Plugging the Lower Blue cellphone gap
It’s no secret there’s a hole in cell coverage north of Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir – a gap residents of the Lower Blue River Valley have been trying every avenue to fix. After about a year of work, there’s been a step forward in progress. Resident Signe Ferguson was contacted in March by AT&T about installing a cell tower on her land, but until Tuesday that initial correspondence was buried and forgotten. At a recent Friends of the Lower Blue River board meeting, she learned about the ongoing push to get one or both of the major cell providers – Verizon and AT&T – on board with bridging the coverage gap in their area. So, on Tuesday, she attempted to rekindle communication with the AT&T representative to encourage the tower’s installation. She reiterated her willingness to sign a land lease agreement, but was told the tower is on hold. Nothing would happen until the next budget is released – which could be as early as December. “(The lease) seemed to be fair,” Ferguson said, “but it was too much to read at the time. The longer it sat on the pile, the further down it got.” Ferguson plans to maintain contact with AT&T to keep their attention.
Prior meetings with Verizon went nowhere, Summit County emergency manager Joel Cochran said. Per a written request from the Friends of the Lower Blue River, he had been working with their president, Sam Kirk, to get the attention of cell companies from an emergency services standpoint: Cell phones are a primary method of emergency notification and communication. “It’s one of the largest holes without cell service in the county,” said Summit County Commissioners Karn Stiegelmeier. She’s been working with Kirk and Cochran on the problem. “It’s about safety, emergency, response and communication – it’s also an economic issue.” As private entities, cellular providers are looking at return-on-investment and earnings when they consider telecommunication improvements. They’re not required by law to provide seamless coverage, though the government does oversee the often more costly land line infrastructure. “Every county has the same holes and frustrations,” Stiegelmeier said. “There’s nothing towns can do except ask, ‘Could you please?'”Cochran said it wasn’t deemed feasible to boost the current Verizon signal, and redirecting the tower serving the Silverthorne area would negatively affect coverage in other areas. So far, companies seem unlikely to invest in bringing service to extremely rural areas. “Cell sites are several millions of dollars and are driven by the number of subscribers using that tower,” Cochran said. For Cochran, it’s a closed door. He doesn’t see many more avenues to incentivize companies from the emergency response side.
But there’s still ongoing work from the economic side, in case Ferguson’s lead doesn’t pan out. Kirk sent another letter to Pam Caskie, executive director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments (NWCCOG). It asked her to include the Lower Blue River Valley as NWCCOG aggregates demand, aiming to increase the appeal of providing service to rural areas. “People who come to the High County come for a lifestyle, but they want the same services (present) where they were living,” Caskie said, adding it’s an economic issue her group is willing to take on because it could mean the difference between rural economic growth and none. “These people have the capacity to own their own business and be an economic force in the region,” she said. “But, they need the same telecommunication resources. Until we have that, we can’t compete for those people” and have them not only bring in money but bring in diversified knowledge. But even after aggregating and presenting the demand, cell companies could opt against providing coverage, Caskie said.
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