Taste of cell service has south coast of Labrador dreaming of more

·3 min read

New cellular transmitters on the south coast of Labrador are getting a lukewarm reception in some quarters, with a number of residents suggesting more attention should be paid to the isolated Trans-Labrador Highway.

Transmitters were switched online in Port Hope Simpson last week, fulfilling a promise made almost two years ago. When the project is completed — within the next few weeks — Mary's Harbour, Red Bay, Charlottetown and Cartwright will also be online.

The new transmitters will provide some coverage — in spots — along the Trans-Labrador Highway, but there's currently no coverage in the long isolated stretch between Port Hope Simpson and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

"This is a beginning and they will build on it. I'd like to see in the next two to three years that you know, you'd have cell service equal to anywhere in the world," said Margaret Burden, mayor of Port Hope Simpson.

"There's a push on" for coverage along the highway, "so at least you can use the 911," she said.

Highway maintenance depots along the road, that cuts through the interior of Labrador, will sometimes broadcast wireless networks so drivers can check in. Travellers are also encouraged to pick up a satellite phone that can be used in case of emergency.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

Burden believes that some cellular service would be an upgrade on both of those options — and many in the community agree.

Verley Burden, the owner of Campbell's Place Inn, said her husband drives to Happy Valley-Goose Bay about every two weeks, and it can make for a little bit of worry in the winter.

But locally, the new infrastructure in Port Hope Simpson itself has not changed a whole lot.

"I always have my cellphone, this is where I do all my work, on my cellphone," she said. "But cellphone service? Don't really matter to me, because we have Wi-Fi."

Mixed reaction among teens

Burden said it is probably bringing smile to the face of her daughters, but the reaction among teenagers in the community is also a bit mixed.

In fact, Grade 10 student Holley Burden said she's thinking it will be a bit of an annoyance.

"I don't really mind it, but it's nothing important, not to me," she said. "It's only a small town, we have internet mostly everywhere anyways, and everybody is just going to be on their phones all the time when we go out."

But the service was the talk of the town at the GAP youth centre in Port Hope Simpson the week it switched on.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

"I like it more because if I go for like runs or something, and I stop to have a break, I can just talk to my friends, I'm not alone or anything," said Melissa Russell, a 14-year-old resident of the community.

"Used to be when we were going around town we never had no internet or nothing, like, if we were talking. But now everywhere you goes, you're getting notifications and calls and everything!" said Sophie Bridle. "So it's really different."

Most of the teenagers in the community already have iPhones, and some families are even paying for cellular packages that they've only been able to use while they are out of town.

In nearby Charlottetown, where service has been online for a few weeks, Deputy Mayor Rick Oram says the ability to reach someone on the go has been a nice change.

"Now, you're not just waiting an hour to try to find somebody, just pick up your cellphone and give them a shout," he said.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

But like the adults, Sophie Bridle said a bit of extra reach in her community would be nice, particularly on the snowmobile trails, if not the highways.

Mayor Burden said she's confident that bigger and better is on the way, at some point.

"Everything in the line of growth, in any place in the world, you look positively at it. That's the way it is."

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