Nina Pye lives in Mary's Harbour. She frequently travels the Trans Labrador Highway, often with her parents who are elderly. (Nina Pye/Facebook)
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has finished installing new Starlink satellites that allow long-sought access to free public Wi-Fi along a notoriously desolate stretch of the Trans-Labrador Highway.
The service will be provided through two depots along the 400-kilometre stretch, which connects Happy Valley-Goose Bay with Port Hope Simpson.
The stretch does not have cellphone service, and has meant travellers needed a satellite phone to communicate.
For Mary's Harbour resident Nina Pye, it's a relief to have the service in place.
Last weekend, she was halfway through the route when her vehicle's safety system malfunctioned.
"I was getting flashing messages saying the parking brake had malfunctioned. The all-wheel drive had malfunctioned. The pre-collision system had malfunctioned," said Pye.
When she arrived at Cartwright Junction, she was able to make a few calls over Wi-Fi and determined it was safe to continue.
"It had a good outcome," she said. "I'm glad that the Wi-Fi is in place now along that stretch because people are using it and people are needing it."
Melita Paul lives in Charlottetown. She said having access to check in with people can make a difference during emergencies. (Submitted by Melita Paul)
The two depots were supposed to have free public Wi-Fi for years, yet the former Wi-Fi system was showing as password-protected. The province previously said this was due to a server issue that the new system will fix.
Pye said there are many times when checking in can be important for family or friends.
"There can be some very quick storms and situations that arise and that stretch of highway and we need a communications link there."
Hopes for Bathrooms and more Wi-Fi locations in the future
Chartottetown resident Melita Paul travels the highway frequently for work, often alone. She described the new system as wonderful.
"A long time coming to have it secured," Paul said. "Just hope that somebody's monitoring and making sure that it's functioning at all times."
Paul said it's a simple safety measure to be able to check in with family at one depot, so if anything subsequently happened, they would know the person's approximate location.
The Trans-Labrador Highway now connects towns in the interior with the south coast. (Submitted by Skylar Hodder)
She said it would be even better to have more locations for Wi-Fi or cellphone service along the highway.
"In between Cartwright Junction and Crooks Lake is 146 kilometres. So a lot can go wrong in that amount of time," Paul said.
"Having some type of system where you can communicate with your family… can be a life-saving experience for sure," Paul said.
Pye hopes the province will continue investing in the road, and will soon add bathrooms or porta-potties along the stretch.
"I had my elderly parents with me two weeks ago and they're both in their 80s, and it was really difficult not having a bathroom for them," Pye said.