Can you hear me now? Testing the state of cellphone coverage in Vermont

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Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 2:47 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 18, 2022 at 4:20 PM EDT
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BERLIN, Vt. (WCAX) - You don’t have to drive far in Vermont to lose cell service. So, starting this week, the state is on a mission to pinpoint locations with little or no service.

It’s just a five-minute drive outside Vermont’s capital city before cell service becomes spotty.

“I often would have to drive 4 miles into Montpelier to get service or up to the other end of Berlin where the hospital gets service,” Erica Hare said.

Hare lives in rural Berlin off Route 12. The main road lacks stable service and it worsens as you go into the neighborhood.

She says they had to install fiber to their home for safety purposes and to feel connected.

“By the time we drive down the driveway-- this just happened yesterday-- the cellphone will ring but I can’t hear the person and they can’t hear me,” Hare said.

Situations like Hare’s are common in Vermont, especially for drivers just passing through.

The Department of Public Service would like to see more cellphone connections in Vermont’s future. So VTrans drivers are traveling 6,500 miles of Vermont road for the next three months with six phones in tow.

“This is a good opportunity to do some ground truthing and really find out where services are very helpful to Vermont residents,” said Clay Purvis of the Vermont Department of Public Service.

Each phone is hooked up with a different carrier, like Verizon and AT&T. The speed test is conducted using an app called Ookla Wind, which measures the ability to successfully make a phone call and complete a download. The Department of Public Service says they anticipate completing half a million speed tests.

Just a few minutes outside of Montpelier, the cellphones start having service problems. All six phones still go through with their calls, but most of them lose service and the calls fail.

“Each handset records the results for that carrier. And once the results are recorded, we’ll extract all the information from the cellphones, and Ookla will analyze that information and make different colored hexagons,” explained Corey Chase of the Vermont Department of Public Service.

In 2018, Chase drove the state by himself to demonstrate that FCC coverage maps were inconsistent with what Vermonters experienced.

This current drive test was established as the governor proposed funding for 100 cell towers in the state. The Legislature didn’t take the proposal for the cell towers but the state felt the drive test was still a worthy endeavor to understand where to prioritize coverage.

“There’s kind of a ready-baked plan that they can pull off the shelf and decide to fund it if that’s of interest,” Purvis said.

The state hopes the results from the drive tests will help with municipal planning and help Vermonters know what carriers work best in their area. They also plan to share the data with the FCC and the carriers.

You can submit your own data, too. The state is encouraging Vermonters to download Ookla’s Speedtest app and run a speed test in the comfort of their own home and neighborhood, not on the road while driving. Click here for more on the testing and how you can help.

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