Seamless cell service … in African wilderness

When Jeff Penner travelled to Liberia last year, he had excellent cellphone service everywhere, from down in the deepest darkest jungle swamp up to the highest remote mountain peaks.

“Last June, I spent 10 days around Greenville, Liberia, in the heart of the African jungle, where Ebola started,” says Penner.

“I had four bars on my smart phone everywhere I went. It was crystal clear service at a fraction of what we pay here. If we can’t keep up with communications technology in a Third World country, then what’s wrong.”

Ironically, when Penner stands in his own farmyard at Swan River, Man., he can see the nearest MTS tower about seven kilometres away, but he can’t get cell service. He points out that it’s the same shabby deal for farmers and people in small towns across the Canadian Prairies. He says there are hundreds of potentially valuable services for farmers and rural businesses, if only they could access them. But they can’t.

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“In our modern cellular world, service should be seamless, especially when safety is an issue and human lives are at stake. There are many cell dead spots along the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border. We’ve had school buses in minus 40 getting stuck and the driver had to walk to the nearest farm to use a landline to call for help.

“That’s not the only issue. We’ve had farm accidents in our area, arms caught in augers and people run over by machinery. The ambulance cannot always find these people. The ambulance is all over the place trying to find the victim. We had one instance when a young child drowned in a pool and the ambulance couldn’t find the location for six hours. It’s just plain sad.”

Penner says people in his area have gone to great lengths to get cell service.

He said the old cell phone TDMA systems were reliable and had decent signals, but with the new technology, people can have four bars on the phone and still can’t make a call.

“In my area, I can see the tower. I can see it blinking at me, but I can’t get cell service. A lot of it has to do with bad tower location. Why don’t they at least put the towers up on high hills so they function properly?

“More towers and repeaters would give us better GPS accuracy. We’re supposedly moving into a new technological frontier, but rural people are being shut out because we don’t have access to the communication technology.

“If I could donate five acres for a tower, I’d gladly do that. I think other farmers would too. So let’s get farmers to donate five-acre plots of land in key locations so the service providers can set up towers or repeaters or boosters that work. It’s well worth the cost of five acres of land.”

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