Tower work means reduced U.S. Cellular service in northern Jackson County

PROSPECT — When you live on the edge of civilization, in the Oregon Cascades, a lot can go wrong.

You might be swallowed by a forest in the summer or buried in snow drifts in the winter.

Still, after years of generally reliable cellphone service, folks up here in cougar country had their feathers ruffled when U.S. Cellular service became eerily irregular earlier this month.

"When cell service goes down, you figure something happened and it will be up tomorrow," said Fred Wickman, who has operated the Historic Prospect Hotel since March of 2005. "Then, all of a sudden, it's weeks later and you can't stay connected. Normally, we just don't have the problems we've had until now."

The problem, apparently, stems from a wireless tower on Flounce Rock above Lost Creek Lake that serves the Upper Rogue region in northern Jackson County.

Erryn Andersen, sales director for U.S. Cellular's Northwest market, said the cell site is shared with a competing wireless carrier, which needed to upgrade its tower. The tower was subsequently taken down temporarily.

"In order to continue to provide service to our customers in the area, we moved our antenna to a temporary site in the area," Andersen said. "This temporary solution has changed our network coverage in Prospect, and local residents unfortunately may have experienced reduced cellphone coverage in the surrounding area during this time. We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused, and we are looking forward to reinstalling our network equipment on the upgraded tower."

While it might answer the general mystery among locals, it doesn't ease their pain.

"I've already lost business because of it," said Robert Abel, an insurance agent who also sells freestanding solar power systems.

He said he can track down phone messages, but he can't call out.

"AT&T doesn't really work up there. Verizon does, but they're using the same tower. Prior to this, we have had good service with U.S. Cellular. My buddy is with Verizon and says his phone works, but mine doesn't."

Both Wickman and Abel complained about the gauntlet they traveled without getting satisfactory answers from their provider.

"I went through the customer service, and like any phone system, you have to go through 45 people to get anybody," Wickman said. "They were projecting they might have it finished by the end of the month, but it wasn't up for evaluation until Nov. 11."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at Edge.

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