Herald Journal Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 1, 2002

Winsted cell phone users bemoan their service woes

By Julie Yurek

Many in the Winsted area would agree that cell phone service is something to be desired.

Chronic complaints have been noted by the Winsted City Council, apparently caused by the location of Winsted and Lester Prairie, which are wedged between metro and non-metro calling areas for many service providers.

The city itself experiences trouble using cell phones, including the police department.

As a result, the City of Winsted recently asked several cell phone service providers to put up an antenna in the city to help combat the poor service coverage.

Out of the companies contacted, only one, VoiceStream, was willing to assist the city, said City Administrator Brent Mareck.

This antenna is scheduled to be erected on the Winsted water tower in April or May, for the benefit of VoiceStream customers only.

Improved service from other carriers is unlikely anytime soon, since erecting additional antennas may draw reception away from metro callers, who would be billed for roaming in their own backyards, much the same as Winsted and Lester Prairie callers are now.

Roaming is calling outside of the local service area, which is typically a much higher rate for most providers.

Howard Lake and other cities along the Highway 12 corridor have less problems since cell phone companies appear to follow major highways, Mayor Don Guggemos said.

Winsted is not covered by Verizon Wireless, but it is by Sprint PCS.

Midwest Wireless did not return phone calls and available phone numbers for AT&T were directed to sales or customer service centers that had no knowledge of the topic.

"Winsted is not in a Verizon Wireless network footprint," said Verizon Wireless Public Relations Manager Karen Smith.

"However, Howard Lake is," she added.

In order to even purchase a Verizon Wireless cell phone, the billing address must be in an area that is included in the network.

"A person from Winsted or Lester Prairie could have a Verizon cell phone if the billing address is Howard Lake or any other area network, like the Twin Cities," Smith said.

The phone may or may not work in Winsted and Lester Prairie, she said.

"If someone from either Winsted or Lester Prairie has a Verizon phone through the workplace in the cities, then the phone would be in the extended network, which means it would be roaming at the customer's home on our preferred network providers that we have agreements with," Smith stated.

It would be possible for that phone to pick up a signal from a company not included in Verizon's agreement, she said. "The person would then be charged under that company's roaming fee."

"Winsted is outside of our licensed metropolitan statistical area (MSA)," Smith said. "When the Federal Communication Committee (FCC) originally granted its licenses to wireless carries, they granted them to either MSAs or rural service areas (RSA)."

Sprint PCS is another cell phone service provider, but on a nationwide level.

Anytime a customer is on Sprint PCS's network anywhere in the country, there is never a roaming charge.

"We cover 85 percent of the population throughout the country," said Jared Fratello of Sprint PCS. "We cover most major interstates and highways."

"Winsted is digitally covered," Fratello said. "Sprint PCS considers Winsted as a part of the Minneapolis metropolitan area."

"If a customer is in a no-signal area, the phone switches to analog or off the network, which means they are roaming," Fratello said.

"Even if we don't have a tower in a city, the phone will still have service, it will just be roaming. It's up to that customer whether or not to use the phone during that time," he said.

"A cell phone provider can either cut the customer off completely in non-coverage areas, or be like Sprint PCS and provide service everywhere, but it's up to the customer if he or she wants to use the phone in non-coverage areas," Fratello added.

More towers will be coming to the area in the next six months, Fratello stated. Where he meant by "area" is unclear.

Midwest Wireless had not returned phone calls as of press time.

As for AT&T, many different phone numbers were attempted, however the only contact was with sales and customer service representative who had no access to any public relations/corporate numbers or cell phone service coverage information.

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