Verizon cell phones stopped working across Prince of Wales Island in early February, leaving residents in the dark until 4G comes online. But it’s unclear if or when that will happen — and now, a retailer for a Verizon rival is looking at the problem as an opportunity for growth.
Verizon had spotty service across much of Prince of Wales Island, especially Craig and Klawock. But since the provider shut down its 3G networks, customers were left without any service at all. And Verizon hasn’t said when or if it’ll restore service to the island.
Taylor Barrett is the associate director for Prime Communications, the largest AT&T authorized retailer. He said his company is looking at sending representatives from Ketchikan over to help anyone interested switch to AT&T, which has a 4G network on the island.
Whether or not the trip happens is based on how much community interest there is in making the switch.
“If we can get some good traction with the people on Prince of Wales wanting us to come out, then we would expense that out in order to go out and support everybody,” Barrett explained. “And, you know, one ferry ticket for us versus, you know, however many for everybody that needs to switch service sounds like a better deal anyway.”
Barrett said that if the plan goes through, representatives from the AT&T store in Ketchikan would probably head to Craig and set up tables at the local fire department or grocery store.
“People can come down and they can come and switch their service, we can order phones for them, or if their phones are unlocked — which a lot of Verizon phones are — we can just set them up with a SIM card, and then they’ll be able to get service out there instead of just being left with nothing, wondering what they’re going to do,” Barrett said.
Kathyrn Milton is a Thorne Bay resident who said she was left confused and without a reliable way to make calls and texts when the shutdown happened.
She traveled to Ketchikan to sign up with AT&T in late February. Though she said service is strong in Craig and Klawock, Milton noted her new provider doesn’t work as well in Thorne Bay as Verizon did. But she said it’s a relief to know she was connected again.
“It works, I’m able to make calls,” she said. “When I go inside buildings it looks like that service kind of really drops, but least I’m not kind of stranded anymore.”
Milton also noted that she gets reception from the Inter-Island Ferry Authority boat when it’s in Kasaan Bay, which she didn’t with Verizon. But making calls is tough inside Thorne Bay’s school, and she’s without connection between communities on the island.
But Milton was left bothered by the surprise drop from Verizon, and even more bothered by what she considers a lack of transparency from her former provider.
“It made me feel completely undervalued, unvalued,” she said.
Now, she said she doesn’t know if she can trust any business that offers service to the island.
“Living here is a big experience of you know, living in a place that’s hard to get to that has a low population so it’s a low priority for companies,” Milton explained.
“I do not trust that other companies that come here won’t let their service degrade,” Milton wrote in a message to KRBD.
Milton said she doesn’t know how many island residents would make the switch to AT&T. She thinks some might consider another network that uses AT&T towers, like Cricket.
A representative for Verizon didn’t return a message from KRBD on Tuesday. The Verizon 3G shutdown affected other communities in Alaska, too, like those on the North Slope, and in Juneau, Kodiak and Unalaska.
Raegan Miller is a Report for America corps member for KRBD. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one. Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution at KRBD.org/donate.