Basalt directs one-two punch at Verizon over poor cell service | AspenTimes.com

Basalt directs one-two punch at Verizon over poor cell service

A Verizon store is located at Willits Town Center in Basalt. Ironically, several people have noted, Verizon's cell service is near non-existent in Willits.

The Basalt Town Council and Basalt Chamber of Commerce are directing a one-two punch at Verizon Wireless to try to get better cellular service for their constituents.

Both the chamber and town unveiled letters Tuesday that they will send to the cell service provider demanding that the company take steps as soon as possible to improve its service in the Basalt-Willits-El Jebel area.

The chamber prepared a five-page, comprehensive letter that included anonymous comments from members on topics ranging from the inconvenience of not having Verizon coverage at their homes, the loss of business from frustrated customers and the potential safety hazard of not being able to make calls for emergency services.

Kris Mattera, the executive director of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce, told the council the organization's letter was intentionally long to get Verizon's attention. The chamber staff asked members to weigh in on the quality of service from Verizon.

“There’s a public safety issue where you can’t even dial 911 from certain places at certain times.”

— Ryan Mahoney, Basalt town manager

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"My inbox was flooded. It was kind of insane," Mattera said. "Some of the quotes — the gloves came off with some of our members."

Verizon received approval from the Town Council last fall to install a cellular tower in the Basalt Industrial Center, near Valley Lumber and Woody Creek Distillers. Verizon spokeswoman Meagan Dorsch has repeatedly said additional approvals are needed before the company can install the tower.

She reiterated Tuesday that the plan hasn't changed. "Once we obtain all required permits, consents and approvals, we will begin construction of this cell site," she wrote in an email.

Dorsch previously said the company's goal is to install the tower sometime in 2018. She declined further comment Tuesday because she said the company didn't have any context on the letters.

The town government and chamber of commerce want to turn up the heat to get improvements to service and commitments on when they will happen. The town's letter expressed frustration that Verizon won't provide a timeline of the expected tower installation. It wants to hit Verizon where it hurts — in the corporate pocketbook.

"Best practices would dictate that having acknowledged you are not providing an acceptable level of service, that your loyal customers in this service area should be provided some level of reimbursement for many months of outage and ongoing credit until this situation is resolved," the town letter says.

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the issue goes beyond inconvenience for businesses and residents.

"There's a public safety issue where you can't even dial 911 from certain places at certain times over there," he said.

Council members approved sending the letter Tuesday, but asked Mahoney to emphasize the safety issue.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum said not only can some people not complete calls for emergency services, police officers and firefighters cannot use their cellphones for their work in some areas.

"I'm totally in support of sending the letter. I'd like to make it stronger," Tennenbaum said.

Mayor Jacque Whitsitt first brought the poor cell service to the council's attention. She said she's received numerous comments from citizens since raising the issue.

"People are not settling about this," she said.

Willits resident David Panico testified about the hardships the limited Verizon service caused him recently when his wife was terminally ill. It was difficult to stay in touch with family and doctors, he said.

Verizon is charging Roaring Fork Valley residents for a service it knowingly cannot provide, he said.

"If there needs to be a voice from someone that was profoundly affected by the lack of service (he will provide it)," he told the council. "If we can shame them into doing something, I'm certainly willing to try."

Mattera said Verizon has to be encouraged to look well beyond meeting the current demand for bandwidth, which clearly exceeds its capacity. She said the service problem extends into downtown Basalt. It's not just an issue in the Willits-West Basalt side of town.

"We ask that Verizon prioritize and expedite capital improvements to its cellular infrastructure in Basalt, with a long-term plan for the inevitable growth in bandwidth needs," a passage in the chamber letter says. "If Verizon can't even keep up now, how will service (or lack thereof) look in five to 10 years?"

Investing in improved service in the Roaring Fork Valley, the chamber said, will result in continued loyalty by many Roaring Fork Valley entities and increase its market share.

"We pay for 100 percent 4G LTE coverage but do not receive it," concluded the letter signed by executive director Kris Mattera. "We want it right in our backyard as Verizon promises, but no longer delivers."

Whitsitt said she wants the town to send its letter to the Federal Communications Commission as well as Verizon.

The town's letter accused Verizon of ignoring its customers.

"It is the town's position that Verizon's slow reaction to its customers in this context represents poor business practices and appears to disregard the unacceptable level of service experienced by your customers," the town government letter said.

scondon@aspentimes.com