Steamboat Springs A spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless said this week that additional capacity for her company's cell phone customers in Routt County will be in place within 30 days or less.
A second cell phone antenna site is under construction at Colorado Mountain College and should be ready before the end of June, Debra Havins said. Verizon has also decided to accelerate the advent of digital phone service for local customers, Havins added.
"Not only will it be an additional site, but it will be digital," Havins said. "Digital represents the opportunity to have expanded services, digital results in better call quality and better battery life."
The digital network is also able to handle many more minutes of traffic without the "blocking," which at times has interrupted service here, Havins said.
Verizon acknowledged in March that the sheer volume of calls in Steamboat was resulting in periods when customers could not place and receive calls the company's single analog cell site wasn't able to handle the calls. Havins said her company takes those problems seriously.
"Verizon Wireless has really put a stake in the ground when the network isn't operating properly," the company is determined to take the steps necessary to correct it, she said.
Havins said that when Verizon acquired CommNet Cellular, and then AirTouch, it realized Steamboat was among its rural markets that were growing and needed upgrades to its network.
But it wasn't quite prepared for the pace of that growth in call volume, Havins said.
Steamboat experienced 95-percent growth in call volume in 1998-1999, Havins said. The local market followed that year with 72-percent growth in 1999-2000.
Verizon's cellular phone service is sold locally by Cameron Communications. Cameron acts as a representative of Verizon and isn't responsible for the maintenance and operation of the network, Cameron general manager Ron O'Herron said.
Problems with service interruptions here have quieted down since the winter tourism season ended, he said.
Lisa Mick, who told Steamboat Today in late March that she had grown very dissatisfied with her Verizon Service, said she's noticed an improvement this spring.
"It still has its moments, but it has gotten better," Mick said. "I'm not as frustrated as I was."
Havins said the influx of tourists in Colorado ski towns does play a role in the growth of call volume. She said the company was better prepared for that growth in ski towns along the Interstate 70 corridor such as Vail.
Verizon has been attempting to build the additional cell site in Steamboat for more than 18 months. Its efforts were held in abeyance for a period of months while the city of Steamboat Springs drafted regulations that would allow it to plan carefully for future applications for new antenna sites from other telecommunications companies. The city wanted to make certain that its regulations were updated to be fair to all of the companies and to minimize the proliferation of antennas in the community.
Verizon's site at Colorado Mountain College is planned to be unobtrusive it will include a shed and a series of antennae on the side of Bogue Hall painted to blend in with the building.
The plan is to attach them under the eaves of the roof line so they won't be discernible from a distance.
In addition to making the the new cell site capable of handling digital traffic, Verizon will retrofit the existing cell site atop Storm Peak with digital equipment, Havins said.
Customers will still be able to use their analog phones when the improvements are complete, she said.
O'Herron said that since October 2000, a high percentage of the phones sold by his store in Steamboat have been phones that are digitally capable. Customers are attracted to the additional features they offer, he said.