Rogers Communications has broken ground on its first cellular tower site as part of its wireless service expansion project along Highway 16.
Rogers crews have started construction on the first of 12 new towers that will service the area of highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George known as the Highway of Tears – a reference to Indigenous women and girls who have disappeared or were found murdered on the route.
“At Rogers, we are deeply committed to reconciliation and to using our technology to help connect rural, remote and Indigenous communities,” said Jorge Fernandes, Chief Technology Officer at Rogers Communications. “It is our hope that by providing the safety of wireless connectivity along Highway 16, we can honour survivors, victims and their families and communities by taking action to address the tragic crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls here for the past many decades.”
The project will provide 252 km of new cellular coverage across Highway 16, closing key gaps to ensure continuous coverage along all 720 km of the corridor, establishing a safer environment for travel and fulfilling one of the 33 recommendations in the 2006 Highway of Tears Symposium report to enhance safety for Indigenous women and girls. Rogers will provide coverage to three provincial highway rest stops at Boulder Creek, Basalt Creek and Sanderson Point.
“It means the world to me and our women to connect with others and keep in touch, especially on this highway – anything can happen at any given time,” said Gladys Radek, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) activist. “This tower and project will bring a lifeline to all of us who travel along Highway 16 regularly and will bring a sense of safety and security that will help us prevent future tragedies.”
“Cellular connectivity on our highways is essential to improve safety and emergency response when people need assistance. As a local resident and frequent traveller on Highway 16, I know how important this project is for people living, working and travelling along this route,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and MLA for North Coast. “Our government is pleased to be able to help fund this project, which helps fulfil recommendations from the Highway of Tears Symposium, and completion of the project will be a welcome reassurance for families and communities in our region.”
Rogers sponsored the Two Sisters Totem poles as part of the Highway of Tears Commemoration and Healing Totem Pole series – a project initiated by MMIWG families and the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society (IRSSS). The memorial Totem Poles will be placed at each end of the Highway of Tears – one in Prince George and one in Prince Rupert and will offer two safe places where families can commemorate and honour their lost loved ones.
“Even before the pandemic, the Government of Canada has recognized that high-speed internet access is a necessity, not a luxury,” said the Honourable Gudie Hutchings, Minister of Rural Economic Development. “The Highway of Tears Wireless Expansion project is paramount to the safety of everyone travelling this route, and I am pleased to see progress on this very important project. This investment is part of the $50 million we have set aside under the Universal Broadband Fund for mobile internet projects and is just one of the ways our federal government continues to improve the lives of Canadians living in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. We will continue working closely with provincial governments, municipalities, and telecom providers to bridge the digital divide and enhance the safety and connectivity of all regions of Canada.”
Rogers connecting Indigenous, remote and rural communities in BC
Rogers has been working with all levels of government to make network and innovation investments throughout the province, including recent cellular expansion announcements for Highways 14, 95, 97 and 16. Rogers is partnered with the B.C. Government through the Connecting British Columbia program, administered by Northern Development Initiative Trust, to provide broadband services to underserved Indigenous, remote and rural communities. Rogers and Shaw combined will work to close the digital divide by creating a new $1 billion rural and Indigenous Connectivity Fund to connect communities across Western Canada.
Last month, Rogers announced a partnership with Coastal First Nations (CFN), which will support the growth of a conservation-based economy through improved connectivity. The new partnership includes an additional five new cell towers that will provide more than 100 km of new service coverage along Highway 16 on Haida Gwaii from Masset through Port Clements to Queen Charlotte.