Computer Gremlin

Wireless vs Fibre Optic: on Cortes & Quadra

The wireless vs fibre optic debate is about to heat up on Cortes and Quadra Islands.

TELUS intends to erect cell phone towers on both islands during 2022, and the Connected Coast project will wrap up this fall. 

Last Mile Schedule

Cortes Island Regional Director Noba Anderson outlined the last mile schedule for cable: 

“In the next week or two you’ll be receiving communications from the Strathcona Regional District about the roll out of this last mile fibre optic connectivity to your home. The intention is that mid June through July, they will be doing ‘house-drops.’ Bringing it from your pole, or the end of your driveway, literally to your house, like your hydro or telephone.” 

“It will be optional, but free. You don’t have to connect up to it. If you want the house ‘house-drop’ now, you can connect  up to it next year, or in ten years, or never.”

“Over the course of the later summer/fall, we’ll be running the wires down the public road system.”

Anderson added, “I would like to get all of that infrastructure in and all the funds received from senior government before we have cell phone towers, just so there isn’t any concern about us being considered ‘served’ for internet connectivity and for whatever reason some of the funding revoked.”

The wireless vs fibre optic debate

She expects the wireless vs fibre optic debate on Cortes to be “a really hot one that I don’t look forward to being in the middle of.” 

“Some people think cell phone connectivity is just basic safety. Lives are lost because of it (not being in place), businesses require it and it is paramount to civilization. Others believe that the 5G that will come with these towers is cancer causing. It is everywhere in the world and lets have a pocket of sanity where that doesn’t exist.”

“I know that beliefs are held very strongly on both sides of that continuum and  so I want a very significant and meaningful consultation where TELUS shares with us what they are intending on those towers, and where people have an opportunity to be heard and hear each other. If,  indeed the community wants cell phone towers, I will support it and the Regional District will support it.” 

Quadra’s appeal

There is another debate raging on Quadra Island, which was not approved for last mile funding. 

Regional Director Jim Abram explained that the more developed southern part of Quadra Island was not able to obtain funding through the Connected Coast because TELUS provided the government misleading information about their internet connection speed.

” … That we were covered to a degree of 50 megabytes down, 10 megabytes up. That is untrue and we (subsequently) proved it with our screenshots. The highest one was 38. most of them were down around the 10s,” he said.

Anderson explained that this has occurred in a number of communities across the province. Homeowners are taking screenshots of their actual upload/download speeds and sending them to the Union of BC Municipalities, which has launched a last minute appeal on their behalf. 

“The concern on Quadra is that the construction of cell phone towers on Quadra, as well as those on Cortes which will provide signal over to Quadra, will undermine their bid for this late coming last mile productivity,” she said. 

TELUS’ Expansion

TELUS recently announced that it intends to bring broadband internet to a million homes and businesses by the end of this year. More will be added in 2022. This is part of a $54 billion in nationwide infrastructure and operations expansion that will be carried out over the nest three years. They intend to erect towers in 187 British Columbian communities by the end of this year and finish off this phase in 2022. 

There are voices calling out for this new technology. 

A letter in the Comox Valley Record asks why this project was relegated to ‘a tiny little article tucked away on page A16. The author suggests it should be given a very high priority. 

A tower has already been installed in Tahsis, where Mayor Martin Davis says reliable wireless connection will help the village grow its reputation as an eco-tourism centre. 

There are also towers in Gold River, where Mayor Brad Unger says, “Its all about safety.” 

There has also been resistance. A quick search of the internet revealed community concerns about a proposed tower in Qualicum Bay, a petition against the project in Webster’s Corners (in Maple Ridge), and TELUS revising its plans for a tower in Lund in response to public concerns.  

three proposed cell phone towers
Rendering for the cell site that TELUS is proposing to serve the Gorge Harbour area – courtesy TELUS

Resistance on Cortes and Quadra Islands

When it comes to Cortes and Quadra Islands, the resistance is coming from the Strathcona Regional District Board as well as local residents. 

Anderson explained, “TELUS isn’t receiving this kind of push back generally, up and down the coast. They are able to mobilize quite quickly. So this is new territory for them.” 

The SRD is willing to let go of the local requirement for rezoning, but is requiring  a full community consultation process.

This would entail a great deal more a great deal more than providing an opportunity for people to write in letters after there was a little add with no substantive information posted on the Birdseye (which reposted to the Tideline).

Whether you want towers or not, Anderson is asking that you write TELUS before June 28th and demand meaningful community engagement. 

Send your emails to:

Links of Interest:

Photo credits: (top) The computer Gremlin by Larry Wentzel via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); (podcast) My Computer is fixed by AntMan3001 via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License); 2018 map of proposed Connected Coast sites around Vancouver Island; The proposed site in Whaletown, Cortes Island – courtesy TELUS

3 thoughts on “Wireless vs Fibre Optic: on Cortes & Quadra”

  1. It would be helpful if you made an effort to clarify what it means that “5G” might be available on future cellular infrastructure on the island. There is no chance that Telus or anyone else is going to deploy mmWave 5G on Cortes Island. It is completely unsuitable for this environment. mmWave signals do not propagate well over long distance (as in, their range is typically only several hundred metres), and they do not penetrate obstacles. It is generally only effective at short range with direct line of sight, and outdoors. In short, mmWave 5G is not usable in rural environments like Cortes Island.

    Setting aside the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that mmWave frequencies at the powers used by cellular infrastructure present a biological risk, especially given the rapid signal strength loss over distance, it’s probably important to inform people who are concerned about this that 5G does not automatically mean the use of the higher frequency spectrum that people seem to be concerned about. In most cases it does not, and on Cortes it most certainly does not. Outside of the most dense urban areas, there will be almost no mmWave 5G deployments. If we’re going to have an informed debate about this, people need to be aware of these basic facts. Any future 5G deployments on Cortes will be at similar frequencies with similar RF characteristics to existing cellular infrastructure.

    1. During their Jan 13 presentation to the SRD Board, Doug Anastos, Senior Program Manager of TELUS, explained, “Right now we are deploying 4G LTE service … It is a transitionary period right now. our network will transition over to 5G in the next several years. In a rural area like this, it is going to look a lot like 4G.” You can listen to that conversation on the Youtube embedded in this post

      When I asked TELUS about 5G recently, they did not use that term and instead replied, “Our cell towers and wireless technology are governed by Safety Code 6, which sets limits for safe human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic energy and is overseen by the Canadian government, specifically ISED and Health Canada.”

      1. When he says “In a rural area like this, it is going to look a lot like 4G” he is referring to the very subject I was addressing in my comment. High band or millimetre wave 5G is not suitable for rural environments, and “5G” in a rural context primarily differs from 4G/LTE in its back end protocols, not in its radio frequency characteristics. In his later comments, which you chose not to quote directly (or rather you quoted only his preamble), he makes this even more explicit: “In urban areas 5G frequencies in time will be quite high on the spectrum, relative to what we’re using right now. In a rural area, really what we’re looking at is using the same or similar frequencies and power output would be similar as well.”

        These nuances are important if we are to have an informed discussion about these topics. Justified or not, it is obvious that fears about 5G are primarily about millimetre wave 5G. The fact that rural environments like Cortes are totally unsuitable for millimetre wave 5G is pretty relevant. Telus could have been more explicit about this, he seemingly didn’t want to get into the technical weeds, but this is what he was getting at with his comments. In which, as I highlighted in the quote above, he quite explicitly states they won’t be using the higher 5G frequencies in rural areas, they will be using the same or similar frequencies at the same or similar power to what is in use today with 4G/LTE.

        On a side note, I notice in the previous article you linked to, you reference and quote a Scientific American piece that raises concerns about the biological effects of EMF. You do not mention that it is not in fact a news article, it is an opinion piece. You either did not notice – or failed to highlight – that there was another opinion piece written by David Robert Grimes, Ph.D. in response to the one written by Joel M. Moskowitz, PhD. This response calls most of Moskowitz’s assertions into question.

        “Don’t Fall Prey to Scaremongering about 5G”

        I realize that reporting on technical matters like these can be challenging, but if objectivity is valued in these conversations – as it should be – it is important to address details like these and to try to eliminate misconceptions that have entered the public debate. The misconception around where high band 5G will be used is pretty significant. Should you talk to Telus again, I strongly encourage you ask them explicitly about whether high band 5G will ever be usable in rural areas like Cortes. Not because I believe people should be concerned about this, but because people ARE concerned about this, and it should be cleared up for them. I also encourage you to research these nuances around 5G yourself.

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