NetCentral files request for West End cell service

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

SILVER WATER—A NetCentral official will be taking a request for the establishment of broadband-cellular services in the area of Burpee-Mills west to service providers, following a meeting last week.

“We have support and statistics for you on Western Manitoulin from Burpee to Meldrum Bay on the interest in having broadband cellular services here,” said Dale Van Every of the Dawson Citizens Improvement Association (DCIA), at a meeting with Robinson Township, Burpee-Mills, Sheshegwaning First Nation representatives and Morry Brown, general manager of NetCentral Community Communications Network last week.

“One of the things that has to be considered is to how many people visit the Island and the West End of the Island,” Mr. Van Every explained. “If we don’t have cell-broadband service they will not come here. We depend on tourism for the whole of Manitoulin Island and this has to be part of the equation for us.”

Safety was another concern for Mr. Van Every.

“When the power went out on March 1 in Dawson and Robinson, no one could get help unless they had a standby phone,” Mr. Van Every said. “We have an aged population, so this is a safety thing in getting emergency services and help in cases like this.”

Mr. Brown explained that the decision lies with service providers Bell and Rogers.

“We have had very good success with Rogers and Bell Mobility concerning the need for improved services in communities,” Mr. Brown noted. “I’ve explained to them the interest locally in improving the services here in this area, as part of our expansion project (on Manitoulin).”

Mr. Brown pointed out when he was driving up for the meeting his cellular service was good until Ice Lake, but “as I travelled further west the service waned.”

Service providers typically look at statistics such as population and daily traffic numbers, Mr. Brown explained. However, he also acknowledged the large number of seasonal residents that look for service in the area, such as visitors to the Meldrum Bay Marina.

“With information we received from Central Manitoulin, it was pointed out about 8,000 people visit all areas of the Island for the annual deer hunt, which is important information,” Mr. Brown said.

“We provide this type of information to the service providers, indicating although an area may have a small population and may not see the traffic numbers you will in the south, if populations peak in the spring, summer or fall we can build a better case for providing the services here,” said Mr. Brown. “We have to convince the service providers that they will have business here because after the towers are set up it is their responsibility.”

Mr. Brown explained that once a business case is established for a erecting of a tower, “everything is predicated on funding support being provided by an agency like the NOHFC (Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation). If a compelling case is made, we’re prepared to move forward and make an application to the service providers and call for a request for proposals and apply to NOHFC for funding support. We will need to submit a letter to NOHFC for funding, showing the interest and support for the services here.”

“One thing we all recognize is that Manitoulin does not get the same traffic numbers as say Highway 69, but this is where the NOHFC has been very helpful in providing these services despite lower traffic rates in areas,” said Mr. Brown. If large companies, such as Lafarge—whose personnel travel throughout the West End—is included with deer hunt population statistics, it provides the type of information needed.”

“One of the things that should be looked at is the development in certain areas,” said Murray Duncanson. “For instance in one area we have 137 lots with 50-60 cottages on Little Lake Huron. They don’t have cell service, and I’m sure they would like this, and it would be more attractive to buyers of the other lots if this service was in place.”

“We have had a lot of experience with NOHFC, and have done this with our five projects we are working on (including Manitoulin) so a template has been set,” said Mr. Brown.

“I know a gentleman in Mills has told me if approval is given for a tower, he has the land to put it on,” said Mr. Van Every.

“As well as providing statistics as to the need for cell-broadband services, what can we be doing to help ourselves from there?” asked Mr. Van Every.

It was suggested by Mr. Brown that all interested municipalities including the DCIA and Robinson LSB, along with Burpee-Mills and Sheshegwaning should put forward a resolution of support for the expansion of the services to the West End of the Island.

“We need to make sure there is support and interest from a service provider,” said Mr. Brown. “Without interest from Bell and Rogers or other service providers and a willingness to provide the service it won’t happen, but I think we will have that (support),” he stated, adding he has a letter from the Manitoulin Chamber of Commerce outlining its support of the initiative and further expansion of cell and broadband services.

“I certainly hope we will see some good news on the tower being established,” said Mr. Van Every.

With one more tower located between Mindemoya and the one in Burpee-Mills the whole island would have the necessary infrastructure in place for the service, he added.