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Manitoba municipality residents suddenly thrust into cell phone dead zone

Manitoba municipality residents suddenly lose cell service
WATCH: Manitobans in a rural municipality northwest of Winnipeg have been without cell service for weeks. As Joe Scarpelli reports, many are now raising safety concerns.

Residents in a Manitoba municipality are worried for their safety after cell service suddenly went dead in June with no warning and few answers.

Cottage-owners and residents alike in the Rural Municipality of Alonsa, about 165 km northwest of Winnipeg, say they are now in a complete dead zone.

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Silver Ridge resident Karen Brown said she would typically get three bars of service in her home.

“Beginning of June, [the] service vanished,” she said. “No explanation.”
Karen Brown says she lost cell phone service in June with no explanation. (Joe Scarpelli/Global News)
Karen Brown says she lost cell phone service in June with no explanation. (Joe Scarpelli/Global News) Joe Scarpelli/Global News

It appears none of the province’s three cell phone providers, including TELUS, BellMTS and Rogers, initially knew what the problem was.

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Brown said she made several calls to TELUS, her service provider, but no one was able to pinpoint the problem.

“They put you through to tech support and tech support tells you it’s your phone,” she said. “You go through the checklist of what they’re telling you to do … it’s not your phone.”

There are similar concerns at the rural municipality office, which uses BellMTS.

RM of Alonsa CAO Pamela Sul says the RM can’t contact most firefighters in the area without cell service. (Joe Scarpelli/Global News)
RM of Alonsa CAO Pamela Sul says the RM can’t contact most firefighters in the area without cell service. (Joe Scarpelli/Global News) Joe Scarpelli/Global News

The RM’s volunteer firefighters get emergency calls on their cell phones, said RM of Alonsa CAO Pamela Sul.

“If they don’t have that service, then they don’t get that message,” she said, meaning if there’s a fire in the area, many firefighters may not be aware of it.

The province is currently experiencing a higher-than-normal number of forest fires. There have been 304 fires so far in Manitoba this season.

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Brown Ridge resident Dan Oleschak said he’s experiencing the same issue at his home. He doesn’t have a land line and relies on his cell phone.

“If we have an emergency in the yard, in my pasture, in my hay field, I got no way of talking to anybody,” Oleschak, who is a Rogers customer, said.

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According to Bell MTS, they’ve been upgrading wireless sites in the area and it appears that an antenna adjustment may have caused the issue.

“We will be sending technicians to the area within the next week to investigate any possible solutions,” a MTS spokesperson told Global News via email on Friday.

A spokesperson from Rogers said the company is working to address its customers concerns.

TELUS did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.