There is currently no plan to introduce cell service to the Highway 3 corridor between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife. Community leaders are asking for that to change.
Last week, the chiefs of Behchokǫ̀ and Whatì wrote to the territorial government asking for help in addressing the “long overdue matter of cellphone connectivity” on the highway.
At the moment – as is the case on most stretches of NWT highway – travellers must use a satellite phone to call for help if an accident occurs or they require assistance between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀.
“In this interconnected age, when those drivers leave their municipalities, they are on their own,” Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty said in the legislature last week.
“There are communication towers throughout the Highway 3 corridor yet, ironically, no cell coverage. The phone company simply cannot be bothered,” he said.
The two communities’ letters to cabinet ministers request the NWT government’s support in lobbying Northwestel, the territory’s dominant telecoms provider, for cell service to be extended to the full stretch of highway.
“I am certainly more than happy to phone Northwestel and have some engagement with them,” Caroline Wawzonek, the finance minister, told Lafferty in the legislature.
She acknowledged the lack of cell service on the highway presented “some obvious risks.”
Wawzonek said she was certain Northwestel would “want to have discussions and engagements with the GNWT” on the matter.
Asked if the company had any plan to introduce cell service between Yellowknife and Behchokǫ̀, or whether any related discussion had taken place, a Northwestel spokesperson replied by email: “There’s no active plan for that area.”
‘Take this opportunity’
Chief Alfonz Nitsiza of Whatì, in his letter to the NWT government, said the territory “has significant influence and those businesses will pay attention to your requests,” referring to Northwestel and parent company Bell Canada.
Nitsiza not only wants to see cell service introduce on Highway 3, but hopes it will then be extended to cover the new all-season road connecting Whatì once construction is complete.
“Everyone recognizes that, once opened, the traffic along the Tłı̨chǫ all-season road will increase month over month due to both local and business traffic,” Nitsiza wrote.
“This will especially become evident as mineral development commences in the Tłı̨chǫ region.
“I encourage the ministers to take this opportunity to lay the technological groundwork for expanded communication in the North Slave region.”
Between 2015 and 2018, statistics published by the NWT government suggest there were 86 collisions over the full distance of Highway 3, which runs from Yellowknife to Highway 1 south of Fort Providence.
Forty-six people were injured in those collisions. Two were killed.