Spotty AT&T phone service in county

Spotty AT&T phone service in county

By Eric Becker

CARLINVILLE (March 8, 2018) – Imagine being in some sort of trouble, in need of aid, and not able to get through to the proper authorities. Or first responders unable to get pertinent information on a timely basis.

For Macoupin County residents and first responders, they continue to find that cell phone service from provider AT&T has been spotty at best.

The issue began last fall and has progressively gotten worse, according to Gerald Brand of Hornsby, who also serves on the Macoupin/Montgomery Crimestoppers Board.

It’s not just one part of the county that is affected. It’s up and down the vastly rural areas of Macoupin County. It doesn’t matter what type of weather is involved on a particular day.

For Macoupin County Sheriff Shawn Kahl, it has had a negative impact on his department as they are called out to locate a missing person or find the scene of a accident in the rural parts of the county.

The real issue involves where people are going and how the service is spotty in various locations throughout the county. The closer Brand gets to Litchfield, the less trouble with cell service. However, “I go into Gillespie, Benld, Sawyerville, Wilsonville, come up this direction (Carlinville), and it’s terrible. The problem is, we’re getting the run-around.”

According to Jim Kimberly, Director of Corporate Communications for AT&T Global Media Relations in Arlington Heights, the company is aware of issues in Macoupin County.

“We’re aware of the issues in Macoupin County and continue to work to improve service for customers in the area,” Kimberly said. “We are constantly investing in our network and have invested nearly $3 billion in our Illinois wireless and wired networks during 2014 to 2016. In the last two years, we have made more than 1,100 wireless network upgrades in Illinois, including in Macoupin County.”

Despite numerous calls to AT&T customer service center, they eventually sent Brand to the top executive of the technical service department and got an admission of sorts.

“Finally, I got them to admit what towers are working in this area,” Brand said. “The only AT&T tower that is actively working – I was told this by them – is behind Mac’s Fire and Safety in Litchfield.”

The rest of the towers, the representative told Brand, are “degraded.”

“I felt so bad for all these people complaining – I’m a guy who’s all about fair play and honesty – and everybody’s getting the run-around, “Brand said.

But according to Kimberly, this is not accurate. “I spoke to our network folks and this is not true,” Kimberly said of the towers being deemed degraded and only one working tower in the area.

Brand charted and kept old text messages from his dealings with AT&T, back from Oct. 21.

The first text he received stated that AT&T was unable to locate any network related issues.

Oct. 24, he was sent a message, with a case number with a response date of Oct. 25. Oct. 26 came and he didn’t hear back, so Brand contacted them again, getting the same message as before, stating they were unable to locate any network related issues.

On Halloween, they sent Brand a text saying that the tech issues were still being investigated.

“They’re lying to us – they’re not actually looking after us,” Brand said.

On Nov. 1, after posting the issues on the AT&T Facebook page, the social media team sent a text message, stating they will contact him to further discuss.

Nov. 6, AT&T said in a text that coverage is limited at the location reported.

On Nov. 7, while outdoors in downtown Gillespie, Brand sent AT&T a photo of his phone showing no service.

Nov. 10, while in Gillespie on Main St. in front of the bank, he missed three calls during a period that he was talking to someone.

While driving back to Litchfield, his phone went off stating he had missed three calls.

After filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), on Nov. 21 he received a letter from AT&T.

Again, the letter reiterated that network issues were not found in the questioned area, adding that service won’t work in all areas at all times as indicated in the Terms and Conditions of Service.

Brand just wants something to be done because not having service at critical times is not a good situation.

While on Main Street in Benld, while between chores, he texted ahead of the next appointment he had. It took eight minutes for the text to get through.

“It’s extremely serious is what this is,” Brand said. “I would say 90 percent of the county has AT&T. It’s almost all AT&T.”

Kahl reported service hasn’t been good for a while. Even his home cell phone doesn’t get good service, as he has to step outside to make a call.

“With myself and my cell phone, I can’t talk in this office, I have to go outside to talk,” Kahl said. “At home, I have to go outside my house to talk.”

Kahl said with the deputies, the problem with cell phone service is pretty much county wide. He has made numerous complaints to AT&T as well, both as an individual and on behalf of the sheriff’s department.

“With all the money we pay for them, we’re not getting the service we deserve,” Kahl said. “It doesn’t seem like anybody cares.”

Not having all available technological resources available can hinder what law enforcement is doing in keeping the community safer.

“To me, it’s critical for law  enforcement to have cell phones,” Kahl said. “For a lot of people, that’s their only means of communication. If that don’t work, how are you suppose to call 9-1-1?”

It’s just not about talking on the cell phone for the sheriff’s department. When locating a missing person or finding an accident scene in a rural part of the county, it’s a tough situation.

“If we decide to ping a phone to locate somebody because they are threatening suicide or are missing, they can tell you that the phone is within 7,000 meters which is almost four miles,” Kahl said. “A four-mile radius is what we have to try and search.”

Another frustrating part in doing investigations, Kahl said, is trying to get anything out of the cell phone records.

“It’s hard to get anything out of these cell phone records because the towers are so far apart, and they don’t work,” Kahl said. “The information you are given is within a two-three mile radius. That doesn’t help us with our investigation. It makes it virtually impossible to do an investigation through cell phone records.”

During an ATV accident call in the county late last year, the phone service wasn’t good and the call was dropping, so they weren’t getting all of the critical information.

“They were able to call the phone back and we were able to get to them,” Kahl said. “Now they moved everybody up to the house and we had an address. But where the crash happened, we weren’t exactly sure where it happened because it was out in the middle of nowhere. But that was an instance where I felt that cell phones weren’t working that great.”

Some areas in the county don’t have any cell phone service at all, which isn’t good if certain incidents occur in one of those locations.

“I understand they aren’t going to cover everything,” Kahl said of cell phone companies. “But when you’re right in the middle of town and you can’t get service, you have a problem. It’s sad. I don’t understand it.”

State Senator Andy Manar (Bunker Hill) is also a lifelong resident of Macoupin County and understands the frustration that residents are facing.

“AT&T says it’s spending billions to build out its infrastructure around the country, but we’re not seeing evidence of that purported effort here in Macoupin County,” Manar said. “In recent years, I have successfully worked with AT&T to address coverage issues in several rural communities in the 48th District. Now AT&T needs to get the job done for everyone. My message is simple: Stop treating rural America as if we are second-class citizens and start investing in us.”