01/22/2015 01:45 EST | Updated 03/24/2015 05:59 EDT

Telus pager service cancellation worries rural communities

Some residents of Quebec’s rural communities are worried after receiving a letter saying Telus is cancelling its pager service across Canada, effective March 31.

Darlene Rowsell Roberts, an administrator for several anglophone coastline villages near Labrador, on Quebec’s Lower North Shore, said many of the province’s rural municipalities do not have cellphone service. As a result, they rely on the pager system to reach health-care workers and emergency responders.

Firefighters were alerted to the deadly L'Isle-Verte fire at a seniors' residence in January 2014 by pager, for example. 

Without the pager system, Rowsell Roberts said, on-call volunteer firefighters and health-care workers would have to stay home and wait by the land phone all day.

"Is that realistic?" she asked.

Some options available

It could be, said Mike Shantz, vice-president and general manager of emergency communications provider Northern 911.

He said the end of a paging service would certainly require some communities to get creative, but that there are options.

Shantz said, for example, that organizations can create their own paging networks with two-way radios, an antenna, a broadcast licence, an encoder, a telephone-connected device and some pagers.

He admitted it could be an expensive up-front cost, but it would be a one-time expense — unlike a monthly bill for something such as a pager service.

"There are certainly some dollars involved, but I don’t believe it is hugely capital intensive," Shantz said.

Paging is obsolete, Telus says

Telus spokeswoman Luiza Staniec said the discontinuation of the pager service is a reflection of the times.

"It’s just fewer and fewer people are using this system, so it’s reached the end of its service life," Staniec said.

She said Telus is working with customers who do not live in areas with cellphone service to find a solution, namely moving them to another paging service provider.

She also said the company is working hard to expand its cellphone coverage.