By Korie Marshall

The north is the future of BC, says a local resident. He says we need good roads, stable power, and good communication. But we also need to speak up and expect more and better service from companies like Telus that are providing a vital service but very poor customer service to our region.

Russ Purvis runs a farm based home business near Kakwa, north of McBride, and says his phone and internet are vital to his business. There is no cell service available in the area, so the land line also provides an important link in case of emergencies. He and other residents in the Loos/Dome Creek area started experiencing static on their phone lines in late September. Purvis got the worst, losing his phone service entirely after a couple of days of static.

Luckily his internet was still working, and he was able to reach a Telus customer service agent. But he was told a service technician wouldn’t be able to help him until Nov. 5th, over six weeks after his initial call.

Telus spokesperson Liz Suave says Purvis was mistakenly given the date a technician was next scheduled for a routine visit to the remote area, but the customer service representative is supposed to schedule a visit as soon as possible when there is a service outage.

“It was an honest human error, and we should have caught it sooner,” says Suave. “For that we apologize.” She says they generally service Loos on a “rotation” for routine, lower-priority repairs, and the rotation can vary depending on how many customers in the area need repairs.

But Purvis doesn’t believe it was simply a customer service mistake, given some of the responses he’s received from others in the valley that have had problems with their Telus service. He himself had to make a number of appointments which were repeatedly missed when he wanted service originally installed at his farm after moving from Dunster. And he’s heard of an elderly woman who had to wait three weeks for repairs after she lost her phone service, which was her only form of communication.
After being told twice that a technician wouldn’t be out until Nov. 5th, Purvis started contacting local media and members of local government. He’s not sure if that is what prompted a response, but a Telus technician arrived on Oct. 8th. His phone service was restored, but the technician told him it was a temporary fix and someone would be back to do a more permanent fix. Two days later, he lost his internet.

Purvis says a technician came back Oct. 13th and replaced the cable from his house to the Telus tower, 1.7 kilometers away to restore the internet. Someone also came to do another repair on the phone, but then his service got poor again. This time he heard squeals on the line, like a fax machine in the background, and he suspects he’ll have to wait until the switch box is replaced for the whole 553 (Loos) exchange.
Telus announced last week it will be upgrading its equipment serving Loos to improve the reliability of the landline phone service to the community. A news release from Telus media relations says it will require a temporary outage of about an hour sometime overnight between 11 pm Oct. 27th and 6 am on Oct. 28th.

Purvis says he’s been hearing of the planned update for some time. “We’ll see if that works,” he says.

“We are essential to the province,” says Purvis, noting it’s the people who live in small communities along long stretches of northern BC highways that provide services and safety for travelers and the transportation of goods. “We’ve been lax in holding them to account.” He’s concerned that Telus and other companies don’t have or at least don’t meet service goals for remote areas like the Robson Valley, and residents just accept poor service as a matter of course because they live in remote areas.

“How are we as local businesses expected to make our local contribution and grow if basic communication is not available?” asks Purvis.

“Can the Valley survive if our basic infrastructure is compromised or seen as grossly unreliable?”
He says everyone knows the north is very important to BC, with two-thirds of the province’s export income earned by forestry, mining, fishing, energy and agriculture sectors operating in the north. “Yet when it comes to reliable communications infrastructure, there is a complete lack of acknowledgement of fundamental problems of local staffing and technical support.” Purvis says Telus does not have enough staff in the Robson Valley area, and the people who do work here are run off their feet.

“Meanwhile, Telus is spending $1 billion in Vancouver to improve existing services,” says Purvis, referring to a recent announcement from the company about expanding fiber-optic internet in the city.

“I can see why Telus would make that decision. What I can’t see is how any level of government – local, regional district, provincial or federal – would not respond to the lack of essential services on the primary transportation corridor in northern British Columbia,” says Purvis. “It’s a disincentive to invest in this part of the province, BC’s economic engine, if basic essential services are unreliable or neglected.