2012-09-20 / Front Page

Cell phone outage sparks service complaints

Locals in the Midpines area have been struggling with poor cell phone service in recent weeks.

Providing coverage is always a challenge in a foothill area, but recent outages and problems with dropped calls in Midpines highlight the fact that you can't always count on cell coverage to connect in an emergency--or to stay in touch with loved ones.

"It really makes me mad that I don't get service at my house," said Sandy Langager, who runs Midpines' country store with husband Bob. "My cell phone is next to useless here. I get a ping when I get a message, but I have to wait until I get into town to check it."

Sandy related her cell-phone frustration over the store's landline this week. She said several customers had mentioned the poor service. 

Asked about the spotty signal, Sierra Telephone spokesman Dan Rule on Monday said that the company's equipment in Midpines can only handle four or five calls at one time.

"It looks like it's working the way it's designed to," he said.

Rule said the system's capacity is being pushed to the limit by people who try to log on with personal devices like smart phones and iPads.

"There's no data coverage out there," he said. "But people try to get on with their mobile devices. They'll try to use them--until they figure out there's no coverage for that."

On Tuesday evening, Sept. 25, however, the system apparently took a break for the Yom Kippur holiday. Cell phones displayed "no service" Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning.

Austin Smus, a technician for Sierra Telephone and its Golden State Cellular subsidiary, said on Wednesday that the system in the area was down.

"It's a hardware problem," he said. "It's experiencing issues. We've had some complaints."

Currently, federal law mandates that phone companies provide landline service in rural areas. Some industry lobbyists have suggested that better cell phone coverage means its time to "rip out the copper,"--i.e., "deregulate" and remove the requirement.

Consumer advocates respond that these proposals are driven by the huge profits companies derive from wireless service.

Other experts respond that landlines are important tools that let rural residents call emergency medical service or law enforcement.

"Cell phone companies have these colorful maps that show how well they cover areas," said Rob Frieden, professor of telecommunications and law at Penn State University.

"But there are a lot of places... that do not have cell phone service, or offer limited services not suitable for broadband, Internet access," Frieden said.

Send reporter Erik Skindrud an email relating your experience with local cell phone service: erik@mariposagazette.com


Photo: Wikipedia.Photo: Wikipedia.

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