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AT&T gets stronger signal than Verizon off Shores cell tower


The Indian River Shores cell tower – which took more than a contentious decade to put in place – has not been a silver-bullet solution to spotty Verizon reception in the town.

Town officials, residents and the public safety department have noticed the difference between AT&T service and Verizon since Verizon joined AT&T on the tower last summer, with AT&T’s signal coming in stronger.

Verizon was the first provider to execute a lease, incurring payments for nearly a year while technical and equipment delays dragged out the timeline. Verizon occupies the coveted top spot on the 115-foot “monopine” stealth tower, a position that is supposed to be the best in terms of signal strength and coverage distance.

AT&T signed its contract second and occupies the next-highest spot on the tower but moved much faster getting transmission equipment installed to begin testing its live signal in September 2018.

Public Safety Chief Rich Rosell, like many Shores residents, did not wait around for Verizon to play catch-up. When he had the chance, Rosell switched his department to AT&T’s service.

“We switched to AT&T over a year ago for our digital communications (mobile data terminals). No issues at all. On the Verizon side, nothing but complaints about the service. It seems to drift in and out,” said Rosell, who still endures unreliable Verizon service on his personal cellphone.

“Yesterday I was 100 feet from the tower and only had two bars. The signal does not even extend to the north end of John’s Island,” Rosell added.

When the controversial cell tower was proposed and designed, town officials and tower contractor Datapath touted the prospect of “full-bars” coverage in the Shores as being worth building a tower next to some of the town’s most exclusive luxury residential communities. But some say Verizon’s signal has gotten worse in parts of town since it went live on the tower.

One resident of Bermuda Bay, less than a quarter mile from the tower, reported that during a recent Comcast outage last week he could not use his Verizon Internet hotspot – which works fine throughout Vero and elsewhere – inside his home to access the web. The puzzling thing about this, he said, is that he purchased the mobile hotspot last year as Hurricane Dorian approached Florida and it worked great inside the concrete-block home.

Complaints like these prompted a discussion at the January Shores Town Council meeting, leading to direction by the council for Town Manager Joe Griffin to seek a solution.

Griffin said the service issues are not isolated to one neighborhood. “I get sporadic complaints – it seems to be from all over, not one particular area,” he said.

Vice Mayor Bob Auwaerter said after the January meeting that he hoped Verizon could come back and make technical adjustments to improve service, but that he was not sure if there was anything in the lease with Verizon that could force the provider to do anything. The town’s rights under the contract and how best to put pressure on Verizon are both being researched.

While getting Verizon to fix the issue is the obvious best-case scenario, Griffin has been exploring other options as well, including the idea of building a smaller support tower in the north end of town on private property near Old Winter Beach Road. But that project appears to be a non-starter for various reasons.

For one thing, a second Shores tower is not likely to entice Verizon to buy in, according to Curt Jones, CEO of Datapath Tower.

“The carriers only have so much dollars to put into new sites and have to prioritize which ones provide the best return. Most are touting 5G and upgrading large cities,” Jones told Griffin in a Feb. 4 email. “Verizon Wireless already has a site to the north at Sea Oaks so they wouldn’t be interested.”

Mike Korpar, general manager of the John’s Island Property Owner’s Association, said his residents, too, have noticed the distinct difference between the solid AT&T service and the spotty Verizon service within the John’s Island community, but with the time and money invested in the existing tower near Town Hall, and Verizon occupying that tower’s prime spot on top, Korpar believes the priority should be to make Verizon figure out how to get its equipment working to meet the town’s expectations.