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Jul 15, 2013 4:04 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

ATT Cellphone Customers Say They Are Fed Up With Poor Service

Jul 17, 2013 10:00 AM

East End residents from East Quogue to Amagansett who pay for AT&T cell service shared similar tales of woe this week: stories of dropped calls, delayed messages and poor signals.

Kelly Bush said her father, Gene Bush, who lives in East Quogue, has a heart condition and carries his cellphone with him at all times. But he has trouble receiving a signal at his home, spreading fear among his family members that he will not be able to make a call when an emergency arises.

David Aronstam, a Manhattan attorney who owns a home in Sag Harbor, said the signal for his iPhone5 disappears for stretches along Noyac Road and in other pockets of the village. “On the beaches, forget about it,” he said in a recent interview.

The experience drove him to file a complaint against AT&T with the Federal Communications Commission. “Dealing with AT&T directly is too much frustration,” he explained.

He, like Ms. Bush, said changing carriers is problematic, because they were grandfathered in with unlimited data plans, which are otherwise costly.

Marjorie Oxman, who lives in Remsenburg and has the same carrier, said she is able to receive a signal on her iPhone only in her driveway, despite the AT&T map showing her house as having “good” service. She said she paid $200 for a home microcell, which acts like a miniature cell tower. Still, she said she still experiences dropped calls and does not receive incoming ones. She, too, said she would pay more for unlimited data from another service provider.

Ellen Webner, a public relations representative for AT&T Mobility, would not explain, one way or the other, if the company has coverage issues on the South Fork. She did note, however, that the carrier is working “to upgrade its network for capacity and to bring 4G LTE as quickly as possible.”

Ms. Webner also declined to share the number of towers or cell sites that her company currently has on the East End, stating that the information was not publicly disclosed, and refused to share any details about possible new cell sites that AT&T is seeking to install. “The number of towers does not necessarily mean we have better coverage,” she explained.

Southampton Town records show AT&T having a total of 17 cell sites—some on towers, others on antennas or structures, such as water towers—serving the municipality, as well as two personal communication service sites, which support web browsing.

Clare Vail, a town planner, said AT&T had previously filed an application seeking permission to construct a new 100-foot tower north of the railroad tracks off Butter Lane in Bridgehampton. In May, the Southampton Town Planning Board determined that the proposed tower would have a negative impact on the area for aesthetic reasons. The company now has the option of amending its application or addressing the town’s concerns in a draft environmental impact statement, Ms. Vail said.

She explained that the portion of the code that governs applications for new towers was designed to encourage cell service providers to propose them in specific regions that are more suitable for such a use, such as industrial zones, or to place antennas on existing towers and structures.

Eric Schantz, a senior planner for East Hampton Town, said there is a total of eight cell sites for AT&T throughout his municipality. He and Ms. Vail said both towns frequently receive applications from cell service providers seeking to upgrade their existing cell sites, but Mr. Schantz did not recall any applications to build new towers or install new cell sites in recent years.

Receiving permission to upgrade the technology at existing sites is a relatively easy process, he explained, but it can be difficult to receive permission for a new site. He and Ms. Vail said both towns encourage the companies to place antennas on existing poles whenever possible to reduce the visual impact.

Mr. Schantz said he thinks one reason it is difficult to obtain information on where coverage is good and where it is poor for individual carriers is because the companies fear their competitors will target those areas. “That information is very difficult to get out of carriers and their representatives, if not impossible,” he said.

Southampton Town completed a Wireless Communications Plan in 2007, which includes a service map that shows scattered patches of “good service” inside buildings, with the majority of the town labeled as “fair” or “good” in terms of coverage inside buildings, and “good” along most highways. Only a very small area in North Sea and along the water in Sagaponack were labeled as having “fair” to “spotty” coverage, and no areas were labeled as having “fair” to “no coverage” outdoors.

The plan concluded that of the five commercial cell service providers in the town—AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, Nextel and Verizon—most required additional antennas to improve their coverage, and only AT&T appeared to offer “adequate coverage” throughout the municipality. Ms. Webner also pointed out that the other networks face difficulty in providing complete coverage.

Still, those living or traveling in areas with poor coverage, regardless of what the plans conclude, said they are growing frustrated with the problem. Part of the issue, according to some residents, is the information that some are receiving from their carriers when they call to complain about service.

Michele Meduski, an East Quogue resident who has had AT&T for close to a decade, said she called to complain about the lack of service in her home, and was given a credit to purchase a microcell unit that she could set up in her house. Ms. Meduski, who has two children, Shawn and Shelby, also said the company representative she spoke with told her that AT&T is not willing to invest the funds necessary to upgrade its towers so that they can handle the increase in population in the summer months. “Every year at this time I’ve had this problem,” Ms. Meduski said.

Her children’s friends, meanwhile, have Verizon as their carrier—and have excellent coverage in her home.

Ms. Webner pointed out that there are things AT&T customers can do at home to help improve their service, such as making sure their phones are up to date with the most current software upgrades. She added that the microcells can be effective in enhancing coverage, and noted that she contacted Ms. Bush to explore the option of installing one in her father’s home.

Ms. Webner also explained that AT&T takes steps prior to events that are expected to increase demand on its communications system, such as last month’s U.S. Women’s Open held at Sebonack. In those cases, the company brings in additional equipment called COWs, or cell sites on wheels, that will allow for higher volume, she said.

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Then switch to verizon.
works fine
By ADAMSG (53), EAST QUOGUE on Jul 19, 13 8:13 AM
1 member liked this comment
I have absolutely no problems with AT&T; I live in Southampton.
By AFB (31), NYC/SH on Jul 23, 13 2:17 PM
Not really...I haven't gotten a reliable signal out of Verizon at my home in Southampton--ever.
By Capt. Phil (64), Southampton on Jul 19, 13 1:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
Coverage varies by carrier, but it would be nice if each carrier was required to identify specific spots where its signal was below par IMO. The East End Towns could require this whenever they approve a new cell tower. Also, do the cell phone carriers have Town licenses similar to Cablevision which require renewals every so often? The renewal process if any could also be used to require better information.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 19, 13 2:17 PM
PBR - you state: " The East End Towns could require this whenever they approve a new cell tower. "

This already happens. When ATT or Verizon or whoever comes in for a new cell tower, they tell the Town that they have a gap in their coverage, and therefore need to put in a new tower. There's nothing that requires them to submit this UNTIL they submit an application though.

As for the licensing - it's not the same as Cablevision. Once a cell tower is approved, that's it. The ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 19, 13 2:27 PM
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 19, 13 5:12 PM
The town board has to also stop denying the phone companies from putting up cell towers. I've lost a lot of business this summer because I have spotty cell service in my area. I missed multiple calls because of the poor coverage and then would receive the messages hours later. There is a cell phone chart that indicates the dB level required to support a call. -40 is for excellent service and -100 is completely unsupportive. My phone indicated my service was at -107. I couldn't even get text messages. ...more
By lifesaver (118), speonk on Jul 20, 13 9:25 AM
1 member liked this comment
Show me cell towers in the Town of Southampton that have been denied.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 20, 13 9:40 AM
It's right in the article. Bridgehampton, north of the rail road off Butter Lane. This decision was just this past May.
By lifesaver (118), speonk on Jul 20, 13 11:07 AM
re-read the article. It wasn't denied - the Planning Board simply "Pos Dec'd" the application. It means the applicant has to provide alternatives and/or make changes to their current application to lessen the impacts.

It's virtually impossible to outright deny a cell tower because of the clout the Federal Government and the wireless companies have.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 20, 13 10:31 PM
There is outright denial and death by a thousand cuts. Local government at the prodding of the NIMBYs and the BANANAs have prevented the construction of adequate tower space and are largely responsible for the lousy cell reception in many parts of the town.
By bird (829), Southampton on Jul 21, 13 8:21 AM
I have used Sprint for ten years. Coverage in Wainscott South is poor. Non-existent in the Georgica Association. Parts of Noyac Road west of the Community Bible Church is non-existent.

Local dealers are pushing Verizon as the best carrier for coverage on the east end. Haven't tried it so can's say.
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Jul 20, 13 1:13 PM
Metro PCS was denied last year to put a tower at the Presbyterian Church, there was supposed to be one by the RR tracks in SH and that one I believe was made to shorten the height. I have an unlimited plan as well and was told by an ATT representative my service is throttled "so others can have service too". Seems to me the FCC needs to get after these carriers!!!! Service STINKS!!! Not only do I NOT have service but ATT drains my battery, if I am connected to wifi it doesn't drain it so fast.
By sandydog21 (195), Southampton on Jul 20, 13 2:07 PM
We actually switched from Verizon, great cell service yet horrible customer service, to AT&T. We have not had 1 single problem and I work in Hampton Bays, live in Southampton and go out to East Hampton once a week to clean a house. Never any issues, even on Stephan Hands Path! I am very surprised. When we had Sprint, however, that was total waste of money! Loving AT&T and getting wonderful reception everywhere. The only place my husband doesn't get it is in North Sea by Bridies Path to Majors ...more
By LovedHerTown (132), southampton on Jul 21, 13 5:23 PM
I've had them all over the years and Verizon has the most reliable coverage in the most areas in Eastern Suffolk. None of them are perfect but Verizon has the edge. The FCC website will tell you where all the cell towers are, who owns them and what frequencies they operate on. Once gain, Verizon has the edge out here.

Part of the problem in the summer is that cell towers are overwhelmed and simply can't handle the # of calls or provide the bandwidth they need to support to provide reliable ...more
By Arnold Timer (327), Sag Harbor on Jul 21, 13 7:17 PM
That's not the solution because cell towers don't get denied. The carriers are just slow to put them up because they're really expensive (the rent alone is thousands of dollars per month - not to mention all of the money spent getting it built and maintaining it).

Think about it - would adding more cell towers result in more people having cell phones on the east end? No. So, what's their incentive? More customers? Not really, because generally speaking every tower has antennaes for ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 21, 13 7:44 PM
Nature - Where do you get this nonsense. The town (and village) prodded by the NIMBYs and the BANANAs are constantly battling the phone carriers plans. At the train station, the presbyterian church, north of Bridgehampton, the N Sea fire house… There has been a defacto moratorium on towers for years. Got lousy cell service? The blame belongs with our useless politicians.
By bird (829), Southampton on Jul 21, 13 9:25 PM
3 members liked this comment
Cell tower companies have been battling with municipalities from day one. Wake up nature!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Jul 21, 13 9:43 PM
2 members liked this comment
Ditto to bird and chief1.

BANANA -- that's a new one to me -- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

Remember the days before telephone poles?

Long gone . . .

PS -- Re: Presbyterian Church in Southampton Village, the cell location was not approved ONLY because the provider wanted to change the exterior from wood to plastic for a better signal, as I recall.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 22, 13 6:11 AM
1 member liked this comment
Apparently none of you understand the difference between "approving" and "requiring further environmental review". The Town cannot rubber stamp every application that comes in. There is a state mandated review process (SEQRA) required and that's where the issues on the above mentioned towers come into play.

You really think that a cell tower company should just be able to put one wherever it wants? As I said before the TOWN has not given an outright DENIAL to any cell tower in recent ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 22, 13 7:58 AM
thank you for deciphering bird's acronym BANANA ..he/she was working that nimby & banana comment so hard just BEGGING for acknowledgement.
here are some NUTS to go with bird's BANANA ... Never Underestimate Team Spirit
By david h (405), southampton on Jul 24, 13 8:58 AM
Death by a thousand cuts... Environmental review has become code for "make the paperwork cost so much and take so long they won't be able to do it" and that brings right back to the NIMBYs and the BANANAs. Throw in the NOPEs and the LULUs and nothing can get done.
By bird (829), Southampton on Jul 22, 13 8:27 AM
Ok - so blame your elected state officials for what you believe to be the onerous SEQRA process (which, in actuality is not that complicated or expensive nor does it take significant amounts of time - unless you're disorganized or trying to fool somebody). It has nothing to do with the Planning Board or the ZBA or the Town Board.

If they rubber stamp these proposals without conducting the proper review - it gets tied up in court. The result is a judge requiring them to do the proper review, ...more
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 22, 13 9:20 AM
Just switched from a Samsung Galaxy to an iphone, which I've read has an excellent interior antennae. I have AT&T also and was having these issues. When I told the AT&T representative where I live they gave me two reasons for the poor service: 1. The influx of people out here during this time of the year, and 2. The lack of towers out here. "People just don't want the towers out there", he said. Which is the truth, plain & simple, let's face it, folks! My friend has Verizon and he has the same ...more
By Miss K. (103), East Quogue on Jul 23, 13 8:31 AM
Nassau also has a lot less trees and varied topography which confine signals on the east end
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 23, 13 9:09 AM
I've had too many dropped calls with Verizon in North Sea right off North Sea road .
By 6months (1), jupiter on Jul 23, 13 1:28 PM
i do not have a cell phone. soon all of your brains will be fried. i do not appreciate being bathed in the electromagnetic fields that these things function on. not much i can do about it except place wilhelm reich's orgonite around town and negate where ever possible the deleterious effects. the immaturity of humans is amazing. i watch from my truck as people talk on the phone making one handed turns and texting always looking in their laps fiddling with these things. dinner guests always ...more
By sstorch (49), water milll on Jul 24, 13 6:25 AM
Steve - your claims of fried brains and electrmagentic fields is BS in my opinion. Ospreys routinely (successfully) nest atop these towers (if you think you are being bathed, what word would you describe to birds being incubated and raised literally feet from the receivers?) with no detrimental effets.
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 24, 13 11:29 AM
LOSING MY SIGNAL is the best thing that happens out east.
.. omg no cell signal for my dopey kids on the beach ?? make me puke.
more towers more condos more development everywhere please!! put a massive tower in the pine barrens, put a tower on the golf courses, put a tower in the villages, build a freaking tower farm off the coast !
no eye phone service .. the locals as crybaby as the citiots .
By david h (405), southampton on Jul 24, 13 8:42 AM
Att??? No service in Northwest - lots of dead spots between East Hampton and Bridgehampton. Actually I have never had service at my house.
By margotk (1), East Hampton on Jul 24, 13 9:10 AM
Wainscott and north sea/noyac rd really need some help with cell service
By Lets go mets (377), Southampton on Jul 26, 13 12:22 AM
No att cell phone service or text in springs off 3 mile harbor. Friends with verizon had service in my hone. Was told by ATT that the 2 cell towers in Springs were severely degraded and they would not be doing anything for at least 2 more years- this is after 4 years of complaing. IF you want a bew contract with another conpany you could be stuck with a $200 early term fee so call att, complain and make sure that they put it on your rwcord that u ended contract because of no service so you dont ...more
By Babsp (1), East Hampton on Jul 2, 14 1:27 PM