SaskTel says pay up for better cellphone service

Farmers who say they have missed out on grain marketing opportunities were told they could pay the capital costs to get better coverage

Mark Heinrichs expects he’ll have to climb on top of his tractors and combines to find a cell signal this harvest.

“Sometimes it just takes that extra six or eight feet,” said the Gronlid, Sask., area farmer.

Heinrichs is among several producers in the province’s northeast who are frustrated with what they call hit and miss cellphone service.

He said the exercise in communication usually involves turning off his machine so he’s not competing with noise and climbing up in hopes of capturing a signal.

“There’s nothing convenient about it,” he said. “I have climbed on top when I’m stuck. Other times I’ve had to walk to the top of hills.”

Heinrich said he pays attention to the topography on his land, as well as the sections of local roads where cell signals are strongest.

“I know exactly where to stop. I know where to drive to make the call or take the call,” he said.

Jim Arsenie also has to climb on top of his cabs to find a signal out in his fields east of Gronlid.

“There’s only certain pockets that a guy can get service…. The odd time you will get a signal but that’s kind of stupid to be standing up there,” said Arsenie, who is also reeve of Rural Municipality of Willow Creek.

Heinrichs and Arsenie said the inconsistent service costs them time and money while cellular expenses continue to increase.

Heinrichs said his farm marketing is affected because he cannot respond in a timely manner.

“One time I missed (when) Viterra had a 25 cent premium on canola that day to haul it in. I couldn’t use the phone to call in and get it booked. By the time I did, it was gone, everybody had snapped it up,” he said.

“Last year with Viterra, the same thing with Clearfield canola. There’s a special market for it, and by the time I phoned in, it took three hours… and I missed out on it too.”

Greg Nilson also farms in the area and said his cellphone service was good until it dropped off in April. He went from having three and four bars showing on his phone in hisfarmyard to only one, sometimes two bars.

He soon found this was affecting his farm’s bottom line.

“You’re missing calls. Sometimes you’re getting text messages that were eight hours late,” he said.

After several attempts, he said SaskTel technicians were unable to restore the original service.

“They said they couldn’t find anything wrong there and that’s the way it was,” he said. “There wasn’t anything they could do.”

At his own expense, Nilson bought and installed a cellphone booster for his house.

“We use our cellphone for a hotspot for internet in the house as well. That’s where it really affected us,” he said.

Arsenie and Heinrichs also cited cases where ambulances have gotten lost and were unable to call for directions. As well, they have had difficulties calling volunteer firefighters during emergencies.

Heinrichs said the last major emergency was a large grass fire this spring where two firefighters responded from a list of 17 volunteers.

SaskTel coverage maps posted on its website show Gronlid is a limited coverage zone in the province.

A recent statement issued from the corporation said there are no plans to expand or improve wireless services in the Gronlid area.

It said SaskTel’s wireless network covers 98 percent of Saskatchewan’s population, however there are locations with poor coverage or no coverage.

Range and quality of service de-pend on factors like weather conditions, terrain, geological and man-made obstructions and distance from wireless towers and hardware device selection.

“Because Saskatchewan has the fewest customers per square kilo-metre of any Canadian province, SaskTel incurs significant costs to deliver service to rural locations,” the statement said.

However, Arsenie counters, “Just because there are not many people in this area it does not mean that people are not travelling through here, or there’s workers out in this area with cellphones that need that coverage,” he said.

The SaskTel statement said that Gronlid and area residents might consider SaskTel’s Shared Model Program, designed for communities with no service or inadequate service. Customers or communities pay a portion or all of the necessary capital costs as determined by SaskTel on a case-by-case basis.

“The rest of the province that have good coverage don’t have to pay anything extra to have cell coverage,” said Arsenie.

“Sure they’ll do it if the customer is going to pay for a portion of it, but there’s no reason that if there’s bad areas in the province that they can’t set up a tower…that’s just passing the buck.”

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