New cell service increases safety along Highway of Tears

For Immediate Release
2018CITZ0028-002072
Oct. 26, 2018

Photo by Chris Gareau / Smithers Interior News

Ministry of Citizens' Services

NEWS RELEASE
New cell service increases safety along Highway of Tears

WITSET - The only First Nation without cellular service along Highway 16 will soon have access to new wireless coverage, increasing safety, enhancing communications and bringing economic opportunities for people in Witset and surrounding areas.

"This new cell tower will make it much easier for people to call for help during an emergency and is another essential element to further improve safety along Highway 16," said Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizens' ServicPhoto by Chris Gareau / Smithers Interior Newses. "Expanded cellular connectivity, along with the new affordable and reliable BC Bus North service and additional Wi-Fi for many provincial highway rest stops, are making B.C. a safer place to live, work and travel."

This project will result in continuous network coverage from New Hazelton to Smithers. It will benefit not only Witset First Nation, but also residents in the Smithers-New Hazelton corridor, as well as commercial and personal traffic along Highway 16. After the Rogers cell tower is in service, every Indigenous community along the Highway of Tears will have access to modern cellular connectivity. Approximately 900 people in Witset First Nation and 5,000 Smithers-and-area residents will benefit from improved cell service.

Bringing new wireless service to the area will also enhance delivery of education and health care, support businesses and help to grow the local economy. The project is the result of a partnership between the Witset First Nation, Rogers Communications, Northern Development Initiative Trust and the Province of B.C.

Construction of the Rogers cell tower began in late September 2018 and is expected to be completed in the coming months. When operational, the cell tower will enable voice, data and text services via high-speed wireless and internet coverage on 4G and LTE networks for Rogers and Fido customers. Customers using other providers will be able to dial 911 in the community and along the highway.

Up to six local jobs will be created during construction of the cell tower.

Quotes:

Chief Victor Jim, Witset First Nation -

"In addition to being a critical lifeline during an emergency, cell service will help improve people's access to education, employment and health-care services. Our Nation is excited for the benefits that cellular service will unlock, especially in regards to the safety of the highway."

Chastity Davis, chair, Minister's Advisory Council on Indigenous Women -

"For too long, our sisters, daughters, mothers and aunties have suffered because of the isolation on the Highway of Tears. Better cell phone coverage means women can reach loved ones or emergency services in times of need, and it will create security and reassurance to everyone travelling on Highway 16."

Doug Donaldson, MLA for Stikine -

"Digital connectivity has become an essential tool to do business in today's world. The expansion of cellular services to Witset First Nation will help grow the regional economy, in addition to the important safety benefits it provides. British Columbia is working to build a strong and sustainable economy that works for everyone, including rural and Indigenous communities."

Rick Sellers, B.C. president, Rogers Communications -

"We are pleased to be working with the B.C. government, Northern Development Initiative Trust and the Witset community to build reliable connectivity for residents in Northern British Columbia. We know our customers want high quality wireless access, whether travelling the highway, accessing community resources, or connecting with family and friends."

Joel McKay, CEO, Northern Development Initiative Trust -

"The construction of a cell tower in Witset First Nation will help strengthen the regional economy and provide an important tool to increase safety along Highway 16 between New Hazelton and Smithers. The Northern Development Initiative Trust is thrilled to see the co-operation that enabled this project to become a reality."

Quick Facts:

* The new cell tower will provide wireless coverage along an additional 22 kilometres of Highway 16 between New Hazelton and Smithers.

* The road between Prince George and Prince Rupert along Highway 16 has become known as the Highway of Tears due to the number of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls associated with the route.

* The project was made possible by a one-time $1.2-million grant from the Province, administered by the Northern Development Initiative Trust, to expand cellular services along Highway 16. Northern Development Initiative Trust selected Rogers Communications for the project following an open-procurement process.

* Witset First Nation, formerly known as the Moricetown Band, is located approximately 34 kilometres north of Smithers and along the Bulkley River Valley. Witset comprises seven First Nation communities.