Tłı̨chǫ leaders are asking for better cellphone coverage along Highway 3, between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife.
Chiefs Clifford Daniels, of Behchokǫ̀, and Alfonz Nitsiza, of Whatì, each sent a letter to Katrina Nokleby, minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment, and R.J. Simpson, minister of Education, Culture and Employment.
In his letter, Chief Daniels says the lack of coverage along one of the territory’s busiest highway stretches is “not just embarrassing, but it handicaps safety and economic development.” He also pointed out that there are already communications towers along the highway.
Residents may be acutely aware of the safety issues along Highway 3 with two recent fatal accidents in as many months.
Chief Daniels called on the territorial government to use its “important voice” to raise the issue with telecommunication companies to improve service.
“Together, our communities can become stronger… but first we need to be able to communicate,” he wrote.
This week, Jackson Lafferty, Monfwi MLA, supported the two chiefs and asked what the territorial government will do to rectify this situation.
Telecommunications falls under the department of Finance. Minister Caroline Wawzonek said better cell coverage is one of the government’s priorities but added, “I’m not in a position to say right now what we’re going to do.”
This was not the first telecommunications-related question Wawzonek had to answer this week. Others had to do with better Internet speeds across the territory.
“If ever it wasn’t clear, then COVID-19 has made it very clear now how important those things are to being connected, whether it’s education, health, or otherwise,” she said. “ I certainly do expect that I will be making faster progress on this than maybe what would have happened before COVID.”
Extend service to Whatì, says chief
In his letter, Chief Nitsiza said the government should take the opportunity to build cell coverage along the Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road to his community.
“Everyone recognizes that, once opened, the traffic along the Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road will increase month over month, due both to local and business traffic,” he wrote. “This will especially become evident as mine development commences in the Tłı̨chǫ region.”
Chief Nitsiza urged ministers Nokleby and Simpson to see the project as laying the “technological groundwork” to expand cell coverage into more remote parts of the territory.