By Andrea Cordle
Grove City Editor
R.J. Burns and his family recently moved to Grove City from the north side of Columbus. Although he enjoys many aspects of living in the city, there has been one big issue – a lack of cell phone service.
Burns attended a recent Grove City Council meeting to share his concerns. He told council members that he lives east of Buckeye Parkway and sometimes must drive down to McDowell Road just to make a phone call. Burns said his carrier is AT&T, but he knows others who have Verizon and have reported the same problems.
Councilman Roby Schottke said he has received messages from citizens who have reported their problems with cell phone service throughout Grove City. He has also been told that employees of the communication providers have reportedly told customers that the city is unwilling to put up cell towers.
“We do not put-up cell towers as a city,” said Schottke. “Private businesses do that. Under the federal communications act, the city does not have the jurisdiction over those private companies.”
Councilwoman Christine Houk said she has been in a business in the Town Center for 23 years and has had Verizon as a carrier for that amount of time. She said she had not previously had problems making phone calls until last year. Now, Houk said she has connectivity problems and must go out to the porch just to maintain service.
“We are a region that is growing explosively, and this is another example of where the infrastructure isn’t in place to keep up with the demand,” said the councilwoman.
Todd Hurley, the director of information systems in the city of Grove City, said this is not a new problem.
“It’s nerve wracking and it’s frustrating,” said Hurley.
Hurley said that all the public safety vehicles (police and fire) have cellular connectivity and within that system, the city utilizes a product that puts out a heat map of the city from the vehicles that travel city streets every day. The product, according to Hurley, generates maps to show where coverage is lacking.
“We provided that (information) to AT&T and Verizon to help them understand where there are holes in coverage,” said Hurley. “We’ve been doing that for years. The city is usually told the company will have an engineer come out to review the issue. At times, we are no different than you (the average citizen) calling and complaining to your provider about your coverage.”
Councilman Mark Sigrist said he believes the city has the attention of AT&T and they are planning a meeting with city officials to talk about a location for a tower. He said the solution cannot come soon enough.
“I think there are pockets of frustration across the whole city, including when we have mass gatherings for big events in downtown Grove City,” said Sigrist.
According to Stephen Smith, the law director for the city, under federal law, communication providers can put a tower where they need to regardless of what any government entity may have to say about it. He also said there are companies that will come into a community, do all the mapping, and take control of the sites where towers could go. They then sell spots on the tower to cellular providers. Smith said the city is in the process of setting up a meeting with such a company.
City leaders said this is not just a problem in Grove City; it is a statewide connectivity issue. They suggest residents contact their representatives in Congress for action.
The Messenger reached out to both AT&T and Verizon for comment. A representative from AT&T did respond and said they would look into the issue. Verizon did not respond as of press time.