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News & Press: In the Media

State Wireless Coverage Survey Contradicts FCC Data

Friday, January 18, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jeff Couture

A remedy for Vermont's spotty cell phone coverage is in the works. A new state study aims to highlight the gaps in coverage, possibly bringing federal dollars to fix the state's wireless woes.

Jane English lives surrounded by hills and valleys in North Calais. "Vermont is lumpy," she said, and because of that she gets no cell service. "If I hang out my window and hold my phone just right I get one bar."

At the Calais town offices, Town Clerk Judy Fitch Robert says many residents are frustrated. "We hear from people just about every day," she said. She says it's hard to convince people to move to town without infrastructure. "We've got to have Wi-Fi and cell coverage to keep businesses here, to keep young people here and to be safe, actually."

So while people in town know that they won't have cell coverage everywhere they go, and the state knows they won't have cell coverage everywhere they go, the state says the federal government doesn't know that, and they want to change that.

"We know the truth," said Clay Purvis, the state's telecommunications and connectivity director. "We know that we don't have cell coverage in a lot of areas.

Which is why Purvis says he was angry when he saw the FCC's map saying Vermont was pretty well-covered for cell service. He says, the feds made that map based on data that carriers provided them. At stake is $4.5 billion in federal money that will go to building out wireless broadband nationwide. But whether any of it is used to fix your town's issues, depends on whether the feds think there's a problem there.

"Then if your area is not on the map as being unserved, then you're not eligible for the funding, and so nothing is going to come," Purvis said.

The FCC allowed states to challenge those findings, and so Vermont did. They sent Purvis' team member, Corey Chase, on the road with six phones and had him drive for a month and-a-half this fall. He traveled 6,000+ miles of Vermont roads all over the state, measuring each carrier's download speeds to see if they hit 5 Mbps. What he found proved reports of good coverage were exaggerated or flat-out wrong.

"Carriers asserted they had great cell coverage and we found no cell coverage," Purvis said.

Source: WCAX-TV News