Northwestel says it’s working to improve cell service following concerns over emergency communications during service outages.
On July 22, the Association of Yukon Communities issued a statement calling on the telecommunications provider to offer better emergency communications services in light of a July 11 outage that saw most phone and internet services disrupted for seven hours.
The outage was caused by a landslide in northern B.C. which damaged a fibre line.
While local landline services and some cable TV channels remained available throughout the outage, other services including long-distance landline, cellular service, many cable TV channels and internet remained out, which meant a loss of emergency communication for those without a landline.
As AYC pointed out there were also no updates provided to the public about the situation.
In its statement AYC noted: “When an emergency strikes it is critical that Yukoners are able to access 911 services to reach those that can help. The breadth and duration of the service outage coupled with the lack of back up communication is particularly troubling.
“The outage affected thousands of people across the territory. Yukoners expect and deserve reliable phone and broadband service — especially the ability to call 911, and, at a minimum, an understanding of the scale of the outage.”
Northwestel spokesman Andrew Anderson acknowledged the concerns of AYC, highlighting both long- and short-term efforts for improvements.
Anderson also said that when the outage happened, Northwestel followed emergency protocols and immediately sent out a repair team, was in contact with Yukon Emergency Services and the Yukon RCMP and provided details to local radio stations all within an hour of the disruption.
“In the short term, Northwestel has taken steps to introduce stronger cellular resiliency through our microwave transmission tower,” Anderson said in an email. “While this network has lower capacity than the fibre line, our goal is to provide cellular voice service in the event of a fibre disruption.”
He did not respond follow up questions about what exact steps have been taken to improve service through the microwave towers.
Looking ahead long-term, Anderson highlighted the Yukon government’s plans to build a redundant fibre line along the Dempster Highway. Construction is slated to take until 2025.
“As part of the project, Northwestel will contribute $15 million to the construction of the line, and provide operations and maintenance on the line for a period of 20 years.”
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