited cell service the community has could disappear. He received a letter in the mail from Bell MTS saying that the CDMA transmitters will soon be removed.

A map on the Bell MTS website displaying the coverage areas for their LTE and 4G networks shows a blank space above the town of Winnipegosis, as well as several other communities including Camperville, Waterhen and Rorketon.

The lack of cell service creates a safety hazard, Procyshyn said. It also hurts his business.

"Clients come and when people are just rolling through town, most people look up on their phone where they can stay and eat," he said.

"Restaurants, lodging, grocery stores, often people just take for granted that you can go on your phone and look up what's available. If people don't know what's there, can't look it up, they'll just drive through."

When Procyshyn called Bell MTS — at the time still called MTS — to complain about the lack of service, he says he was told Winnipegosis didn't have the population to warrant expanding service there. The town itself has about around 617 people, according to the 2016 Census.

When Procyshyn looked up the populations of other nearby communities that do have coverage, however, he found that some of them have smaller populations than Winnipegosis.

Business opportunity

Procyshyn sees a business opportunity for whichever company decides to invest in installing the infrastructure.

"I could just about guarantee that every single person not only in Winnipegosis but surrounding areas, rural areas and surrounding communities would purchase contracts with them," he said.

A spokesperson for Bell MTS confirmed the company has plans to decommission the older CDMA technology at some point in the future and is looking at ways to bring new technology to rural areas such as Winnipegosis. 

In an email statement to CBC News, the spokesperson said:

"We are committed to expanding our wireless network throughout Manitoba and are continuously looking at our network requirements and future growth to develop a business case for investment. While we don't have any immediate announcements about network enhancements in the area around Winnipegosis, we are always open to exploring funding partnerships with government, communities and other organizations to enhance wireless and broadband service in rural and remote areas."

The petition was launched July 27 and received more than 390 signatures by Monday morning, with a goal of reaching 500 signatures.