Limited Cellular Coverage | In shock, without power

A young woman’s spectacular accident in Minganie on the North Shore reignites debate over the need to bring cellphone coverage to remote areas

Posted at 5:00 am

Vincent Larin

Vincent Larin
The press

“The first thing I thought of when my car stopped was, do I have a network bar? »

Valéry Bélisle will remember May 3, 2022 for a long time: the young woman left Rivière-Saint-Jean in Minganie at 5:30 a.m. and set off on Route 138 towards Sept-Îles, located 150 km west of there , to arrive in time for the start of a week-long course.

But the worst happens halfway through. Did she feel unwell? Did she fall asleep for a second? Valéry Bélisle cannot say. When she regains consciousness, she finds herself in the oncoming lane, heading towards the stone ditch that overlooks a sandy beach, one of the beaches for which this region is famous.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY VALÉRY BÉLISLE

On May 3, 2022, Valéry Bélisle had an accident not far from the Bouleau river in Minganie.

“Instinctively I accelerated the bike and rolled over the rocks. I remember everything, the hits, the cracking of the metal until the tank hits the bottom,” she says in an interview with The press.

Without a network

Still in shock as her phone’s music blares through the speakers of her car, a now-broken Mazda 3, she instinctively wonders if she can pick up the cellular network.


PHOTO PROVIDED BY VALÉRY BÉLISLE

The gutted Mazda 3 by Valéry Bélisle

However, the answer to her question comes quickly: she doesn’t have any. The fact is that in Minganie, as in other regions of the province, access to the mobile network is very limited. With the exception of a few villages where it is difficult to establish a connection, the approximately 420 km connecting Sept-Îles to Kegaska are almost entirely deprived of it.

As my car fell down, no one could see me from the street.

Valery Belisle

“I quickly reviewed my options. My back started to hurt. I tried to open my door but it got stuck. I finally made it by kicking it. When I got out of there, I climbed the rocks to go to the side of the road,” explains Valéry Bélisle.

After hoping for about thirty minutes that a car would come by to help her, she received the help of two men who took her to the hospital in Sept-Îles. Diagnosis: a broken vertebra, some bruises and scratches.

“Unacceptable in 2022”

After leaving to look for her daughter’s personal belongings, Josée Brunet had great difficulty locating the scene of the accident. She is categorical: “If she couldn’t make it on her own, no one would be looking for her. »

The mayor of Rivière-Saint-Jean, in her third term, sees this as another example of the urgency of providing the region with an adequate connection to the mobile network. At a time when more and more tourists are heading to the north coast, “it’s unacceptable that we’re stuck like this in 2022,” she said.

In addition, in the spring of 2020, the Telus company submitted bids for two different projects on the territory of the MRC de Minganie to connect it to the cellular network as part of the launch of the Broadband Fund to bridge the gap in digital technology in Canada”, says Josee Brunet.

But after being pushed back to 2021 from fall 2020, the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) response to that funding request is still lagging behind.

A question of security

So much so that the region’s federal deputy, Bloc member Marilène Gill, wrote a letter to the regulator on April 28 to urge them to make a decision.

Ironically, she mentions the risk that the lack of a mobile network poses to the Minganois. “Because large sections of Route 138, which connects the various communities, are not covered by cellphone service, allow me to be concerned about the users who use this road. I dare not imagine the worst: that a citizen would not be able to contact the emergency services to help him,” she writes there almost presciently.

In conversation with The press, the elect confirms that she is still awaiting a response from the CRTC. She herself was a victim of the lack of mobile phone coverage in Minganie when she broke down 17 km from the village of Rivière-au-Tonnerre during the election campaign last autumn, and she knows the problem well.

“It’s a safety issue. Today, when the police, fire brigade, paramedics go out into the street and receive a call, they no longer have contact with anyone », she explains, recalling that the pager service (pager) offered by Bell until 2019 made it possible to overcome this problem .


PHOTO OLIVIER JEAN, LA PRESSE ARCHIVE

Marilène Gill, Bloc Québécois MP for Manicouagan

The municipalities themselves try to make areas available where there is a network, but that is the responsibility of the federal government. Everything is ready for use, only the approval of the CRTC is missing.

Marilène Gill, Bloc Québécois MP for Manicouagan

The CRTC did not respond to an email sent late Thursday afternoon.

A priority for the regions

Far from being limited to just the Minganie region, the lack of cell phone coverage is being felt in all corners of the province, so the Association of Quebec Municipalities has made this a priority issue.

The association, which has 1,000 communities, is asking the Legault government to take the lead on the file by creating a map to identify areas that still need to be covered.

“This to ensure the safety of citizens throughout the territory, especially since the end of the pager,” said the president of the FQM, Jacques Demers, also mayor of Sainte-Catherine-de-Hatley.

According to FQM, with such a card, all households in the province could have been quickly connected to high-speed Internet.

Treasury Secretary Eric Girard reserved the sum of 50 million for the issue of cellphone coverage in his latest budget presented in March, but Quebec has not yet specified what that sum will be used for.

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