Two workers wearing orange pants and hard hats walk on a messy street, with wires hanging down from above, and a pedestrian walk sign on the ground.
Workers on Woodlawn Road in Dartmouth after Fiona, on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. — Photo: Zane Woodford

The Nova Scotia government is taking on the telecommunications companies in the wake of prolonged communications failures following tropical storm Fiona.  

John Lohr, the minister responsible for the Emergency Management Office, introduced amendments to the Emergency “911” Act on Thursday that he said “will compel local telecommunications companies to provide reliable service and better communications during an emergency. The status quo is no longer good enough.”  

The amendments apply strictly to telephone service, including 911 and Alert Ready supplied by Bell. Lohr said in the aftermath of tropical storm Fiona, the lack of cellphone coverage meant Nova Scotia Power crews and emergency responders were often unable to coordinate their response. Thousands of Nova Scotians who were without power were surprised to discover their landlines and cellphones didn’t work to allow them to check up on loved ones in areas where the cell towers didn’t have functioning backup generators.  

The proposed amendments will require all the telecommunications companies working in the province to submit an annual emergency response plan to be approved by the minister. Another change will require the telcos to rebate customers for the period they did not receive service. Failure to comply with the new provisions to take effect next year could see telcos face fines of up to $250,000 a day. 

Although the federal government regulates phone service providers, the province can claim jurisdiction and authority as it relates to emergency preparedness and emergency response. Debate will follow later this month. 

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Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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1 Comment

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  1. All talk. Nothing will change. NS governments have been talking about ensuring broadband is available to all Nova Scotians for at least 30 years and have, on at least 3 occasions, handed out millions of dollars to the private sector to get that done. Yet, rural areas and even areas close to Halifax, have crap coverage even when there are no storms. Fines mean nothing because, as with NSPI, they don’t take that money out of profits, they add it to our bills. We need to nationalize or, as appropriate, provincialize, all electrical and communications grids and have government (provincial or municipal) or co-ops provide the services. They are too vital to a modern world to leave them to those whose primary (or only) goal is profit.