Newfoundland woman says her local fundraising committee jumped for joy when they learned they had finally raised the steep sum of $80,000 needed to bring a cell tower to their communities.
“We were ecstatic,” Martina Cornect said by phone on Tuesday.
Cornect was one of seven people on a committee for the western Newfoundland communities of Mainland and Three Rock Cove who worked for years to bring a costly cell tower to the area.
The small communities had to come up with 15 per cent of the tower’s costs under a funding agreement with the provincial government and Bell Mobility.
For residents, the lack of cell coverage was a safety concern, highlighted by an incident when students travelling by bus to a French school in Mainland were stranded in poor weather without cell service and had to wait for a plow to come clear the road.
Wendy Brake with the Newfoundland and Labrador Francophone Economic Development Network said the lack of service has hindered economic development, hurt the area’s rich tourism potential and driven young people to move away.
The problem is not unique to the Newfoundland and Labrador’s Port au Port Peninsula. The funding agreement came under a pilot project from the provincial government, intended to improve cellular coverage in a cost-effective way.
A statement from the province’s Department of Tourism, Culture, Industry and Innovation says that by last October’s deadline it had received 10 proposals for a pilot project to bring cellular coverage to more communities.
The issue of connectivity is also on the radar of Bernadette Jordan, the federal minister for rural economic development. In a May 31 speech, Jordan told a conference of Canadian municipalities that mobile connectivity and high-speech internet are the top priorities for rural Canadian communities.
“Rural Canadians are just as driven, innovative, and ready to compete with the rest of the world,” Jordan’s speech read.
“But the smaller populations, remote locations, and challenging terrain of rural communities make it difficult to connect them to high-speed internet.”
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Similar issues have created barriers for aspiring entrepreneurs in Mainland and Three Rock Cove, Brake said. The lack of cell service has even posed challenges for people wanting to start an email account for job applications, as these can require a text message during account setup.
“Even (something) as simple as applying for a job and creating an email cannot be done for us,” Brake said.
The situated motivated the fundraisers in their campaign to bring a cell tower to their communities. But Cornect said the high sum was daunting at times. At first, members thought they had to raise $69,000, but they later learned they needed to reach $80,000 to include sales tax.
Fundraisers got creative, organizing talent shows and dances, knocking on doors and even pumping gas. Cornect said surrounding communities like Stephenville were supportive and helpful, and a number of businesses made donations.
But once the committee reached the halfway point of $40,000, Cornect said it became more challenging to keep asking the same people for money when residents had already been so supportive.
The 2016 census reported Three Rock Cove had a population of 188, and Mainland had 314.
“It was becoming more and more difficult to come up with fundraising efforts and we felt that we really couldn’t go back to people asking, ‘Can you give a donation? Can you give another donation?”‘ Cornect said.
But the hard work paid off. With help from surrounding communities and few more funding streams — including money from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority — they reached their goal.
The timeline for the tower’s construction is still in the works, but Brake said just reaching the milestone has been a thrill.
“I’m so happy to have played a part in it, but really this is a celebration of the community,” she said. “It was a community effort.”