The report on cellphone service found 21,143 civic addresses in the province had no service, out of more than 461,000 total civic addresses in the province. The report was commissioned by the Crown corporation Build Nova Scotia from an outside company and delivered in July 2022.
About 1,000 km of roads also without cell service, including a third of Cabot Trail
Shaina Luck · CBC News
More than 21,000 homes, businesses without cellphone service in N.S., says provincial report
Featured VideoThe report on cellphone service found 21,143 civic addresses in the province had no service, out of more than 461,000 total civic addresses in the province. Shaina Luck has the story.
More than 1,000 kilometres of primary road and slightly under five per cent of civic addresses in Nova Scotia are in dead zones for cellphone service, according to a report commissioned for the province and released to CBC under access to information.
It’s an issue that Public Works Minister Kim Masland acknowledges causes her concern as a safety issue and an economic drag.
“Cell service is not a luxury anymore, it’s a necessity,” Masland told reporters following a cabinet meeting in Halifax on Thursday.
The report on cell service found 21,143 civic addresses in the province had no service, out of a total of about 461,000. Civic addresses include all homes, businesses and facilities in the province.
The report was commissioned by the Crown corporation Build Nova Scotia from an outside company and delivered in July 2022.
It found Cumberland County, Guysborough County, Halifax County and Inverness County all have more than 2,000 civic addresses without service.
In Guysborough County that accounts for 35 per cent of the addresses, which is not a surprise to Gail Martin, who lives in Moser River near the border between Halifax and Guysborough counties.
“We have no cell service here. If we go to a beach where it’s open, no obstructions, we can get a couple of bars. But, I mean, that’s not acceptable [that] you have to run to a beach to use your cellphone,” she said.
No service on roads
The report also found 1,010 kilometres of the primary roads in the province have no coverage.
Those included cross-province routes such as highways 374 and 348, which run between the Eastern Shore and Pictou County. Other problem routes include the 316 in Guysborough County, the 245 in Antigonish, and the 209, which runs along the Bay of Fundy in Cumberland County.
Roughly one-third of the popular tourist route the Cabot Trail is also a dead zone.
Sue Amberg, who lives in Ecum Secum on the Eastern Shore, began a petition during the summer imploring phone companies and regulators to improve service in the area.
Amberg has heard from many local residents and many visitors to Nova Scotia who are fed up with the lack of service in communities and on roads.
“They have no issues where they live and then suddenly they come to the Eastern Shore and they cannot believe that they’re not getting a cell service,” she said.
Amberg said she once went off the road while driving and ended up in the ditch. She was unhurt, but wasn’t able to use her phone to call for help.
“There was only one truck driver who came by me, and he just happened to see me so he felt compelled to stop,” she said.
“He was running around with a phone in his hand trying to get a signal, to try and phone someone to report the accident but he couldn’t get hold of anybody.”
25 new towers suggested to start
The Build Nova Scotia report identified 25 potential sites for new cellphone transmission towers, which could cover 9,569 houses of the more than 21,000 homes without coverage.
Adding sites for up to a total of 73 towers would reach 15,516 addresses.
The report did not calculate exactly how many towers it would take to reach “complete geographic coverage,” but estimated it could take a further 200 towers “over and above the 73 already assessed in this report.” It said those towers would have to be in remote areas that don’t currently have any cellphone infrastructure.
The report gave cost figures for the 25-tower and 73-tower scenarios, but they were redacted in the information released to CBC.
It acknowledged towers that are provided by cell operators like Bell, Rogers, Telus and Eastlink are only placed in areas where the companies get “maximum return” in terms of subscribers.
CBC asked Masland who she believed should pay for the cost of filling in the cell gaps.
“I think this is part of conversations that Build Nova Scotia is having with service providers, but it’s also a conversation that needs to be held with the federal government,” Masland said.
“I would hope the federal government would step up to the plate, very much like we did with the rural internet service.”
CBC asked the CRTC, the federal agency responsible for regulating access to telecommunications, whether it has seen a copy of the Nova Scotian report and what its next steps would be.
A CRTC spokesperson replied in a statement the agency is working on a new approach to wireless competition, which includes new regulations for smaller companies that offer service piggybacked on the networks of big providers.
“Our efforts will accelerate competition in areas where it is currently limited,” the statement said.
Masland also said Build Nova Scotia has developed a strategy together with telecom companies and the federal government. While not releasing any details, Masland said she was “very pleased” with the strategy and promised it would be revealed “within the next couple months.”
MORE TOP STORIES
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shaina Luck is an investigative reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She has worked with local and network programs including The National and The Fifth Estate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org