Verizon cellphone users couldn’t use their phones in wide swaths of Montana last week.
The problem stems from a telecommunications merger in 2010 when AT&T purchased Alltel and its cell towers from Verizon.
As part of the deal, Verizon customers were allowed to continue to roam by using the AT&T cell towers for three years. But when the contract ended on June 22, Verizon didn’t have enough cell towers and its customers were hitting more dead zones.
Even if there is coverage, customers may have to restart their phones and devices to recognize some different cell towers.
As of Tuesday noon, at least 40 customers had called state agencies complaining about their Verizon service. So, the Montana Department of Justice reached an agreement with Verizon. The company agreed to waive customers’ fees, ranging from $175 to $350, for ending their contract early. If customers stay with Verizon, they can apply for other billing or equipment discounts.
Until it can build more cell towers, Verizon is using “COWs,” or cellphone towers on wheels, in rural areas, including in Beaverhead County where officers were policing the Rainbow Family Gathering. Nemont Telephone deployed a mobile cellphone tower in downtown Absarokee to restore service for Verizon customers in that area.
Broadview resident Becky Schilling said she and her husband couldn't use their cellphones for a week. Verizon promised them a $73 rebate, but couldn’t say when service would be restored.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people in a worse place than we are because we kept our land line,” Schilling said.
If you are having coverage problems, call Verizon Technical Support at 888-333-0341. And customers who stick with Verizon can ask for discounts on service contracts or equipment, according to the Consumer Protection Office.