“Can you hear me yet?”
By Katherine Nettles
Internet outages, Wi-Fi failures, dropped calls and delayed text messages are to a certain degree expected in rural locations such as Gunnison County, but many residents and visitors are seeing a spike in problems this fall.
The issue seems to be isolated to Verizon Wireless LLC customers, who have reported unusual service disruptions in the Crested Butte area for several weeks, but no clear answers to the problem have emerged. The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council is also drafting a letter to Verizon to express their citizens’ concern about the quality of the service.
Despite several comments on Facebook groups such as Crested Butte Marketplace, the current Verizon tower is located on property in Mt. Crested Butte overseen by Wayne Meredith, who says he has not requested any new lease terms or payment increases, and is not aware of any issues at the tower on his property.
The Crested Butte News contacted Verizon’s technical support team earlier this week regarding reports of service problems. The service representative, Tina, initially reported that there were no open alerts in the area. An open alert, she said, means at least three people have reported a problem within a couple of days or up to a week. Upon further prompting, she looked at reports going further back.
“We have quite a few tickets,” she said. And ultimately, the answer she provided was that the area is underserved by signal equipment.
“An additional tower is needed to support that environment. And they’ve identified that [an additional tower is needed] to resolve the issue.”
According to Tina, there was an alert sent out to Verizon technical assistant representatives on September 8 for a signal issue with voice calling, which would also impact issues with texting, “because they are one in the same signal.”
She said there is a low voice/texting signal around town, and once you leave the town center, i.e., the business district of Crested Butte, signal strength returns. “This is causing missed calls, delayed messages,” she said, according to the alert from September 8. She recommended that users activate Wi-Fi for indoor cell phone calling, since a Wi-Fi connection will kick in and boost your signal, eliminating the signal fluctuations so many are experiencing.
The Verizon tower that provides signal to Crested Butte and its surrounding area is located northwest of town, near Mt. Crested Butte.
“There is heavy traffic on that tower. You would definitely see improvements in signal and speed if there were a second one there,” said Tina. “There definitely is a signal issue in that area. And it will be that way until a second tower is put up.”
She also said the telecommunications company may have to change how the signal is projected, or take other measures to increase signal strength, such as signal boosters.
Although Tina could not find any record of an estimated timeline for that resolution, the town of Crested Butte has been working with Verizon for several months to find a suitable location for a new cell tower. It appears a good location has been found near the town Public Works shop. Verizon’s new cell tower at Gunnison High School in Gunnison recently went live, and Verizon had signed a contract with Gunnison Watershed School District to locate a cell tower on the roof of Crested Butte Community School’s elementary wing as well, but had backed away from that plan earlier this year due to public outcry and the town’s willingness to find another site, as previously reported by the Crested Butte News.
“Anybody can offer up their property for a tower lease,” said Tina. “When there is a leasing contract, you need about half an acre, and you can submit the request to Verizon. Verizon will then come out and look at the property to determine if it would be a possibility.”
Reporter’s note: The call to Verizon, which included a 19-minute wait time, lasted 70 minutes total (the call dropped at one point but the support agent promptly called back). Among the challenges discussed were delayed text messages. Ironically, the agent texted a temporary account password but by the time the text arrived, the temporary password had expired. The agent informed me that the troubleshooting would take longer without an alternate phone, such as a “landline.”
The fix for my particular account’s slow and intermittent service (using an older iPhone) was to reset all network settings, returning to factory defaults and then to connect it to Wi-Fi calling feature. This feature is free, but on older phones it has to be activated by a service representative, whereas newer phones have Wi-Fi calling built in. I have noticed improved connections, but still experience occasional delays on calls, texts and internet.
Might be worth a try if you are still having trouble, and beats waiting for a tower.