A fallen tree damaged several Telus telephone lines and a fibre-optic cable on June 7 leaving northern B.C. communities west of Prince George with intermittent internet, TV, landline and cellular phone service for over 8 hours.
The outage started around 11:30 a.m. and impacted people in Burns Lake, Granisle, Haida Gwaii, the Hazeltons, Kitimat, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Smithers, Terrace, Thornhill, Houston, Topley, Telkwa, Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof.
It did not affect those living in Atlin or Dease Lake.
Lack of service meant many businesses could only accept cash.
“It was a real nuisance… nobody usually carries cash anymore,” said Brett Johnson, auto technician at the Petro-Canada gas station located by the intersection of Highways 16 and 37 (Kitwanga).
“People turning north onto Highway 37 typically fill up (at) this gas station because the next one is two hours away,” he said. During the outage there were some who didn’t have cash and had to just “take a chance.”
“Some of the cell towers and landlines in our region use fiber connections to allow for high bandwidth to our phones,” Lee Brain, mayor of Prince Rupert, explained in a Facebook post on June 8. “There are other cell towers that use older technology, which is why some people were still able to connect albeit with slow service.”
He went on to say that northern communities are vulnerable to an outage like the one that happened because there is only one cable between Prince George and Prince Rupert. If that cable is damaged, several communities can lose all connectivity.
Brain does see an end in sight to that vulnerability, however.
“Soon this won’t be an issue because the Connected Coast project is building a new fibre line from Prince Rupert to Vancouver which will act as a back up line to create redundancy for our region,” he noted. “So if a tree goes down again, we will all still have internet through the line coming in from the ocean.”
CityWest stated that they are committed to “laying fibre cables under the surafces of land and water” instead of sharing above ground poles to connect wires which they say is what most internet service providers have historically done.
The Connected Coast is expected to be completed in 2023, Brain said.
-With files from Jane Shrypnek
Kaitlyn Bailey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Rupert Northern View