Skip to main content

Nova Scotia’s Minister of Public Works says a strategy is coming within the next couple of months to address the province’s cellular dead zones, but she still doesn’t know who will pay for the expansion or how long it could take to fix the longstanding problem.

In response to reporters’ questions Tuesday, Kim Masland said Build Nova Scotia, the Crown corporation she is responsible for, is in conversations with telecommunications companies about who will pay to improve cellular service for the 21,000 households and more than 1,000 kilometres of primary roads without coverage. The gap is detailed in a report the province has yet to release but was obtained through a freedom of information request from The Globe and Mail.

The minister pointed to the need for Ottawa to be involved, which she noted is responsible for telecommunications services.

“We know how important it is to provide reliable cell service to people in Nova Scotia. We need partnership, we need support from the federal government,” Ms. Masland said. “But it also takes time. It’s pretty difficult to pick up the phone and ask to speak to the vice-president or president of Bell and get a return call the same day.”

Nova Scotia’s problem with poor cellular service was thrust into the spotlight this summer after four people, including three youth, died during a disastrous flash flood in West Hants. Officials reported that some people didn’t receive emergency alerts because of poor cellular service in the area – a public-safety issue that has drawn criticism and promises from politicians, including Premier Tim Houston, to fix the problem.

But a study on cellular dead zones commissioned on behalf of the province by Build Nova Scotia has sat on the desks of officials for more than a year without any announcement. The Cellular Gap Analysis report breaks down solutions and costs, though the figures and specific geography relating to telecommunications companies Bell, Rogers, Telus and Eastlink have been blacked out.

Opposition Liberal Leader Zach Churchill says the Progressive Conservative government abdicated responsibility on fixing cellular dead zones by not committing its own cash to improve cellular infrastructure like British Columbia has done.

In March, the B.C. government announced it would spend $75-million to expand cellular along hundreds of kilometres of highway by 2027, an investment supported in part by Rogers.

“We’ve got individuals in many communities during floods, wildfires and extreme storms – which we’ve had this past year – who aren’t getting emergency alerts and aren’t able to call their family or 911,” Mr. Churchill said during an interview.

“This needs to be a priority. We need investment and infrastructure to expand cellular coverage because, as we’ve seen here in Nova Scotia, it can be a life or death issue.”

The Cellular Gap Analysis report says the counties of Cumberland, Guysborough, Halifax and Inverness have more than 2,000 uncovered civic addresses each and represent the largest geographic uncovered areas.

In a previous statement, Build Nova Scotia spokesperson Kelly Rose said the province is reviewing the report and developing solutions that leverage federal initiatives, while her agency is working on proposing government with a strategy to provide service to underrepresented cellular areas as quickly as possible.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe