Traveling rural highways in north central B.C. can be a lonely journey, especially in the wintertime when fewer motorists are on the road.
Cell phones work great in cities and close to populated areas but the network coverage drops off sharply in rural areas where townsites are few and far between.
In some parts of the region, internet connections are not sufficient to provide live audio-visual links for many B.C. residents hoping to connect to friends, relatives and business associates.
In an effort to improve those telecommunication capabilities, the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George is working with the municipal governments of Mackenzie, McBride and Valemount and has hired TanEx Engineering Corporation as consultants in the project.
Identifying the state of connectivity in those smaller communities is the first step in the process and over the next few weeks the regional district will be surveying residents and business owners to find out what cellular and internet services they need and pinpoint where the gaps exist.
“The reason we’re doing the survey is you kind of hear anecdotally all over the place where there’s pockets of (cellular) service and where there isn’t,” said RDFFG spokesperson Renee McCloskey. “I think certainly on the Highway 16 East corridor between Prince George and McBride there are pretty significant gaps there.”
The surveys, which will remain confidential, are available online for residents at www.surveymonkey.com/r/rdffg-res and for businesses at www.surveymonkey.com/r/rdffg-bus. McCloskey recognizes that some potential respondents lack computer connections and said hard-copy printed surveys will be available at municipal offices in Mackenzie, Valemount and McBride or by calling the regional district office, 1-800-667-1959. Each survey requires about 20 minutes to complete.
People can also test their internet speed and quality with an online tool available at performance.cira.ca/fraserfortgeorge.
McCloskey said the pandemic and the need for people to avoid gatherings has highlighted the need for faster internet coverage needed to use such platforms as Zoom to facilitate teleconference connections.
“So many things are moving online and that becomes really challenging for people who live in rural areas who may not be that well served by internet,” she said. “I know in Mackenzie some of the residents there can’t use (Zoom) because the internet isn’t reliable enough.”
McCloskey said survey results will identify the needs are and will help the regional district apply for funding opportunities available through different levels of government. It could also give network providers more incentive to improve the service.
“Whether it’s internet or cellular connectivity, you need to have the data that shows what the need is and we don’t really have a good grasp of what the gaps are in this region,” McCloskey said. “We hope this gives us that data to say, here are the areas that are underserved and hopefully that allows us to lobby the telecommunication companies or look for funding to have that service provided.”