By Marianne Curtis
The lack of adequate cellular communications in various areas of the province was the hot topic at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) annual Convention which took place November 26 – 29 at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
Initially delegates were going through fifty-four resolutions but a late submission by the RM of Stuartburn council regarding the lack of cellular service in the area was added at the top of the list. Initially the matter appeared on the agenda but not up to debate.
AMM President Doug Dobrowolski says the resolution called on the provincial and federal governments to come up with a plan to “fix this situation once and for all.”
“In October, the south eastern part of the province experienced a devastating wild fire followed by a snow storm,” he explained. “The lack of cell service in this area created a life-threatening situation where emergency personnel couldn’t communicate with each other or with citizens in need of assistance. This was the latest in a series of emergencies in this area where the lack of cell service has endangered lives.”
Eastern Urban Director, City of Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, discussed the late resolution called “Improve Emergency and Cellular Service”.
“Although the City of Steinbach, being an urban centre, is not lacking in this area we are greatly concerned about the communities around us – this affects our neighbours,” said Goertzen.
The issue was pushed to the forefront by the RM of Stuartburn and the neighbouring municipalities of Franklin, Piney and La Broquerie after wild fires and a blizzard caused power fails and other emergencies at the end of October.
RM of Stuartburn Reeve Jim Swidersky is pleading with the government to step in and connect the area to a reliable communication source.
“The south eastern part of Manitoba contains vast areas that completely lack service, or receive such weak, intermittent service that one cannot make a phone call,” stated the reeve.
This is becoming an integral argument after the emergency Fleetnet System failed while the municipality was dealing with fires at the beginning of October. This is the second time this has happened in the area during the height of a crisis.
Prior to the convention there were already three active (but unresolved) resolutions at the AMM level requesting improved cell phone and/or internet service in northern and rural communities dating back several years.
The issue always seems to come down to money and how much it would cost to install infrastructure capable of providing service.
Provencher MP Vic Toews confirmed that MTS has sent the federal government an estimate of $21 million to provide cellular service to areas currently without. He added that his government is prepared to work with municipalities to make this happen.
A few weeks before the convention, the RM of Piney became the first municipality to make a funding commitment to show their seriousness in wanting the service. By resolution of council, the municipality committed $250,000 towards infrastructure costs. This money will be available for at least two years.