Some Eastern Shore residents went 30 days without phone or cell service

A member of a work crew makes repairs to a phone line in Ecum Secum. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
A member of a work crew makes repairs to a phone line in Ecum Secum. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

Many Nova Scotians faced long, dark days following post-tropical storm Fiona in late September, but none more than Eastern Shore residents who went without landline phone service for a month.

"We all had the same complaint, we weren't able to communicate with one another," said Donna Lepitzki, who lives in Ecum Secum. "The bigger picture here is this area is predominantly seniors and retired people who require, as we all do, emergency services."

The area is plagued with a tangled mess of felled trees that snapped many old and dilapidated poles. While service was recently restored, repair crews are continuing their work on phone lines in the area this week.

With landline services down, residents had no phone communication at all because there is no cell service in large sections of the Eastern Shore. That meant no 911 calls could be made for an extended period and it's leading people to once again call for cell towers in the area.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

"In this day and age it's just totally unheard of," said Lepitzki. "It's just totally unacceptable, we're not living in a third world country here."

She has written numerous letters to area MLAs and Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston asking for more cell phone service.

The only cell provider with towers in the far eastern region of Halifax Regional Municipality and Guysborough County is Bell. In one section there is a tower in Sheet Harbour and another in Sherbrooke but nothing in between, leaving a large gap in cell coverage for several communities. It takes more than an hour to drive the distance between those two towers.

"It's very frustrating and if we had cell phone service it would open up communication that we just don't have here now," said Darrell MacDonald, who also lives in Ecum Secum and pays close to $300 a month in phone and cell phone bills. "We've been having lots of issues with our home phone lines with storms and power outages so that's why cell coverage would be ideal to have here."

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

Nova Scotia's Economic Development Minister Susan Corkum-Greek says the issue of gaps in cell coverage is under discussion but would not elaborate on which companies are involved.

"Prior to the storm there were discussions around this topic and those discussions will be ongoing," she said. "We have a meeting next week with one of the major cell providers."

 

A spokesperson for Bell would not say how much a new cell tower costs, stating it is "commercially sensitive information." The company has been busy putting up several new towers.

"This year in Nova Scotia, Bell fully funded and turned on six cell towers in Enfield, Cambridge, Martins River, Miller Lake, Cobequid (Londonderry) and Williamswood," said Bell spokesperson Katie Hatfield. "We also added additional cellular coverage with small cells in Digby, Chester and soon Coldbrook."

Hatfield says Bell will continue cellular expansion work next year but is still assessing locations.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

Eastlink did go on the record to say how much investment is required to install a new cell tower.

"On average, a single cell tower installation currently costs between $600,000 to $800,000 and in some cases more," said Jill Laing, Eastlink's director of public affairs. "This is more than double and in some cases triple the cost from just a couple of years ago."

Laing says Eastlink has invested $350 million in building and expanding its mobile service in Nova Scotia. Their most recent additions are in New Ross, Blomidon, Centerville, Cambridge and Salmon River.

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