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Searching for service - customers in favor of a new tower

February 01, 2007|by JENNIFER FITCH

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Dale Dermott had just finished lunch when he checked his cell phone at the mountaintop diner.

"I guarantee it doesn't work here," he said.

Sure enough, the black phone displayed "searching for service."

His wife, Janet, watched him fiddle with the device and said, "We usually turn it off up here."

The Waynesboro, Pa., couple knew the Washington Township (Pa.) Supervisors last fall had opened the door to a cellular tower being erected. The zoning ordinance amendment that the supervisors accepted indicates the tower would be a conditional use on municipally owned land, meaning any request would have to go through a hearing and permitting process.

"There's a whole sequence of events that they'd have to do to install a cellular tower on forest conservation land," Township Manager Mike Christopher said.

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While Cingular Wireless (now AT&T) initially contacted the township with the proposal, officials have not heard from any providers since the November vote. Christopher suspects the providers are doing research to develop a thorough presentation in anticipation of supervisors' questions.

"All they got was a right to move forward," Christopher said.

A spokesman for one provider, T-Mobile, said his company has been identifying problem areas by tracking customer complaints and feedback logged at stores.

"We do have trouble with service in that area right now," Wayne Leuck said. T-Mobile doesn't have a partner in the area to piggyback off a tower, he said.

Ricky Pryor of Greencastle, Pa., visits Blue Ridge Summit at least five times a week and has a Nextel phone that usually receives service there. Nextel probably is the only provider with reception, he said.

"I know a lot of people stick with Verizon and Sprint, but I keep hounding them," Pryor said. "I say, 'You don't have service on the mountain. I do.'"

Even though the Sprint and Nextel companies have merged, they remain separate networks, spokesman Jack Pflanz said.

Pflanz said coverage in Blue Ridge Summit is good until customers cross into Maryland. Earlier this month, the company added resources to Tunnel Hill to better service Blue Ridge Summit.

"There are no plans at this time to add more sites in the Pennsylvania area of Blue Ridge Summit," Pflanz wrote in an e-mail. "In-depth testing was done, and no problems were found."

Pryor knows trouble areas with reception - primarily on Pa. 16 from the Washington Township Transfer Station to North South EV Auto Sales - and can anticipate dropped calls while traveling.

Verizon "didn't cut it" when Pryor lived in Laurel, Md., he said.

Janet Dermott also switched from Verizon after fighting to find reception while living on Monterey Circle in Blue Ridge Summit.

"It worked on my back porch and at the firehouse," she said.

The Dermotts said they favor a new tower, even though it would further change the view of the mountain from the valley.

"We need cell phone service. It's not just business; it's everybody," Dale Dermott said. "It's not an optional technology, really."

Although he realizes rural areas will not be a priority for upgrades, Dale Dermott feels they are needed.

"We don't like to drive five miles out of our way for cell service," he said.

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