The new cell tower at George J. Mitchell Field on Harpswell Neck hosts one carrier, AT&T, and at least one national carrier says it will not install equipment on the tower. (REBECCA NORDEN-BRIGHT PHOTO)
Verizon says it will not install equipment on the new cell tower at Mitchell Field, in a blow to Harpswell customers eager to see their reception improve. Nearly six months after AT&T activated its equipment at the site, it remains the only carrier there, with no timeline to add more.
AT&T customers in Harpswell say their service has improved with the new site, while customers of other carriers remain frustrated by dropped calls and poor connections.
In a June 28 email response to an inquiry from the Anchor, a Verizon spokesperson said the carrier does not see a need to join the Harpswell tower.
“Our network engineers have confirmed our network is running as designed in the Harpswell area to handle the needs of our customers,” Communications Manager Chris Serico said in the email. “With that in mind, we do not currently require an extra site at this time.”
Verizon is the largest wireless phone company in the country. Its more than 140 million customers include many Harpswell residents.
Verizon customer Dorothy David is building a home less than a mile from Mitchell Field and plans to move to Harpswell permanently in September. On her property, she can make calls and send texts, but has difficulty sending photos, connecting to the internet and using GPS.
“We have thought about switching to AT&T. I’d hate to do it just because it’s a pain, and I really like Verizon,” David said. “My brother-in-law has AT&T and I’ve noticed that when we’ve traveled with him, we would have service on our Verizon and he would not have service on AT&T.”
“I’m an over-25-year customer with Verizon. I’d rather not switch,” David added.
David was disappointed to learn of Verizon’s decision about the Harpswell tower.
“If necessary, we would be willing to switch carriers to get cell service,” David said.
Brenda Barter, a longtime Verizon customer who lives on Harpswell Neck, switched to AT&T in May after giving up on her hope that Verizon would join the new tower.
“I’d been with Verizon forever, probably 20 years,” Barter said, despite consistent dissatisfaction with the reception. “The reception is much better since I switched,” she added. “I get full 5G service.”
Serico, the Verizon spokesperson, said that “Verizon constantly invests in our network to deliver our customers the quality experience they expect and deserve.”
Verizon “uses a balanced approach to engineering the best possible network, given each local community’s needs,” Serico said in an email. “As part of this process, our engineers study existing data traffic and anticipated need to determine placement for small cells. We work over a significant period of time with each city and follow all applicable laws, including local requirements, to build and strengthen America’s most reliable network.”
Kelsey Evans, an AT&T customer who lives on Orr’s Island, said her reception has greatly improved since AT&T’s Mitchell Field site went online.
“Prior to it being built, I think I sometimes got one to two bars if … standing in the right spot in the house, but it was very spotty and temporary,” Evans said. “Now I consistently get two or more bars anywhere in the house, which makes calls pretty reliable.”
Evans said she was used to relying on Wi-Fi in place of cellular reception, so it was a “pleasant surprise” when she discovered that she had reception in her home.
Margaret Mayo, an AT&T customer who lives in South Harpswell, said that she has seen an obvious difference in service.
“It is better,” Mayo said. “I can have my phone outside of the house, like if I’m in the yard, and I can make a cellphone call or try to find a webpage with a lot less difficulty than I ever did before the tower was activated.”
“We’re definitely happy and we’re happy that we have AT&T because we have heard from other people that don’t have AT&T that they wish that their provider would put something on the tower,” Mayo added.
Serico, the spokesperson for Verizon, declined to say if or when Verizon might reconsider its decision on the Harpswell tower.
“We’re constantly evaluating and planning regional network strategy for future network expansion,” Serico said in an email. “That said, for competitive reasons, we’re unable to comment on future build plans beyond what we’ve publicly announced or filed.”
A spokesperson for U.S. Cellular did not directly answer a question about whether the carrier would join the new tower.
“At UScellular our top priority is providing an excellent wireless experience for our customers,” said Tabatha McKay, area vice president and general manager for UScellular in New England, in an email response to an inquiry from the Anchor. “Our 4G LTE cell site in Harpswell currently provides strong coverage for our customers in the towns of Harpswell and Brunswick and along Routes 24 and 123 in the area.”
“We regularly monitor our network to make continuous improvements, and we always look for opportunities to enhance our network services,” McKay said.
The town of Harpswell leases the tower site to Blue Sky Towers, the owner of the tower. Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said the town does not have information about when or if more carriers will join the tower.
“It seems like people are making decisions knowing that AT&T is up there at the moment and we don’t have a timeline for when other carriers may come on,” Eiane said. “The company that owns the tower, Blue Sky Towers, is actively seeking carriers and they will keep us informed when that happens, when a new one wants to come on.”
Construction on the 199-foot tower began in June 2021 at the site of a former water tower near the entrance to Mitchell Field. Blue Sky paid the town $35,000 upon completion of the tower and $22,200 for the first year of its lease, an amount that will increase by 2% each year. Under its agreement with the town, Blue Sky will pay another $35,000 each time it sublets space on the tower to another nationwide carrier.
Several attempts to arrange an interview with a Blue Sky representative were unsuccessful.
Eiane encourages residents to contact their carrier and ask them to join the Harpswell tower. A spokesperson for Verizon encouraged customers to call the company’s customer service line, 800-VERIZON, if experiencing issues with reception.