No ‘concrete plans’ for cellular and wireless in Egmont: Telus

Telus plans to install towers and “small cells” on the Sunshine Coast but it is not yet ready to disclose other expansion plans and no projects are in the works to relieve Egmont residents from their chronic dearth of wireless and cellular service. 

Telus staff noted “coverage limitations in the regional district,” and ran through some of the projects underway at a June 18 Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) infrastructure committee meeting, but saved discussions about future expansion opportunities and priorities for an in-camera session.

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While upgrades are coming to Roberts Creek and Halfmoon Bay, when it comes to Egmont, no “concrete plans for projects” are underway, said senior communications manager Liz Sauvé in an email to Coast Reporter following the presentation.

The company had explored a jointly-funded fibre optic installation in the area but “it was ultimately determined not to be feasible for either the community or Telus,” she said, adding that in remote areas with small spread-out populations such as Egmont, “the cost to connect each premise dramatically increases from a typical community build.”

During the SCRD update, Telus staff said it typically takes 10 years to get returns on fibre optic network installations.

Sauvé said that for the Egmont area, a public-private partnership “must be used” to complete such a project.

In 2018, Telus invested $250,000 “to enhance the quality and reliability of wireline phone connectivity” but wireless and cell service is still lacking in some areas.

In May, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP Patrick Weiler said rural areas of the riding could be targeted for pandemic stimulus spending for broadband projects. The provincial government has also announced “targeted funding” to improve high-speed Internet in rural areas as part of the Connecting British Columbia program.

Sauvé did not say whether Telus is applying for funding through those programs, but said the company consistently reviews grant applications and pursues funding or the possibility of partnering with all levels of government “so that we can bring more services to rural communities, including Egmont.”

During the June 18 presentation, Roberts Creek – including locations on the Sunshine Coast Highway – was identified as the main area south of Sechelt in need of improved coverage. A tower has been proposed at the Roberts Creek fire hall for which Telus will be seeking support from the SCRD.

A site near Sargeant Bay is co-located on an existing tower, and cellular service was expected to be up and running June 18 to improve highway coverage.

A number of “small cells” which provide up to 200 metres of coverage and are typically installed on utility poles are planned for Roberts Creek, Halfmoon Bay and Egmont, including at the Skookumchuck Narrows trailhead. All small cells should be up and running by mid-July, according to Telus staff.

In May, the SCRD also reviewed plans by Telus to install a 51-metre cell tower and wireless communications facility that will provide cell phone and Internet service to Skookumchuck Narrows and marine traffic along Sechelt Inlet and a portion of Narrows Inlet.

The Sunshine Coast was one of the “initial priority areas” for receiving fibre optic Internet when it was introduced by Telus in 2013. The investment was worth $43 million. Approximately 95 per cent of the Sunshine Coast population is covered by the telecommunications company’s fibre optic cable.

– With files from Sean Eckford

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