Thousands of Verizon Wireless customers along the southern border from San Diego to El Paso, Texas, have found themselves in the middle of a war between two international wireless companies. In one corner stands Verizon Wireless, and in the other is Altán Redes, the newly arrived wholesale wireless network in Mexico; Both are fighting over the use of the same frequency.
NBC 7 Responds has received dozens of complaints from Verizon customers who all say they have little to no service, whether that’s in or outside their homes.
In August, Mexican-based Altán Redes launched wireless service along the border using the 700 Megahertz band, the same one that Verizon Wireless uses for its customers. As a result customers on both sides of the border began seeing a decreased cell signal, dropped calls and inaccessible data.
NBC 7 first broke the story earlier this month. Since then, however, the two companies have pointed fingers at each other.
“We certainly understand the frustration; unfortunately it is a difficult situation since the interference is being caused by a carrier outside the United States,” said a spokesperson for Verizon. “[O]ur teams are working every possible angle to address this issue. Talks continue with the highest levels of the United States government, and our network team is making regular adjustments to the network to help mitigate the issue in the interim.”
But Altán Redes told NBC 7 that Verizon is to blame for the interference.
“We wish to point out that the situation experienced in the border [was] caused by the activity of the United States’ mobile carriers in the 700 MHz band spectrum interfering on the Mexican side (them radiating service into Mexico), as Altán is not radiating its service signal into U.S. territory,” wrote an Altan Redes representative in a September 26 statement.
Added the spokesperson, “Altán is deploying and operating its network in Mexico in strict compliance with the radiation protocols currently in force between both countries. In any case, the issue is one to be settled between government agencies. Altán will comply – as we are doing today – with any revision of the protocols agreed by the Mexican and U.S. authorities if such revision occurs."
And while the companies each say the governments will have to settle the dispute, a spokesperson for the Federal Communications Commission did not have any updates since NBC 7 first broke the story.
In a letter to United States Senator Ted Cruz, FCC chair Ajit Pai said the U.S. Government had tried to intervene prior to Altán launching service but was unsuccessful. In fact, Altán’s decision caught the FCC by complete surprise.
“[I]t was a shock to learn at the eleventh hour that Altán unilaterally decided to turn on its network at a time and in a manner that would directly and foreseeably cause harmful interference to U.S. cellular carriers and their customers who rely on them on a daily basis,” wrote Chair Pai. “Once we learned of this, we immediately contacted and shared the limited information we had with all domestic carriers potentially affected by Altán’s initiation of service, as well as the State Department.”
Meanwhile, Verizon’s customers, and presumably Altán’s as well, are paying for a service that some find unusable.
Since running our first story, dozens of viewers have contacted NBC 7 Responds with their personal experiences.
“Verizon is known for being a top tier service,” wrote Charles from San Diego. “We pay a nominal price to receive exceptional service. Verizon has failed its customers in every way possible concerning this issue. Verizon is denying that they tried to cover up this problem until they were exposed. Now they really expect to charge customers for service they are not receiving with no fix in sight? Crazy.”
Others, however, fear that the safety of their loved ones may be compromised.
“My mother is 84 and really counts on her cell phone to communicate with the family,” wrote one viewer whose elderly mother lives in Chula Vista. “The reception goes from one bar to two and the quality is very poor. It seems crazy to pay for no service.”
Verizon said in some cases extenders can help customers in areas where reception is spotty, but those usually only work inside the home.
They issued an extender to at least one viewer who contacted NBC 7 Responds for help.
As for others, Verizon is asking customers to contact Customer Service at 800-922-0204.
You can also contact NBC 7 Responds if you are having issues by calling 619-732-NBC7 or clicking here.