Dropped calls are all the talk

Visitors and residents frustrated
Mon, 09/08/2014 - 4:02pm

Not even the dropped calls could stop the talk about cell phone coverage — or the lack thereof — on the island this summer.

Though digital services might be slow year round, the summer population swell —from 1,000 to 20,000 at its peak— makes connecting through voice or the Internet frustrating.

Bill McKernan, a member of the Block Island Residents Association’s Telecom Task Force, said that both the cell phone and the internet issue have been building for a while, and that the main issue is a lack of bandwidth. Verizon, which is the main provider for the island, told town representatives that the issue is similar to other resort locations that have population spikes, McKernan said. There is simply not enough capacity, as the only connection to the mainland towers is through microwave antennae.

“Everybody is vying for available bandwidth,” McKernan said.

Though the microwave capacity was increased earlier this summer, and cables and wires repaired, reception is distance-sensitive. The hope is that fiber optics will be installed in the Deepwater Wind project transmission cable and then serviced by a provider. This would fix both the cell phone and the Internet issues. In the meantime, McKernan said, the town is looking into hiring other providers to provide more microwave links.

Island residents and tourists alike commiserated with one another via The Block Island Times’ social media platforms.

AT&T seemed to be the main offender, at least based on social media responses. Many people commented that they had never had issues with the provider in years past but that this summer, for some reason, the service was particularly bad.

Here’s a sampling out of the large number of comments we received when we solicited them on our Facebook page:

Jessica Dugan Willi: I haven’t been able to hold a call in 3 months.

Sharon Sayler Magner: We just returned from a week-long visit. The service was awful: dropped calls and difficult to send/receive texts. We visit frequently and this is the first year we encountered awful cell service with AT&T.

Erin Meskill: I have never had any issues with service in all the years I have been going out there until this year. I have had AT&T forever. My calls were constantly dropped this summer and internet connection was slow to non-existent.

Amy Lynn Clark: Yes, two weeks out there, consistent trouble and unreliable service thru AT&T. Previous years it wasn’t a problem, but this year was horrible

People had more of a mixed reaction to Verizon’s service.

Nancy O’Connell Jones: We have Verizon. We’re at the very north end at Sachem Pond. No service. Sometimes calls, sometimes texts, no Internet. Not good at all!

Debbie McIntyre: We were on the boat at Payne’s Marina and used Verizon on the phone and iPad (3G) with no problem at all.

Sandra Harris Romano: Never had a problem with our Verizon service on the island.

Jessica Fischburg: We have Verizon and live down in Franklin Swamp. No cell service. Our internet is painfully slow unless you wake up super early. We have no choice but to disconnect when we come out to the island!

T-Mobile Senior Communications Manager Scott Goldberg issued a statement:

“Our engineering team recently addressed an issue we became aware of and has now improved service quality on the island.”

Verizon Public Relations Representative Michael Murphy said, “In late May we announced the initial availability of our new XLTE network, and Block Island was one of the first places in New England to receive this investment and upgrade. Deploying XLTE to Block Island more than doubled the existing 4G LTE capacity of our wireless network on Island. Another added benefit is that it also delivers faster peak data speeds than 4G LTE.”

“We’re constantly evaluating opportunities to enhance our network across the country. As we have in the past, we continue to explore ways to further improve coverage and capacity on Block Island,” Murphy added.

A representative for AT&T, Kate MacKinnon, said, “Our construction crews are working to correct an issue impacting wireless service for some AT&T customers on Block Island, R.I.  We apologize for any inconvenience and look forward to improving service as soon as possible.”

And, of course, no matter the carrier, location was a major factor. Several people said they lived or stayed on Dunn Cartway on the West Side and had little or no service. In fact, the West Side in general was labeled a problem area. Even those who lived on roads close to town or the cell tower, like Beach Avenue or Ocean Avenue, said they experienced difficulties. Many people also said that the beach was, surprisingly, perhaps the best area for reception.

Chuck Nicol: No service on west side this week.

Victoria Tambini LoBrutto: My family has Verizon. Stayed this year on Dunn off of West Side. Able to text but DSL very, very slow. No cell service. Service much better downtown and at the beach.

Ardys Guenther Filippone: Westside Road. No wireless service ever. Have to travel toward Tearoom to get any service.

Sarah Holever: I have Sprint and I had very little signal at the cottage, but great reception on the beach and in town.

Carla Berrigan Pittarelli: I have Sprint and had no service at all anywhere except at the beach. Very frustrating when you want to make a call or are expecting one!

The lack of service was frustrating for both vacationing families and business people who were trying to complete work while on the island.

Jennifer Lee O’Brien: I was on island the 12th - 23rd and had constant problems with calls, texts and Internet access. The other families were having problems also. It was very frustrating for sure.

Ali Sinicrope: I had perfect service one moment and nothing the next. Very frustrating while keeping up with the family on vacation!

Gretchen Willis: First two weeks of August were very difficult. Three important conference calls and each call dropped multiple times. AT&T customer for many years. Never had these problems before. Don’t even get me started on Internet service.

Victoria Tambini LoBrutto: I was on the island for two weeks in July. Stayed on Dunn Town Road off of West Side. We have Verizon and service was practically non-existent. My husband needed to complete some work and I was trying to update web pages I manage. Only had service downtown. Even the shop owners were having difficulties.

Erich Twachtman: Horrible. AT&T is the worst on the island. My wife has Verizon and I use her phone if I need to make an important call for work... although some people did not seem to mind as much.

Andrea Newhouse: I am always thankful there is such a beautiful simple place as Block Island where the Internet is not a factor of life and we can be free of the chains of technology.

Allison Carley: West side from Champlain’s, all the way round to Fresh Pond not a chance of stability for text, email or phone calls... But ultimately, I’m ok with it. I come out to shut off and not make plans. Even with my dear friends on the island. I like to leave it up to fate.

Cheryl Burns: Yes, I have AT&T and yes, I had dropped calls when we were there earlier this month, I just put the phone in the drawer and went to the beach.

McKernan said that in today’s world, connectivity is key to a healthy economy. It’s important for all facets of the community, including the school, Medical Center, library, local businesses and tourism.

“The bottom line is that you’ve got to have fast connections,” McKernan said.