Verizon won’t use CMC Spring Valley tower
Pete Waller recalls his frustration as the former president of the Glenwood Springs Soccer Club not being able to make calls from his cell phone at the Gates Soccer Park on Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus.
It’s a frustration just about anyone who has visited the semi-remote campus south of Glenwood Springs has had since cellular technology became mainstream over the last two decades.
And it’s a major issue for more than 1,000 college students, about 240 of whom live on campus, and 150 or so staff who frequent Spring Valley during the fall and spring semesters.
So, in his capacity as CMC’s director of facilities, Waller began working a few years ago with the college’s information technology director, Jim English, to find a way to improve cell service at Spring Valley.
“This has been a very important project for us,” Waller said. “It’s a huge life-safety issue for our students and staff, and especially with more and more reliance on phones for obtaining data.”
Initially, CMC tried to convince major carriers such as Verizon and AT&T to build a tower of their own on the campus, but to no avail as it was deemed cost prohibitive, Waller said.
The break came when English was skiing at the similarly remote Sunlight Mountain Resort two winters ago and noticed that he had cell service where he hadn’t been able to get it before.
A company called Commnet Wireless, which specializes in bringing microwave-based cell service to underserved rural and remote areas across the Western United States, had arranged with Sunlight to build a cell tower in the ski area parking lot.
So the college began working with Commnet to do the same at Spring Valley. The tower was completed in December on the east end of the campus next to the existing water tank, and AT&T came on line this spring with roaming agreements for Sprint and T-Mobile to operate there as well.
So far, though, the No. 1 carrier for CMC students and staff, Verizon, remains absent from the mix.
When the project began, English said the college did a survey to determine which carriers were most common. Verizon was used by about two-thirds of the survey respondents, while AT&T made up about 20 percent.
At least for now, Verizon is not interested.
“Verizon is committed to a high quality network for our customers to meet the growing demand for data, but this particular situation, locating on Commnet’s site, is not a viable option at this time,” said Meagan Dorsch, regional spokeswoman for Verizon, adding that the reasons are proprietary.
English said he hopes Verizon will eventually recognize the value of expanding to Spring Valley.
One obstacle is that some of the larger carriers prefer fiber optic service to the towers they utilize, rather than using a microwave system. That’s also something the college has looked into, but the cost to run fiber up Garfield County Road 114 for CMC or any of the telecommunications providers would be around $500,000, he said.
“The fact that we actually got a tower up there is a major accomplishment, so we’ll take the successes when we can get them and will continue to try to improve on that,” English said.
Lou Tomasetti, president and CEO for Commnet, which has its regional offices in Castle Rock, explained that it’s up to the carriers whether to sign on.
“We operate the network that covers the campus and provide the roaming agreements, but the carriers can choose to use it however they wish,” Tomasetti said.
English also chairs the Club 20 telecommunications committee, and has been involved with the recent efforts by Garfield and Mesa counties to improve broadband capabilities in the rural areas of western Colorado. He said that, as competition continues to increase, it changes the economics for the larger companies to expand in the market.
CMC has also worked to greatly improve wireless internet capabilities at Spring Valley and its other campuses, he said.
For now, though, cell service at Spring Valley will continue to be limited as students get set to arrive for the start of the fall semester on Aug. 29.
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The Glenwood Springs City Council voted to extend the existing face covering mandate for indoor public-facing spaces within city limits during Thursday night’s meeting.