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New cell service coming to Highway of Tears

New wireless coverage is on its way to a neglected portion of the Highway of Tears.
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New wireless coverage is on its way to a neglected portion of the Highway of Tears.

Construction of a cell tower that began in September should be completed within the next few months and once it is, continuous coverage along 22 kilometres from New Hazelton to Smithers will be in place, the provincial government said Friday.

"This new cell tower will make it much easier for people to call for help during an emergency and is another essential element to further improve safety along Highway 16," said Citizens' Services Minister Jinny Sims in a news release.

Highway 16 West, from Prince George to Prince Rupert, has been known as the Highway of Tears for the number of women who have gone missing or have been murdered along the stretch.

The provincial government provided a one-time $1.2-million grant for the project. It was administered by Northern Development Initiative Trust which selected Rogers Communications for the project following an open-procurement process.

When operational, the tower will enable voice, data and text services via high-speed wireless and internet coverage on 4G and LTE networks for Rogers and Fido customers. Customers using other providers will be able to dial 911 in the community and along the highway.

It will also bring service to the Witset First Nation, the only band along the corridor without cell coverage. Formerly known as the Moricetown Band, it is located 34 kilometres north of Smithers and along the Bulkley River Valley. Witset comprises seven First Nation communities adding up to about 900 people.

A further 5,000 Smithers-and-area residents will also benefit, the provincial government said.