Fiona: Nova Scotia premier slams telecoms for service issues

In the aftermath of post-tropical storm Fiona, Nova Scotia’s premier is calling on telecom companies to ‘step up’, saying many residents are still without cell phone service or access to 911 days after the storm hit. hit the province.

“Nova Scotians are wondering when their service will be restored, the extent of the outages and what the companies plan to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Tim Houston said in a statement Wednesday.

“It is unacceptable that there are Nova Scotians who cannot call 911 or contact loved ones during this difficult time. There is no doubt that we need our telecommunications companies to mobilize and be more transparent. »

Fiona swept through Atlantic Canada last weekend, destroying homes, downing power lines and stranding many residents without shelter or communications.

Nova Scotia was one of the provinces hardest hit by the storm. Houston said in the statement that the province had anticipated the impact on its telecommunications in advance and contacted key partners, such as Bell, Eastlink, Rogers and Telus, to ask them to send representatives so that a emergency meeting coordinates ahead of the storm.

“No telecommunications company was initially willing to send a representative,” the statement said. “It was only after complaints to senior management that Bell agreed to send a representative in person, who attended the center for two days before announcing that he would be working virtually. Eastlink, Rogers and Telus refused to appear in person at the (Provincial Coordination Centre) during the initial response.

In a statement on Wednesday, Bell spokeswoman Katie Hatfield said the company worked with the province ahead of the storm.

“We understand Premier Houston is dealing with the worst natural disaster to hit the province and may not be getting the most up-to-date information, but Bell has been attending the provincial command center in person since before the storm hit. don’t knock,” the statement read.

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Bell added that their representative was working virtually while they “secured their own property” and stayed connected to up-to-date information.

“Even at peak, the vast majority of our wireless and wired networks were powered up and operational, and at this point are back to nearly 100%,” Bell said.

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

Bell is responsible for the 911 infrastructure in Atlantic Canada, as well as the mobile truck 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 refutes the premier’s claim that they were not sufficiently involved, saying in a statement to that they “have been a fully engaged participant before and throughout” the storm, and that They contacted the Nova Scotia Emergency Management Organization (NSEMO) on September 21 before Fiona knocked to offer support.

“Telus has successfully coordinated NSEMO requests, including relaying safety messages to affected communities, prioritizing telecommunications restoration for critical healthcare facilities, and offering spare generators to support disaster response. emergency,” the statement read.

“We continue to work with and support our grid partners, owners of the infrastructure in the region, to restore service as soon as possible and deploy critical equipment including generators and batteries. The vast majority of the mobility service is now operational. The interruption is the result of the power outage and extreme weather conditions.

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

“While affected areas were cleared of lines or downed trees, our local teams were able to restore services as quickly as possible,” they said. “We now have 99% of services restored in the region.”

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

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“Our CEO contacted Premier Houston the day after the storm and spoke with him shortly afterwards to ensure that the Premier heard from us about how our network was doing, about the how our teams prepared and the work our teams are doing to restore customers and ensure he had a direct line with us for any follow-up if he had any questions or concerns,” the statement read.

Eastlink added that they had focused on assessing the impact of Fiona and where their efforts were needed to reroute communications in the hours and days following the storm.

“Once this work was completed, we physically placed a liaison officer at the command center.”

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

The northeast part of the province, along with Cape Breton, had the most outages. As of 6 a.m., 59% of customers in the northeast region had their power restored, according to an update from NS Power, while 61% of customers in Cape Breton had their power restored. These outages also affect cell phone towers, as the backup batteries in these towers run out of power.

In a letter to François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, Houston explained that Nova Scotia Power, the Canadian Red Cross and the regional municipalities of Halifax and Cape Breton had participated in media interviews and daily briefings to keep Nova Scotians updated through a live radio show, “one of the only ways to reach Nova Scotians without cellular or landline service”.

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“Our telecommunications partners have had little or no involvement in these briefings. Their absence is notable,” the letter reads. “When making a spokesperson available to the media, questions about how many customers are without service and where and when Nova Scotians can expect their service to be restored have largely remained. without answer.”

Telus appeared to address this framing in its statement, noting that they had participated in briefings.

“Telus participated in 15 consecutive Nova Scotia EMO calls, hosted by the Nova Scotia Provincial Coordinating Center, for an average of three calls per day from September 23-27,” the statement said. “We will continue to actively participate in these calls.”

The Prime Minister ended the letter by asking the federal government to hold telecommunications companies accountable for their participation in emergency planning and to be transparent with customers.

In Prince Edward Island, where high winds knocked down many power lines, poor cellphone service was also reported.

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

“There will be more to learn about how we protect people, given that extreme weather events will unfortunately become more likely in the years to come,” Trudeau told reporters.

“The Canadian Armed Forces are on the ground in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island,” said Deputy Premier Chrystia Freeland. “When it comes to cellphone 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 cellphone companies to provide Canadians with the service they need. need.

With files from The Canadian Press