A plan to study the feasibility of the Regional District of Central Kootenay erecting its own cell towers in the Slocan Valley has been put on hold.
The proposed feasibility study on expanding cell phone service in the Pass Creek and Slocan Valley areas was referred in March to the board’s April meeting – the second time it’s been delayed.
One of the proponents of the study says they’re waiting for the situation to become clearer before committing $30,000 to conduct the research. RDCK Area H (Slocan Valley) Director Walter Popoff says Telus is applying for a federal grant through the Universal Broadband Fund to improve wireless services in the region, so it makes sense to wait and see how it shakes out.
“When we first looked at this, we weren’t aware there was funding available for cell towers,” he says. “The Universal Broadband Funding is now available to telecommunication providers to build towers.”
The feasibility study was first proposed by Area I Director Andy Davidoff last year, citing the gaps in cell service in his Pass Creek district. Popoff has long supported the idea, noting wide swaths of the valley he represents have no cell service. He says it’s an important piece of infrastructure that has to be improved.
“If Shaw or Rogers or Telus decides to build, then we don’t have to do the feasibility study. We’ll have cell service – we’ll have accomplished what we want,” he says. “And if there are no telecommunication companies coming in to build a cell tower, then we’ll pursue the feasibility study.”
If they do, he says the end result could see the RDCK erect its own cell tower – or towers – along the 100-kilometer valley, filling in gaps in service.
“If it is feasible, we would entertain the idea of building a cell phone tower, and offer Telus, Rogers, Shaw or whoever the provider is, the opportunity to attach to the tower,” he says. “We would own the tower, but they would pay rent. We would eventually – after it is paid off – it would be a revenue generator for Area I and Area H, subject to maintenance, etc.”
There’s been opposition to cell service expansion in the past in the valley, but Popoff says he thinks that culture is changing.
“The demographics have been changing, and my main concern is the safety issue – ambulance services, RCMP, etc,” he says. “When it was first proposed a few years ago, there were some people that were concerned about radiation from a cell phone tower. We would go with Health Canada’s regulations. Any tower built would have to comply with those standards.”
The board will re-visit the study proposal again this month, but it’s likely to be put off for several more meetings until the situation with other players is known.
However, there’s no quick fix. Popoff says even if they started the study now, it would be several years before any changes to cell service infrastructure would become a reality.
John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice