Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cell phone problems persist after fire

Reports indicate limited cell service north of Warm Springs

Express Staff Writer

The Feb. 1 fire that burned the top station of the Flying Squirrel chairlift on Bald Mountain also destroyed a communications facility that included cell phone antennas. Photo by Willy Cook

    The effects of the Feb. 1 Flying Squirrel chairlift fire that burned a communications facility on Bald Mountain continue to linger, as several homeowners north of Warm Springs have reported report having no cell phone service.
    Sun Valley Co. Facility Manager Dean Newman said while AT&T and T-Mobile cell phone service has been unaffected since the fire because the companies have cell towers on top of Bald Mountain, many Verizon and Sprint customers who live north of Warm Springs do not have cell service.
    “Verizon has worked very hard to reach a temporary solution on top of Baldy,” Newman said. “They have been very progressive in trying to reach a solution.”
    Newman, who has helped build local cell phone towers, is in charge of dealing with all four cell phone service providers in the area. He said that he has received no contact from Sprint since the fire, and does not anticipate the company building a temporary cell phone tower unless its customers complain about a loss of service.
    Verizon Public Relations Consultant Meagan Dorsch said the company is aware that many of its users do not have cell service, and are looking at new alternatives to solving the problem.
    “We are trying to figure out a plan for the interim until we can have a permanent tower in place,” Dorsch said. “Our network team is looking at several different options. Unfortunately, there is no timetable for a solution.”
    Dorsch added that Verizon has been able to help some of its customers on an individual basis through the company’s help line at 1-800-922-0204, and encouraged those with loss of cell service to call for help.
    “We would have liked to place the temporary tower where the permanent tower was before the fire,” Dorsch said. “However, due to the circumstances, that was impossible.”
    Retired banker and Verizon customer Gerry O’Toole bemoaned the placement of the company’s temporary cell phone tower. He said instead of putting it in the Warm Springs ski area parking lot, it should have instead been placed in the YMCA’s largest parking lot.
    “Why they would put that cell tower in the deepest part of the canyon is beyond me,” O’Toole said. “If they had the presence of mind, they would have built it at the beginning of the canyon, out of the line of sight.”
    O’Toole, who lives in Glassford Heights, added that he feels the lack of cell service is “very frustrating.” He said that he now has cell phone service in his home because he purchased a service extender from Verizon wireless. O’Toole said he asked Verizon customer service to change his cell phone service carrier without paying a penalty fee, which the company refused.
    Eagle Creek resident Randy Carroll has also been without cell phone service since the fire, and has struggled to communicate with others as a result.
    “It’s a mess,” Carroll said. “I used to be able to talk all the way to just south of the Eagle Creek loop. Once, we lost service north of town right at the Hulen Meadows entrance. Service cuts out. I don’t get to talk until I get home.”
    Carroll said he’s needed a cell service extender to receive cell phone service in his home even before the fire took place, and remains adamant that the problem needs to be imminently addressed.
    “We need to get this fixed,” Carroll said.

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