Funding was announced on Tuesday (March 21) to help bring better cell coverage to highways across the province.
Minister of Citizens’ Services Lisa Beare was in Campbell River to announce the $75 million fund to help projects that expand cellular service to at least another 550 kilometres of highway over the next four years.
The fund is an expansion on a $15 million provincial investment for cell coverage on highways. That investment has been put to use on projects including a stretch of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert — known as the Highway of Tears.
“Access to cellular coverage is important when on the road, especially when travelling through remote and rural areas,” said Lisa Beare, Minister of Citizens’ Services. “With the province’s investment in new cellular infrastructure, we’re making it possible for more people to stay connected to their loved ones while travelling and have access to emergency 911 and other services via mobile connectivity.”
“We’re going to make sure that whether it’s for increasing tourism or increasing supply chain corridor safety or just making sure you can connect with your loved ones, that you have that ability to do so.”
Beare also announced North Island MLA Michele Babchuk’s new role as premier’s liaison for connectivity. Babchuk and Beare both acknowledged the need for improved cell service in the region, particularly along Highway 19 north of Campbell River.
“We’re standing here right in the foot of Highway 19. We very much understand the need for these kind of investments on this exact type of highway, which is why we’ve created the program,” Beare said.
“Today’s announcement to improve access to cellular services means that people travelling on our highways will have more confidence knowing they can access maps, search for roadside services along their route, or call for help in case of an emergency,” said Babchuk. “I’m so happy and looking forward to cellular connectivity developments on our beautiful highways. I know as well as many in this room that travel especially around our riding that this is something that’s been needed for a long time.”
The lack of cell service on rural and remote highways makes emergency situations even more dangerous in these areas. Campbell River RCMP Sgt. Kimberley Rutherford spoke at the announcement, saying that she has experience working in remote areas, and “the length of time it currently takes to even let someone know you are lost or in trouble makes a bad situation even worse.”
“Making a phone call, something we take for granted in the bigger centers, brings piece of mind for motorists and their loved ones with more remote areas,” Rutherford said. “Often you’ll find emergency responders such as myself in these rural areas working alone. Having cell service to be able to call a supervisor or call a medical professional is a very valuable tool that helps us deal with complex situations.”
The funding is part of the province’s StrongerBC plan. It is being administered by the Northern Development Initiative Trust. The funds will be available as part of a competitive application process, and more information about funding eligibility will be made available later this year.