Municipal Affairs minister sees service as fair
‘The phone bill is equal but the service is not’: that was Cartwright-L’Anse-au-Clair MHA Lisa Dempster’s response to the new province-wide 911 system recently implemented by the government.
She says this is especially true for the people in her district whom she believes won’t reap the benefits of the new system as much as other regions of the province.
Presently, 911 covers approximately 40 per cent of the phone lines across the province and every cellphone has 911access.
Under the new system every person in the province will have 911 access.
However, a levy will be placed on every phone in the province including cell phones.
The service will likely cost less than a dollar per month per phone.
Even though there is limited cell coverage in her district, most residents own a cellphone to use while travelling.
Many won’t be able to use it from home and Dempster believes her constituents will have to pay 12 months a year for a 911 system that they won’t avail of.
Furthermore, a number of small businesses that use multiple phone lines will now be charged an extra dollar for each of those phone lines every month.
Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Steve Kent disagrees on the cellphones, noting that any individual possessing a cellphone must have the ability to use it at some point and therefore will only be paying for a 911 service that they will be able to access on their cell.
Kent notes that there are, indeed, a number of regions throughout the province without adequate cell coverage and says it’s a priority to get it in these regions. Kent says they have lobbied the federal government for increased investment in telecommunications and says the provincial government has expanded internet and cell phone coverage considerably.
This past April, he also wrote a letter to the federal industry minister asking for more information on how federal government may be able to encourage greater cellular access in rural communities and also along certain highways.
“I would encourage other members, like Mrs. Dempster, to make their views known to the federal government,” he says.
Dempster also notes that the answering points for the people in her district are actually located in Corner Brook. She believes that those working at the call centre will likely have to become better educated about the geography and locations of Southern Labrador to help people in emergency situations.
However, Kent says the call centres will simply connect to the emergency response provider on the ground.
“Who [on the ground] would be the same fire departments, and police detachments and ambulance providers that exist today, who do have an intimate knowledge of the areas they serve,” he explains. “So there will be no impact positive or negative, really, in terms of response because it’s the same people responding.”
While the basic 911 service will be rolled out in every community this December, a plan is in place to make another upgrade from basic 911 to next generation 911.
Next generation 911 will include features such as texting and photo sharing. According to Kent, this service only presently exists in two other places in the country.
Six communities throughout the province will not be able to upgrade from the basic 911 service, including four communities in the Cartwright-L’Anse-au-Clair district: William’s Harbour, Norman Bay, Paradise River, and Pinsent’s Arm.
The communities, along with Nipper’s Harbour and Ray River, are unable to use the service due to their locations and the technology that’s providing phone service to them presently.
Dempster believes once again her constituents are paying equally for a service that they won’t be able to fully utilize.
Kent, in contrast, sees the bill as a significant step forward, noting that it’s consistent with service elsewhere in the country. He adds the government has consulted extensively with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Combined Councils of Labrador, the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, and other organizations on the matter.
Public education will be required to ensure people know what to expect with the implementation of basic 911.
“The beauty is if I were in Pinware visiting tomorrow, I don’t know the seven digit number to call for the fire department and I certainly don’t know the seven digit number to call for the local ambulance service or the local police detachment,” he explains. “Going forward, I’m going to be able to dial 911 and the professional service that will be in place will connect me with the appropriate emergency response provider. So no matter where I am in the province, all I need to remember is the universal three digit number.”
But whether the residents of Southern Labrador feel like they will have to pay too much for the service remains to be seen.