By: Allen Turner, The News Reporter
Verizon Wireless, acknowledging frustrations of many customers in parts of Columbus County, says it will construct three and perhaps four new cell sites in the county in an attempt to alleviate problems but blamed service disruptions at the Fair Bluff site on an unnamed third-party vendor.
Kate Jay, an Atlanta based Verizon public relations spokesperson, said in an email Wednesday afternoon that new sites in Tabor City and Cerro Gordo are expected to be on the air by the end of this year and that another between Tabor City and Chadbourn is expected in 2020.
“We have heard and understand the concerns and frustrations of our customers in some parts of Columbus County. As a result, we have accelerated plans for several new cell sites in the area,” Jay said.
In addition, a Verizon engineer and a governmental affairs director from Verizon told Rep. Brenden Jones, R-Columbus, this week that a possible fourth site at an unnamed Columbus County location could be established next year.
Verizon’s Columbus County service issues were highlighted in a July 23 story in The News Reporter revealing that Jones received over 2,000 complaints after posting on social media about Verizon’s problems here.
As a result, Jones was able to talk this week with the Verizon engineer and governmental affairs director, who shared with him plans for the new sites in the county. However, Jones said that although he specifically mentioned the ongoing problems at the Fair Bluff site, they didn’t talk about any plans or efforts to resolve the situation there. They told Jones they were “going to look into this area,” he said.
Jay, the public relations spokesperson, blamed the problems in Fair Bluff on fiber (cable) cuts by a third party vendor. “Though the site is operating normally at this time…Our network team is aggressively investigating opportunities for improvement and will take appropriate action as needed,” she wrote in an email.
The News Reporter tried unsuccessfully to reach Jay by phone to ask why Verizon believes the problems in Fair Bluff are because of a third-party vendor, especially since other sites in the county and region don’t appear to be plagued by such cable cuts.
Verizon customers served by the cell site in Fair Bluff have experienced outages several times in the last several months, service disruptions lasting from a few hours to a few days. In some months they have experienced only one outage, but service interruptions have occurred in greater numbers in other months.
Jay acknowledged receipt of an email in which we asked her seven specific questions, but she did not respond to those questions.
“Verizon has built its brand on network reliability,” Jay said, “and when our customers are not getting the network experience they expect from Verizon, we encourage them to contact customer service and open a trouble ticket. These are entered into our system and allow our network team to identify and respond more quickly to potential issues. We will then work with our customers on an individualized basis to find a solution that works best for them.”
Jay did not reply to a specific question about whether Verizon views service interruptions as a safety issue for customers who rely on their cell phones for connectivity to medical and law enforcement first responders. Jones said he intends to continue to stay in contact with Verizon. “They have promised to provide me with further information on the upgrades in Columbus moving forward,” he said. News of planned cell sites in Cerro Gordo, Tabor City and between Tabor City and Chadbourn will likely be well received by Verizon customers who have noted “dead zones” without cell service along parts of U.S. 76 in the Cerro Gordo area and along parts of N.C. 904 between