Weeks-long summer phone outages a recurring problem for Burge Lake residents

A full-time resident of Burge Lake says that continual spring and summer phone outages at his residence near Lynn Lake are a frustrating problem that has been going on for years, including this spring and summer.

Former Lynn Lake mayor Audie Dulewich says landline phone service – the only type of phone service there is in the Lynn Lake area, which doesn’t have cellular coverage – at his residence has been out since May 28 and still wasn’t repaired as of July 14, more than six weeks later.

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“It’s a major issue and it’s something that a guy probably  wouldn’t be as upset about if it was the first time it happened but this has been going on for at least 15 years now,” said Dulewich, speaking on the phone from his office in Lynn Lake. “Every summer, every time it rains, you lose your phone and sometimes it’ll come back once the lines dry out, other times it’s kind of like this go around where you’re waiting a month or longer from them to repair it.”

Although he and his wife Sheila have satellite internet at their house, some of the other full-time residents at Burge Lake have nothing.

“There’s a few elderly people, they’re up in their mid-80s, if they had a medical emergency without a phone they’ve got no options,” Dulewich said. “They’d basically die on the floor of their cabins, I guess.”

The nearest working phones are in LynnLake, a 10 to 15 minute trip away.

"If you have to rip in to use the phone to have the ambulance come out, well that’s another 10 to 15 minutes for them to get there and then another 10 to 15 back to the hospital. You’re already a half-hour in for sure.”

The outages are the result of a compromised phone line that’s been stretched and chewed through by animals in places, according to what a repair person told Dulewich several years ago. The problem resolves itself when autumn arrives and the ground begins to freeze but summer is the busiest time in the area.

“There’s other people with families, small children, the older people, there’s wildlife around,” Dulewich says. “There’s lots of potential for things to happen. Just having no communication in this day and age seems absolutely ridiculous.”

Bell MTS communciations manager Morgan Shipley told the Thompson Citizen July 10 that technicians from Thompson have been out to investigate the disruption already and would be headed back.

“Crews have been extra busy with weather-related repairs throughout Northern Manitoba over the past several weeks but they’re heading to Burge Lake again Monday [July 13] to continue looking for the exact location of the suspected cable damage,” said Shipley. “We did make cable repairs in the area last summer, but the recent trouble looks to be in another area. We hope to have the service up and running again next week.”

Shipley said affected customers would receive a credit on their bills for the time that phone service was unavailable.

To Dulewich, patching up damaged spots is not an effective long-term solution.

“To me, for the amount of money that they’ve spent sending repair people up here over the last 15 years to deal with that line, I’m sure it would have been cheaper had they replaced it but they still seem to want to come up and do some patchwork,” he said. “Last year, talking to one of their people, he just said, 'We are not replacing the line period.’ Well to me that’s just absolutely ridiculous. It’s not going to stop until they do actually fix it properly."

To add insult to injury, Dulewich, who has filed complaints with the CRTC about the service before, can’t even do that now because the organization isn’t currently accepting complaints as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There’s another body that takes complaints called the CCTS [Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services] and so I put in a complaint to them and MTS objected to the complaint because they’re in a regulated area so the CCTS looked at that and said, ‘They’re right. It’s a regulated area so we can’t accept the complaint, it has to go through the CRTC.’ Well, that’s not an option.”

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