By Nadin Abbott
Miriam Raftery also contributed to this report
February 22, 2014 (Deerhorn Valley) -- Deerhorn Valley residents are reporting serious problems with new cell phone service in their area. These issues range from the very serious, including getting disconnected during a 911 call to recurring reception problems.
The latter is not that unusual in the backcountry, but the former is extremely serious. Not being able to call 911 during a medical crisis or accident, or a vet in an animal emergency will cost lives. Recently Circle K Ranch in Deerhorn Valley had a barn burn down after a neighbor was unable to reach 911 on a cell phone.
Now, the Deerhorn Valley Antler reports complaints from three residents about new AT&T Wireless Base service.
“Three residents contacted Antler Alerts saying this service is very unsatisfactory for Deerhorn Valley (where we know cellphone service is always iffy). Most frightening is that actual emergency calls placed to 911 (reporting smoke) did not connect or were dropped,” the Antler reports.
One resident stated that numerous calls to AT&T have failed to resolve the problems after more than two months. A second resident reports difficulty connecting and static. A third resident with similar issues said she did receive a full refund from AT&T. All three complained of frequent loud static and beeps interrupting conversation.
“Evidently there is some issue with an insufficient number of "repeaters" in our area,” said Kim Hamilton, editor of the Antler. “This is a serious safety issue—especially as we continue through this drought and fire season.”
In an e-mail to ECM, she said that AT&T is selling a new wireless home base. "This is a big safety issue for places like Deerhorn, because our cell coverage is very spotty. They disconnect your landline to install it." The issue was "brought to my attention when a neighbor couldn't call 911 to report smoke the morning of the barn fire at Circle J Ranch.," she added. "My elderly neighbor was sold this... has spend untold hours trying to undo it after the 911 failure. Stilll nothing. At one point they told her she could get her landline back, they would transfer her to some department, but the first thing she had to do was answer "YES" to the 5 questions they would ask -It was a recording that was taped, basically keeping her tied into AT&T for the next two years."
East County Magazine contacted AT&T to bring this problem to the company’s attention, but the response was less than reassuring.
Anna Gable, the PR person, answered our questions this way:
“AT&T is proud to be a part of the East County community and is committed to upgrading our 4G LTE wireless network to support our customers’ needs. In fact, last year we turned up seven new sites in East County, which includes the communities of Jamul and Dulzura. These 2013 investments build on the nearly $750 million AT&T invested in its wireless and wired network throughout San Diego from 2010 to 2012. Additionally, AT&T has plans to continue upgrading our service in East County.”
“Through improved technologies and the development of a more dynamic and robust infrastructure in East County, we are dedicated to delivering the fastest, most reliable coverage for our customers.”
A follow-up question from ECM asked pointedly what AT&T plans to do, if anything, to improve service in Deerhorn Valley and Jamul. We noted that this is not the first complaint received and that in the past, another resident blamed AT&T failures for the death of his llama from a rattlesnake bite. That resident lived in an area with no cell reception and his land line as well as Internet service failed due to a power outage, as ECM reported back in 2011. AT&T never responded to inquiries in that incident nor did they provide any explanation for why it took six days to restore service.
As for our inquiries on recent problems, the company failed to provide a timeframe for improving service in the Deerhorn Valley/Jamul areas.
AT&T does not appear to be putting saving lives in this rural area as a priority. So it’s apparent that for now, residents in these communities should keep their land lines.
While failures can occur with either a land line or a cell phone, land lines in our region are typically more reliable. So be sure that at least one of your phones is hard-wired, not wireless. Even in areas with good cell phone reception (and it’s spotty at best in many rural areas), cell phone towers can be knocked off line in a major emergency. For example, during the multi-state blackout, many people found themselves with cell phones that did not work.
Of course, a power failure or wildfire can also knock out electricity, phone or cable lines, so a mobile/cell phone is good as a backup or for when you’re on the road – but not as your sole communication source.
The second reason to keep your land line is because the 911 system can trace location and send emergency responders when your phone is hard-wired. But a cell phone location cannot be seen on the dispatch computer when you call in. So if you get disconnected, or reception is poor, or you can’t get a signal, emergency responders may never reach you.
AT&T should consider putting relay units in faster. A key reason for this is that in case of a major wildfire, the usefulness of the reverse emergency alert system with cell phones will be proportional to how many people have cell phones, who has signed up for the county’s reverse emergency alert system, and how many towers are still up.
This is reason number three to keep that landline. During a regional emergency, a reverse emergency alert system will be able to reach you that much easier. That said, ideally it’s best to have both types of phone service—and to register both land lines and cell phones for emergency alerts.
Here is a handy link for you to register your cell with the county’s emergency alert system: http://www.readysandiego.org/alertsandiego/
You can also sign up for East County Magazine’s Viejas Alerts via email at www.eastcountymagazine.org or follow ViejasAlerts on Twitter for your mobile phone.
Finally, residents in Deerhorn Valley and Jamul can sign up for Antler Alerts specific to their region at http://www.deerhornvalley.net/registerforantle.html .