Lorri McPhee is tired of paying through the nose for inadequate cell service in her rural neighbourhood in Area C of the Comox Valley Regional District. For 22 years, she has lived on Stapley Road off Burns Road, which becomes Dove Creek Road after it intersects with Condensory Road.
“Mount Washington has better internet service,” McPhee said. “I can’t talk on my cell phone without standing at my kitchen window. We can’t even watch a movie and have one of my kids on the computer at the same time.”
About a kilometre away, at 3505 Dove Creek Rd., Telus is proposing to install a 62-metre communication tower. Some residents in the immediate vicinity have been collecting signatures on a petition that opposes the CVRD’s letter of concurrence for the tower.
“It is farmable land,” said Sarah Nicholson, who lives at 3713 Dove Creek Rd. “You have every single property, with the exception of three in this block, that is against that location.”
She said there are other possible tower locations, such as the CV Exhibition Grounds, but Telus says there are no suitable co-location opportunities.
Mark Jeppesen, who owns Dove Creek Produce Farm at 3505 Dove Creek, says the area needs the tower in a bad way.
“To me, it doesn’t matter where it goes,” Jeppesen said. “It’s only a 15-metre by 15-metre spot being put right in the corner. Corners are always hard to farm…Telus knows what they’re doing.”
Telus has said the preamble in the aforementioned petition wrongly stated that it would be feasible to shift the tower closer to the Inland Island Highway. Engineers, however, say this location would be too far to offload traffic from the tower in Courtenay, and too far from Dove Creek residences, given the frequencies needed to deliver wireless high speed internet.
“We’ve gone back to people, and they’ve willingly signed, so far up to 86, in response to Telus’ representative,” said Dan Harrison, who lives at 3755 Dove Creek Rd. He claims the entire area won’t be covered, with Wildwood, Stapley, Apple and some of Burns Road not receiving additional coverage. “If nothing else, we need a third party, a telecommunications expert, to guarantee that this is the only spot that this tower can go, not just that Telus says so.”
Telus says the central location of the property enables service coverage across Dove Creek, and that the proposed locale is a suitable distance from its adjacent tower in Courtenay, enabling offloading of traffic from the cell site that is at capacity.
McPhee said there are plenty of residents who welcome the tower with open arms.
“I don’t think this thing should be defeated just because a few people are saying no,” McPhee said.
Niki Whittaker concurs there is a desperate need for the tower.
“For an area this close to town, it is appalling how poor the service is,” she said. “Most of the time we have to leave our house to talk on the phone in weird, random spots.”
Whittaker added that online meeting platforms often don’t work, which makes it difficult to conduct business from home.
Stapley resident Paul Keim said he signed the petition not to object to the tower but to understand the rationale for its proposed location.
“We desperately need an upgrade to service,” said Keim, who operates Dove Creek Design and Dove Creek Recording at his home. “Our cell service has been rapidly deteriorating over the last two years, to the point that I cannot reliably make a phone call from my property.”
Poor cell service is becoming a safety issue in terms of contacting emergency services, he added, noting also that children need to be able to attend school online.
Keim credits Area C director Edwin Grieve for efforts to create dialogue with Shaw and Telus, and for making senior governments aware of the situation in Dove Creek.
“Internet is essential today for business, education, entertainment and commerce,” Grieve said. “Cell phone and fast internet are taken for granted by people living in the towns and cities. Zoom and other sites save a ton of greenhouse gas because people don’t have to drive to town…Nobody likes a big tower in their backyard but we need to work something out.”