By James Matthews (Local Journalism Initiative reporter)
A power outage in the Duck Lake Road area is much like being thrusted into a communications void.
Unless you use a cellphone, but not everybody has access to those.
Paul Petric is one such resident who depends on his landline at his house. His high school aged daughter has a smart phone, but that’s not always in the house: She’s at school during the day.
Besides, he said he’d need to walk about 600 feet up the hill away from his house to get reliable cellphone service.
A landline telephone rendered useless by a power outage leaves residents unable to access emergency services by way of a call to 911.
“I imagine there’s probably a large number of people in our area that are in our situation and don’t realize it,” he said. “Or they have cellphones and the service is poor.”
He noticed about a year ago that a power outage would take out his phone, even if it was a planned outage. It took about a half hour for the phone to come back after the power was restored.
He’s contacted Bell Canada and his federal and provincial representatives in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park. He’s even reached out to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the body which supervises all the county’s broadcasting and telecommunication services.
So far, it’s all been for naught.
“The issue is not that we’ve tried to call 911 but that, when there’s a power outage, there is no phone service on landlines,” Petric said. “Therefore, you can’t use 911.”
Representatives from Bell Canada were not immediately available for comment.
Petric described himself as a pretty active 67-year-old man who works outside in his wood lot.
“I’m not incapacitated,” he said. “I do a lot of hands-on stuff. I’m concerned that, if I was to have an accident and the power was out, what am I going to do? Crawl up to the road and see if I can flag down a car to call somebody? It’s disturbing.”
Petric had been a part-time resident since the 1980s until he built his house on Duck Lake Road north of Minden in about 2008.
“We noticed a huge difference in the hydro service from the city to here,” he said.
In fact, Petric has been documenting the number of power outages and their duration.
There would be more than 20 outages in most years, he said. And sometimes they’d be in the dark for three or four days. About five years ago and before the hydro service upgraded parts of their system, Petric counted 36 outages in one year.
“So that really underscores how unreliable our phone would be,” he said.
His two sons were in university when the novel coronavirus pandemic caused shutdowns. They returned home and soon resumed classes online. The internet service, too, is spotty and is hampered by weather fade.
“I think it’s a combination of terrain, foliage, and the amount of forest around us,” he said.
He can see three cell towers from his house, but he surmises he must be located just at the periphery of each tower’s reach.
“We have to go up the road to the neighbours and sit in the truck to use the internet there,” Petric said.
When Rogers had the Canada-wide cellphone failure last June, he started pursuing the issue with vigour. Bell Canada representatives contacted him in July, told Petric he’d have an answer in a week.
So far, there’s been only silence as he awaits an answer.
“I’ve phoned them a few times,” he said. “There’s no response. No call-back.”
His concern is counterpointed by Rogers guaranteeing 911 emergency service should their network go down again through a partnership with their competitors. Bell is one of their competitors.
“That really made me angry,” Petric said.
What’s even more vexing, he said, is that there’s an item on his monthly phone bill that shows Bell charges 20 cents for 911 service access.
“That’s chicken feed,” he said. “But if they’re collecting 20 cents from a couple million subscribers in the province and then letting the service die, I think … basically it’s fraud, in my mind. It’s not truthful, it’s not reliable, it’s not fair.
“It’s irritating and unprincipled on their part.”