Will cell service improve?
VAIL, Colorado – Ron Riley started a quest in January that may benefit all of Vail.Riley for years has had cellphone service through AT&T. Over the holidays, Riley missed a number of calls or simply couldn’t get service. He wasn’t alone, of course – peak times in Vail often overwhelm AT&T’s equipment in Vail.Town officials, and the company, are aware of the problems. Ron Braden, the information technology director for the town of Vail, has been working for some time with AT&T officials to beef up the company’s equipment. But progress has been slow.So, after a handful of lengthy phone calls in early January, Riley, owner of Los Amigos and Russell’s Steakhouse in Vail, took matters into his own hands. He placed two full-page and one half-page ads in the Vail Daily.The ads weren’t rantings. Riley said he worked diligently to outline the problems as dispassionately as possible. After outlining the problem as he saw it, the ads asked other AT&T customers in Vail to respond via email.More than 200 people did just that, and were automatically sent a survey that asked about their satisfaction with the company’s service in Vail. Out of that number, 187 questionnaires were returned.The results weren’t good, especially regarding peak tourist times. People who responded to the survey overwhelmingly agreed that service has been affected during peak times. Many said they were considering switching phone companies. And 90 percent said the problem could harm the valley’s economy.Of the 187 returned surveys, 145 took the opportunity to provide specific comments why they believed the peak-period service problems might harm Vail’s economy.”I have had an issue with voicemails not coming through until one or two days after the message is left,” one person wrote.”My business and service level suffers when I can’t get a voicemail till several hours later or even days later,” wrote another.”Given the size of the transactions upon which we work, these issues have the potential to cost me tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a missed call or message,” another message read in part.Riley said he’s heard more comments like those from friends and others. All are worried that Vail’s visitors might be inconvenienced to the point they stop coming.”We’re a resort,” Riley said. “Our customers are some pretty important people.””People who come here expect service,” Braden said. “That’s why the (town) council focuses on it.”Braden said some answers are coming. A new tower has been built near Lionshead, and another has been built at the town’s bus barn east of the main Vail interchange. Again, though, progress is slow. Several companies, from AT&T to Holy Cross Energy, have to coordinate efforts to get the towers functional.Some temporary help came this season, when AT&T put a “COW” – a “cell tower on wheels” – near Lionshead.Braden said he’s confident that AT&T will eventually have enough technology in Vail to handle peak-period traffic.And while Braden’s specialty is working through official channels, he said Riley’s efforts have been helpful.”What he’s doing is good,” Braden said. “He’s really getting their attention.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.