The little village of Coalmont is making headlines across the province as it mounts a David-and-Goliath style battle with Telus over the replacement of its public phone booth.
While a spokesperson for Telus was emphatic last week that the phone booth –damaged in an attempted murder two months ago –will not be reinstalled, the RDOS says it’s still negotiating with the telecommunications giant.
“The Regional District is working with Telus to try and get something sorted out and to get it replaced,” Area H director Bob Coyne told the Spotlight Monday.
“We seem to be having a bit of an issue and we really don’t know where it is going,” he said. “Our emergency services department is working on it, that’s as far as I can go.”
The fight for a new phone booth began the day after Coalmont’s only 24-hour access public pay phone was destroyed when it was struck by a speeding car, injuring a man who was using the phone to make a call. Rolly Giroux was later charged with attempted murder in connection with the incident.
Bob Sterne, who operates the village’s Mozy On Inn with his wife, emailed Telus representatives repeatedly with requests for information about a new phone booth. In an interview with The Spotlight he said responses were infrequent and inconsistent.
“We basically kept the pressure on Telus,” said Sterne, who also circulated a petition that received the support of about 50 people in writing and on-line. Coalmont has a permanent population of approximately 100.
“Last week Telus gave us their final answer that they will not be replacing the phone booth.”
Sterne said 24-hour access to a public pay phone is critical as Coalmont has no cell phone service, and with its proximity to a popular section of the Trans Canada Trail it needs a pay phone in case of emergencies for
“If you are using the trail or coming through Coalmont on the road it was an excellent location for being able to reach emergency services. That’s the only pay phone that’s accessible 24-7 to the public,” he said.
“I know for a fact last year it was used exactly for that. There was an ATV accident and the guy was so badly hurt he was covered in blood and either he or a friend of his got to the phone and called 911 and they actually airlifted him out of here by helicopter. He probably figures that phone booth saved his life.”
Sterne said there are many people in Coalmont who don’t have phones in their own homes, either because they can’t afford them or they are only part-time residents.
Liz Sauve, a spokesperson for Telus, told the Spotlight in a phone interview the decision to not replace the phone rests on its low usage, and the fact that the phone has had to be repaired or serviced several times in the past few years.
“We have heard some of the concerns from residents and we very much understand them,” she said.
Sauve said Telus maintains a public pay phone inside the Coalmont Hotel, which is open daily from noon to 11 p.m., and outside of those hours “they would be more than willing to open the doors and provide someone with access if they need 911.”
Telus operates approximately 10,000 pay phones in BC and Alberta.
“There is no mandate to phase these phones out,” she said. “Nor do we have a mandate from the CRTC to operate emergency phones.”
Replacing the phone would cost $5,000 said Sauve “and the phone in that area has been vandalized a number of times in the past.” She said records indicate the phone has been used “on average over the last couple of years, maybe a phone call a week or every couple of weeks.”
According to Sterne residents in the community dispute both those facts. “Nobody I have talked to is aware of any time that phone has been vandalized except for one time about five years ago when the handset was ripped off.”
He also said the phone is used much more frequently that Telus is willing to acknowledge. “There are people who live here in town who use that phone on a daily basis.”
In addition to circulating a petition and speaking with regional, provincial and federal government representatives, Sterne has also filed complaints against Telus with the CRTC and the Better Business Bureau.
“This is a drop in the bucket for Telus,” he said.