Region set to go ‘mobile’ Dec. 15

Everything looks good so far for Northwest Mobility to have cellular phone service up and running from Fort Frances to Rainy River for its Dec. 15 target date.
Work crews were installing the switches and the back-up batteries in the Fort Frances tower last Friday with the help of a Northern Telecom agent.
Larry Cousineau, who sits on the local Public Utility Commission, said the initial range will reach as far east as Bear’s Pass and as far north as Nestor Falls.
“And then we’re talking about Atikokan being up and running by early 2000,” he added. “And then the gaps will be filled in between over the following year.”
Local retailers already are taking names for those wishing to sign on, including Howarth’s Home Centre, Sight and Sound, Extreme Electronics, and Al’s Home Satellite here and Rainy River True Value in the west end of the district.
“Thunder Bay Mobility sells the air time,” noted Todd Plourde at Howarth’s, adding the local dealer provides the phone or “hardware.”
“We would get you an application and [Thunder Bay Mobility] will say we need so much in advance,” he explained.
Plourde said the air time packages are the same at all the dealers. “Freedom 200,” the beginning rate offering 200 minutes a month of air time, costs $25. Going up to 500 minutes will cost you $50, and 1,000 minutes costs $75.
There’s even a “Freedom 2000” program for those who plan to spend more than 33 hours a month on their cell phones.
Long distance charges still apply on every package, and will cost the same anywhere in the region as it is on a regular land line.
Plourde said Howarth’s is just taking names for now, noting the store is waiting for a shipment of cell phones to arrive–something he said has been hard to get a hold off.
“This time of year, it seems to be a real boomer,” he noted. “Generally on sign up with one of these packages, if you sign up for 24 months [on contract], you will get a phone for free.
“As soon as we start getting the phones, that will make us feel a lot better,” he admitted.
The Fort Frances PUC has invested $1 million in the cellular phone project. It was combined with $1.5 million from Thunder Bay Mobility, $500,000 from Atikokan’s PUC, plus another $3 million from the Northern Ontario Heritage Funding Corp.
Kevin Burns, division manager (marketing and sales) for Thunder Bay Telephone, which oversees Thunder Bay Mobility, said no one would have believed you 10 years ago if you told the company it would be going into Fort Frances and Rainy River District.
Now, with the west end of the Northwest Mobility corridor about to be turned on, Burns said Thunder Bay Telephone is looking forward to doing business here.
“We’re very excited,” he enthused. “We’re really happy with the reception we’ve gotten from the community and from the politicians here.”
Cousineau said the town especially is looking forward to seeing the project become a reality since it was the local PUC’s initiative that “got the whole thing rolling.”
“No one was talking about getting a cellular system before we got on the bandwagon,” he remarked. “We’re really excited about this.”