Council wants answers about loss of phone service

PORT HOOD: The municipality wants action taken to stop the loss of phone service during power outages.

District 4 councillor John MacLennan told the regular monthly meeting of Inverness Municipal Council about the loss of phone service in parts of Inverness County during the early morning hours of Jan. 3 when a power disruption impacted approximately 7,000 Nova Scotia Power customers.

“When the power went, the telephones went out, the landlines,” he recalled. “Some of them waited 10-12 hours, then they finally got their telephone service back.”

MacLennan said the back-up battery system for phones was not working in many communities around his and other districts.

Warden Laurie Cranton said the same thing happened in his district during a storm last fall. Upon further investigation, they determined the back-up battery system only works on older model phones that can be plugged into the wall. Cranton said they were also told there is no generator system to charge the batteries, and the back-up system is not being maintained.

“Within 12 hours after the power went out, we lost all phone service,” he recounted. “We have no cell service so there was no real communication for emergencies or anything.”

Deputy warden Bonny MacIsaac said the LifeLine, or LifeAlert systems will not work without a functioning landline. She said she had “several” calls on Jan. 3 from throughout her district so she contacted local technicians who went to check on the problem.

“The equipment is 35 years old that’s up there and I think we need to discuss this further down the road,” MacIsaac stated.

MacIsaac wants to ask the phone companies for updated equipment because many in the affected communities don’t have cellular phone service either.

“They are stranded if something happens, and I think it’s a real serious health and safety issue,” the deputy warden told council.

Chief Administrative Officer Keith MacDonald responded that those and other issues were raised with Bell Aliant following Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

Council agreed to have staff contact Bell, and revisit the issue at their committee-of-the-whole meeting on Jan. 21.

Cranton suggested having a Bell representative attend a future meeting because the issue has been going on for some time.

“We can impress upon them how serious this is to our residents in the municipality, especially with their lack of other services, I think that would be helpful as well,” he noted.

The warden this problem affects the whole municipality and not just one area.

“It sounds like they’re all causing a problem, so that tells me that that old system they used to back-up their phone system, it’s less effective,” he told council. “It’s not being maintained anymore, that’s what it sounds like to me.”

Just before the holidays, Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster issued a press release asking that Bell ensure telephones work for customers when their power is out.

MacMaster said many residents in parts of Margaree expressed frustration about lost phone service last September, and many across Inverness County could not make calls after Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

“A telephone is essential when people need help,” said MacMaster. “There are people living alone or at a distance from others, so the ability to make a phone call gives people the peace of mind they can get help if they need it.”

Because Bell said back-up batteries can only last so long, MacMaster suggested they cannot be expected to keep phones working during extended outages.

The Inverness MLA said he contacted the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission and the CRTC stated they do not regulate equipment, and suggested consumers consider another telephone provider.

“That may work in more urban areas,” said MacMaster. “But there is very little competition here to keep service providers interested in good customer service.”

Until the federal government requires basic service levels in licensing agreements, MacMaster added all they can do is ask Bell for better service.