As Hydro improves, phone service declines

Power Lines at Sunset

Allyson Beauregard

L’ISLE-AUX-ALLUMETTES – It appears the Upper Pontiac cannot catch a break. Although the area has been plagued by frequent hydro outages for years, there haven’t been any since December 23, 2020. This is something David Gillespie, a L’Isle-aux-Allumettes farmer who has been recording the region’s hydro outages since 2009, hasn’t seen since 2018. However, Gillespie is now also recording Bell Enterprise land-line telephone outages because there have been 12 so far this year; three in January, nine in February.
According to Gillespie, many Islanders experience the same frequent issues he has with his land line telephone service since he moved to the area in 2006: static, strange noises, difficulty communicating or only one-way communication or complete outages. “This problem isn’t unique to me and it has been boiling for a long time,” he stressed.
The issues have progressively worsened in the last four years, he added, with repair technicians visiting his home 37 times during that timeframe.
Gillespie and other residents believe old, poorly-maintained infrastructure is to blame. “The phone line runs along the road, underground, but it wasn’t buried deep enough and is sticking out in some places. During the last outage, a snow plow caught the line and snapped it in one of the places it’s exposed,” he explained, noting he was without landline service for four days.
Gillespie explained that junction pedestals (small, above-ground units) are installed where the line branches or has to be reconnected, like where the main line branches off to go into a house. “There are three houses on my road, so there should be only three pedestals; there are 17, indicating where the lines has been snapped and needed to be re-attached. Temporary protective bags were put on some pedestals to indicate they would be repaired in the short-term, but the lettering on some of the bags has been weathered out,” he told the Journal.
During the last outage, Gillespie sent out a group email to local media, elected officials and other residents to describe the reoccurring problem. Pontiac MNA André Fortin and MP William Amos were among the recipients. Gillespie said Fortin contacted Bell’s head office and got things moving.
“They abandoned the underground line from the road to my place and placed a new line above-ground on poles. The problem with my neighbours’ service has been temporarily resolved by placing a new cable on top of the snow that will be dealt with next spring or summer,” he added.
According to Amos, he also contacted Bell to convey Gillespie’s concerns, but is limited in what he can do, even though communications is federal jurisdiction. “The regulation of telecommunications companies is done by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and it has been this way for decades because we don’t want politicians regulating it. Instead of giving non-experts a microphone, we handed it over to independent experts,” he told the Journal.
He is, however, able to bring complaints to the attention of companies in hopes of finding a solution so the person doesn’t have to file an official complaint with the CRTC. “It’s clear Bell needs to continue investing in their infrastructure,” he added.
Gillespie emphasized that poor connectivity presents a number of problems, ranging from being a mere nuisance to affecting personal safety and economic development.
“It’s serious. With frequent hydro outages, you can respond by installing a wood stove or alternate systems, but with the phone line, you can’t really ‘MacGyver’ around it. The internet sucks and there’s almost no cell reception, so what do you do? If we want to attract youth here and have a future, we need connectivity,” he concluded.