At the end of Rainbow Wharf or the peak of the bird tower in Sunset Park, people often reach out and hope for a sign.
If the weather is right, they get it — a one-bar cell phone signal.
Twelve years after regular cell phone service launched elsewhere on Haida Gwaii, Port Clements is still out of the loop.
“We definitely need cell phone service,” says Mayor Urs Thomas. “It’s economic development, it’s safety, it’s building on tourism.”
“And it’s 2018, you know?”
Port Clements council recently wrote the Canada Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission as well as provincial and federal officials to call for better cell service in the village and other rural parts of Haida Gwaii.
In the letter, Port councillors noted that cell service might have led to better success in the recovery of missing person in 2015, and a speedier rescue of two lost hikers later the same year. In the case of a major tsunami, council noted that it’s not unreasonable to assume Port Clements might become central to the recovery, and cell phone coverage would be critical.
Furthermore, the letter notes that lack of cell phone coverage leaves Port Clements at a disadvantage in attracting tourists, and also makes it harder for locals to do their banking, given how much of it could be done using cell-phone apps.
Jinny Sims, B.C.’s minister of citizen services, told councillors in November that boosting coverage would require more network capacity to Haida Gwaii.
Telus said in the past that it would take a subsea fibre-optic cable to improve service in Port Clements, given the bottleneck of the microwave radio link over Hecate Strait. It may three or four years away, but the federal and provincial governments announced such a line last week.
However, even before that announcement, Telus said it was looking at other ways to bring cellular service to Port Clements, even without a subsea cable. Council was told that a basic service, consisting of voice calls and texts but no data, would likely require $400,000 to $500,000 in infrastructure.
A Telus spokesperson said the company is in the midst of engineering reviews.
Mayor Thomas said recent talks with Telus have been “quite promising,” but added that the village would welcome anyone who can deliver better service.
In 2015, Ruralcom briefly powered up a cellular antenna in Port Clements, but the company — since renamed TNW Wireless — struggled to get the spectrum it needed.