By SantivaChronicle Reporter Reese Holiday
Captiva residents, community panel members and emergency services have all experienced unreliable coverage on the island when it comes to Verizon’s cell service.
Dropped calls, or even failing to connect on calls at all, are common in many areas, panel members say, but the problem is more serious than unhappy Verizon customers.
“We have residents who live in The Village, the most populated area of Captiva, who cannot use 911 because Verizon’s service does not work,” panel member David Mintz said. “We’re dealing not just with service that is sporadic or hard to hear, etcetera. We have an emergency situation where people, including the sheriff’s department, are being forced to look for other carriers.”
To start a conversation on the issue, Troy Dunning, the manager of business development and strategic planning at Verizon, led a small team to discuss the issue and potential solutions during a Captiva Community Panel meeting on Tuesday.
The conversation started with discussion of the two macrocells that provide coverage to the island, one of which is located on Wulfert Road by the Sanctuary Golf Club on the north end of Sanibel, and the other on Plantation Road by South Seas on Captiva.
These macrocells are large cell towers than can provide cell coverage for a wide area. However, panel members said those that live less than a mile away from these macrocells experience service just as bad as those that live the farthest away from them.
Once hearing the feedback from the CCP, Verizon representatives said they would have their Radio Frequency Team go to the island to evaluate how those macrocells are performing, then take a look at the additional coverage needs for the area.
The meeting was just an initial discussion on the issue, but a proposed solution by Verizon was to place several small cells across the island to improve coverage.
These cells are smaller than macrocells, providing a smaller area with cell service, but can potentially relieve the issue once the exact problem is figured out.
The Verizon team also proposed placing devices called eFemtos in buildings to improve the coverage within that structure. Dunning explained that these devices connect to an internet router and provide improved cell service for that immediate area.
However, these devices are only provided free of charge to organizations and businesses, not individual homes. With that, the Captiva Fire Department Station received an eFemnto for its building, and Chief Jeff Pawul said coverage within the structure has greatly improved.
Lt. Mike Sawicki, and the rest of the Lee County sheriffs on the island, found their own solution when they switched providers from Verizon to AT&T. Sawicki discussed this change during June’s CCP meeting where he said dropping a call isn’t nearly as common now.
“We’ve switched our guys on the island over to AT&T and it’s working a lot better for us with our mobile data computers and also with our cell phones,” Sawicki said. “There’s still a few spots that are a little dodgy, but we just finally abandoned ship on Verizon for our guys out here.”
Panel members and Verizon representatives agreed that more discussion on this issue needs to occur before any solutions are found. With that, Verizon agreed to join the panel once again for either its August or September meeting with more information on the issue