Northern Sunrise considers partnership with TELUS

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Northern Sunrise County has been considering a partnership with TELUS to bring better cell and data service to residents of several communities in the county.

TELUS representative Tabitha Olson and northern Alberta general manager Brian Bettis attended council’s regular meeting on Sept. 10 to outline what that would likely cost.

Bettis first gave an update on the industrial park project in the county. He said the assessment and ground locating was all done in August, all building materials were on site, and drilling was beginning that day.

“It will be about an 8-week project, and we have no concern with respect to the northern Alberta climate, we’re prepared for the snow that will befall us, we don’t see any delays and we are on track to complete right now in 2019,” he said.

Bettis said to address a concern from county administration, businesses would be contacted in October to be given updates on construction and signed up for service. Fibre optic will also be brought up to the edge of any vacant lots that haven’t been sold.

The county has also been looking at partnering with TELUS on four potential cellular sites at St. Isidore, Cadotte Lake, Little Buffalo, and Marie Reine, and had asked for a cost estimate.

Bettis gave council a cost estimate of $622,000 for a 107 metre guyed tower at any of the sites, which is what TELUS would recommend, with an additional cost of $50,000 of an access road is needed.

Bettis said there were then two options at each of the sites.

“One is you can go microwave, meaning point to point communication from one tower to another. It’s typically a more economic option, but it does have some detriments in terms of maximum capacity and maximum throughput,” he said.

“And then there’s fibre which of course is limitless in its capability but is more expensive.”

For microwave, the extra cost will be $120,000 for each site. For fibre optic, TELUS looked at each of the sites and came up with different cost estimates.

“For St. Isidore, it’s actually the cheapest, it’s one a half kilometres of fibre would be required to be plowed, and that would be about $100,000. Cadotte Lake is 2 km, and that’s $150,000. Little Buffalo is a little further away at 5 km to the nearest fibre transport so that would be $375,000. And then Marie Reine which is the farthest, we don’t have facilities within anywhere except 10 km of the site, so it would be about $1 million extra,” Bettis said.

Councillor Dan Boisvert audibly coughed at that number.

“I’m sorry,” Boisvert said.

“I’m sorry too,” Bettis said. “We wanted to give you sort of a full sum of understanding that this is what the costs are. This is not a margin situation, this is net cost for TELUS, and we want to be a transparent partner for you in this collaborative process.”

After asking about some other options, Boisvert said, “Basically we’re paying for it, and you’re making a profit from it.”

“Profit is an interesting word to use. I would say if we were making a profit from it we would have already built it. I think that’s kind of the challenge of entering into the partnership. So the reason a partnership is required is because the business case on the site given where it’s located and the number of users it would serve is it will take upwards of 25 years for it to return a net margin on it,” Bettis said.

He said the extra money to bring fibre to Marie Reine was due to the 10 km of ground work that would need to be done.

He added if council decided to move forward, they could get more specific numbers based on what parts of Marie Reine they wanted to serve.

Olsen noted that cell phone boosters are not a solution.

“Cell phone boosters are a problem that create their own solution and then create their own problem again, it’s like a snake eating its tail,” Bettis said.

“They are famously used in oilfield country and are in every single white truck that you see driving around. They’re a mainstay. It’s important to note they exist for a reason, they give remote capabilities and boost cell service in areas where there’s weak cell signal.”

Bettis then gave the example of a water tower, and said if each cell was a spout on the water tower, a cell booster would be like eight instead of one, taking more water away from others leaving less for everyone.

“The challenge we have in most northern Alberta is that all of these trucks are outfitted, and whether they’re using them or not they’re drawing the water, and it actually creates worse cell services for everyone else in region,” he said.

“We ask people to avoid using cell boosters,” he said. “We would strongly encourage not to leverage them because they can disrupt the network.”

TELUS had actually invested over $5 million in upgrades, but whenever TELUS boosts service and increases capacity, data usage also increases again due to YouTube and other sites designed to continually upscale data usage.

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