PRRD feels pressure on rural telecommunications needs

Directors of the Peace River Regional District say they are feeling pressure from residents, the province and the federal government to improve rural internet and cellphone coverage, following discussions about establishing a connectivity service for so many

Directors of the Peace River Regional District say they are feeling pressure from residents, the province and the federal government to improve internet and cellular coverage in rural areas, following discussions about setting up connectivity service for some area residents.

At their meeting on May 12, the majority of the council voted against a recommendation for the service function in electoral areas C and D, which would have been subject to a public referendum before its implementation.

This would have seen the PRRD partner with internet service providers to apply for provincial and federal grants, in addition to providing assistance through gas taxes or provincial funds from the Peace River Accords, to create a broadband internet and mobility infrastructure.

Directors expressed various concerns about the way internet access has been rolled out in the region, citing disparities and gaps in telecommunications services across the North and South peace.

Leonard Hiebert, electoral director for Area D, said he believes the recommendation for the two electoral areas was suggested due to a previous lack of interest in an area-wide initiative.

“I’ve spoken to voters about the lack of connectivity for four years now and the frustrations that come with that,” he said.

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Keith Bertrand said he would prefer to see an area service function and connectivity strategy, but called the recommendation a “piecemeal” approach.

“My disappointment is that we’re not looking for a service function across the regional district,” he said. “Dividing it into two electoral areas in that sense, doesn’t really give us an unfair advantage, just unco-coordinated.”

Bertrand says Tumbler Ridge has already suffered the consequences of being a remote community, with the town essentially going offline and being forced to rely on landlines after a beaver gnawed through its only telecom cable.

“A week later – no cell phones, everyone had to find landlines. It was chaos,” Bertrand said. kick. We look for last mile connections when they are unreliable. »

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman favored a regional initiative and acknowledged that the district had been put in a difficult position by the United Nations declaration that internet access is a human right.

“It’s come to local government in a really meaningful way when it really shouldn’t be because it’s not our mandated area. So we are learning here to become computer fiber technicians,” she said. “My question is, since this is not a coordinated regional approach that does not benefit the entire regional district, are the two areas willing to hold harmless the rest of the jurisdictions?”

“There could be liabilities, whether financial or legal, whatever the case. If the Regional District approves this by a vote, we are all responsible,” she said.

Area E election manager Dan Rose agreed with Bertrand and Ackerman, but said he would like to know more about the options available to his residents.

“I understand the need for a feature, but when we started down the connectivity path, we were talking about inclusiveness and trying to come up with a regional strategy,” he said. “And understanding that it’s been quite slow, and that there may be opportunities that we might be afraid to miss, I would also prefer to see it on a regional basis.”

Hudson’s Hope Mayor Dave Heiberg said the region would benefit from a regional approach to implementing and upgrading telecommunications, especially for groups like search and rescue, which often hit areas died in rural areas.

“All the people in our municipalities travel outside of our municipalities, they all need cell service outside of our municipalities, and I think if it’s presented that way to members of each of our municipalities , I think they’ll realize that,” he said. “And that’s where the service function, in my mind, on a regional basis would come into play.”

Chairman Brad Sperling said he was already aware of the fiber optic facilities that could be expanded in Area C and did not want to hamper existing options for residents. But he was in favor of establishing a service function for Area D because its residents visit the area for work.

“Although I agree that it should be regional, I have no intention of giving up its regional aspect. A lot of my residents work in those areas, so cellular and internet coverage is important there,” he said.

Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.

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