HALIFAX — Federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he’s heard from residents in the Maritimes livid about losing cellphone service after post-tropical storm Dorian swept through the region, causing widespread power outages and property damage.
Speaking Tuesday from a slightly damaged government wharf in Herring Cove, N.S., Goodale pledged financial support through disaster assistance programs, but he also made a point of urging fed-up cellphone users to take action, saying he’s heard about their frustration ”loud and clear.”
“For those who have been affected by what they consider to be faulty or deficient telephone services, they … should make their concerns known to the … regulatory authority,” Goodale said, referring to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
“They need to know if customers believe the response to the emergency was not at the level they have a right to expect …. Make sure you make that concern known to the CRTC.”
Goodale said cellphones have become essential tools for Canadians.
“It’s not just a frill that’s nice to have,” he said, adding that infrastructure across the country must be built to withstand the intense weather and ”abnormal circumstances” caused by climate change.
Many Nova Scotia residents have come forward to complain about spotty cell service in the aftermath of the storm, with some saying they were left with no way to call for help or seek critical information.
Various wireless providers have confirmed they dispatched crews to repair damaged cell towers, but company officials have also reminded users that most cellphone towers have limited backup electricity, leaving them vulnerable to failure during extended power outages.
Telus issued a statement that it has been working around the clock with its infrastructure partner to restore service to its customers and won’t charge people for some fees due to the storm.
“We apologize for the inconvenience and thank our customers for their patience and understanding,” Steve Beisswanger, a Telus spokesman, said in an email.
“To support our customers during this challenging time we are proactively waiving all domestic voice, text and data overage fees incurred between Saturday, Sept. 7 and Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, for customers in affected areas.”
Dorian pulled down power lines across the region. In Nova Scotia, outages were reported from one end of the province to the other, leaving more than 400,000 Nova Scotia Power customers — 80 per cent of the homes and businesses in the province — in the dark at the height of the storm.
If nothing else, the wave of complaints confirms how reliant people have become on their smartphones and fibre optic telecommunications gear that can also fail when the lights go out and backup batteries die.
“In 2019, internet and cellphone services are an essential service,” provincial NDP business critic Claudia Chender said in a statement.
“People should be able to expect that in the event of outages, the companies that provide these services will deliver detailed and timely reports on what the impacts are and what restoration work is underway.”