Fiona: NS head criticizes telecoms over service issues

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Fiona, Nova Scotia’s premier is calling on telecommunications companies to “step up,” saying many residents remain without cell phone service or without 911 access for days. after the storm hit the province.

“Nova Scotians have questions about when their service will be restored, how widespread the outage will be, and what companies plan to do to ensure this never happens again. ,” Tim Houston said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is unacceptable to have Nova Scotians unable to call 911 or connect with loved ones during this difficult time. There is no question that we need our telecom companies to step up and be more transparent.”

Fiona swept across Atlantic Canada last weekend, destroying homes, knocking down power lines and leaving many residents stranded with no shelter or communication.

Nova Scotia was one of the provinces hardest hit by the storm. Houston said in the statement that the province anticipated the impact on their telecommunications systems ahead of schedule, and has reached out to key partners, such as Bell, Eastlink, Rogers and Telus, to ask them to appoint representative to an emergency meeting for advance coordination. to the storm.

“None of the telecommunications companies were initially willing to send representatives,” the statement alleges. “Only after a complaint with senior management did Bell agree to send an in-person representative to the center for two days before announcing that they would be working virtual. Eastlink, Rogers and Telus declined to attend in person (Provincial Coordination Center) in the first response. “

In a statement Wednesday, Bell spokeswoman Katie Hatfield said the company was already working with the province before the storm.

“We understand that Premier Houston is dealing with the worst natural disaster to hit the province and may not have received the most up-to-date information, but Bell has been directly involved with the province’s Command Center since then. from before the storm made landfall,” the statement read.

Bell added that their reps have been working virtually while they’re “securing their assets” and that they’re still connected with up-to-date information.

“Even at peak times, the majority of both our wireless and wired networks are powered up and up and running and at this point are almost 100% back,” says Bell.

“Both 911 and our emergency response network also remained fully operational throughout the storm and aftermath.”

Bell is responsible for the 911 infrastructure in Atlantic Canada, along with the truckloaded cell phone radio infrastructure used by first responders in the region.

BCE Inc., formerly Bell Canada Enterprises Inc., is the parent company of Bell Media and CTV News.

Telus also rejected the prime minister’s assertion that it was not engaged enough, saying in a statement to that it was “fully engaged before and during” the storm and that it had begun contacting the Board. Nova Scotia Emergency Management. Organization (NSEMO) on September 21 before Fiona attacked to offer their support.

“Telus successfully coordinated NSEMO requirements, including relaying safety messages to affected communities, prioritizing telecommunications restoration to critical medical facilities, and providing generators. contingency to support emergency response,” the statement said.

“We continue to work with and support network partners who own the infrastructure in the region to restore service as soon as possible and deploy critical equipment, including generators and batteries. Most mobile services are now up and running. The outages are the result of power outages and extreme weather conditions.”

Rogers said Wednesday that it worked with provincial and federal governments before and after the storm.

“As the affected areas have been cleared of downed power lines or trees, our local teams are able to restore services as quickly as possible,” they said.

In an email to, Eastlink said their team has been “in constant communication with NS Power, EMO and other key partners since before the storm, and has remained stable after the storm.”

“Our CEO contacted Premier Houston the day after the storm and spoke to him shortly afterwards to make sure Premier heard from us about how our network, how the teams our preparation and the work our team is doing to restore the customer and make sure he has contacted us directly for any information if he has questions or concerns, ” said the statement.

Eastlink added that they have focused on assessing Fiona’s impact and where they need to work to reroute communications in the hours and days after the storm.

“Once that work was completed, we placed a liaison officer at the Command Center.”

According to Nova Scotia Power’s outage map, about 91,000 people remained without power in the province as of Wednesday afternoon, with about 7,400 outages.

The northeastern part of the province, as well as Cape Breton, suffered the most power outages. As of 6 a.m., 59% of customers in the northeast region had power back, according to an update from NS Power, while 61% of customers in Cape Breton had power back. This outage also affects cell phone towers, as the backup batteries in those towers are draining.

In a letter to Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Houston explained that Nova Scotia Power, the Canadian Red Cross and the regional autonomous cities of Halifax and Cape Breton have participate in media interviews and daily briefings to keep Nova Scotians up to date through live radio programming, “one of the only ways to reach scouts in Nova that no mobile or landline service required.”

“Our telecom partners have little or no participation in these briefings. Their absence is notable,” the letter reads. “When they provided a spokesperson for the media, questions about how many customers are without service and where, and when Nova Scotians can expect to restore their services, largely Still unanswered.”

Telus seems to address the issue in their statement, specifying that they have participated in the briefings.

“Telus attended 15 consecutive Nova Scotia EMO calls, organized by the Nova Scotia Provincial Coordination Center, with an average of three calls per day from September 23 to September 27,” the statement said. “We will continue to actively participate in those calls.”

The Prime Minister concluded the letter by calling on the federal government to hold telecom companies accountable for their participation in emergency planning and to be transparent with customers.

On Prince Edward Island, where high winds have knocked down many power lines, poor cell phone service has also been reported.

The federal government has declared that restoring telecommunications is a priority in the region, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday declaring that the storm had exceeded their expectations in terms of damage.

“There’s going to be a lot more to learn about how we protect people, as extreme weather events will, unfortunately, be more likely in these days,” Trudeau told reporters. next year”.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said: “The Canadian Armed Forces are present in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and on Prince Edward Island. “When it comes to cellular service, it’s absolutely a priority for Canadians in good times and in times of disaster, and that’s why we’re working hard with power companies. mobile phones to give Canadians the service they need.”

With files from the Canadian Press

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