Cell service still lacking in Belleville

PARKERSBURG – Nearly three years after a tornado touched down in Belleville and concerns over a lack of cell towers in that area were raised, the lack of cell towers still remains a problem.

Wood County officials said a smaller population, a valley surrounded by hills and a general lack of interest by cell tower providers has made it impossible to get the needed tower or towers to serve the Belleville area in the years since that tornado on Sept. 17, 2010.

Following the 2010 storm and tornado, Wood County commissioners met with Belleville residents about problems and concerns, and one of the issues raised repeatedly and which remains a point of concern is the lack of cell service.

Christina Smith, who lives in the Belleville area, said residents are still plagued by a lack of cell service.

“We still have no service. You can go to the top of hills in some places and get some service. There are certain spots that have service from existing towers. There are residents who have offered their land for a tower to be built because we believe it’s that crucial for the area,” Smith said.

“The residents listed the need for cell towers in the area, but the problem is getting a cell tower provider to locate there. We’ve been in contact with them several times, but they are just not willing to do it,” said Wood County Commission President Wayne Dunn.

“It’s commerce – supply and demand – if there’s not a demand, they are not going to build it. It’s not really a government issue,” Commissioner Steve Gainer said.

“It has been frustrating for us, but it’s really a private industry matter. The players are the carriers, and until they see a need, they are not going to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a cell tower. We can’t even get them to agree to co-locate on a tower even if the county built one. You have to have a carrier commit, and we’ve never been able to get that commitment,” said Commissioner Blair Couch.

“There were state funds available for the towers themselves. I contacted carriers. There were two possible locations, but we couldn’t get them lined up. We couldn’t get commitments on both. Then the carrier wasn’t returning my calls and later said they didn’t want to commit. That continued on for several months,” Dunn said.

The West Virginia Wireless Tower Assistance Fund is a program that enables counties to apply to the state for funds to build new towers.

“In the end it turned out they said they were going to lose money on it. Roads were needed to lead to it, equipment, upkeep and the revenue from those towers comes from highway traffic and it just wasn’t dense enough in the area to make it pay,” Dunn said.

“The terrain is also hilly, and we were told even with two towers, there would still be a lot of residents who still wouldn’t be able to get cell service,” Dunn said. “And if there was another tornado, there still wouldn’t be service anyway. The bottom line is the carrier said it was too expensive, there just wasn’t the population to justify it, the terrain is a problem and there just isn’t enough financial incentive for them to go ahead with it.”

Dunn said he has continued the quest and has been in contact with Frontier Communications.

“Now they have come into the picture, and we talked to them, but I think they are all in the same boat. We keep trying, we have made a serious effort to have a dialogue with Frontier, but I see no reason to think it will turn out any different,” Dunn said.

The commission president noted some residents now can sometimes get service on a tower across the river.

“The residents don’t seem to understand the cell tower companies won’t come in unless there is adequate population for the revenue, and they won’t do it. The fire departments had communication during the storms, using their two-way radios. Even if it were financially feasible, there’s still the terrain. I have a place in Pettyville, about four miles from town, and I don’t have cell phone service there either,” Gainer said.

Wood County Emergency Services Director Ed Hupp aid it’s always a problem nowadays when cell service is not available.

“But the emergency services mobile command unit uses an amplifier and we are able to have some type of service. But if the service is weak, or there is none at all, the amplifier is no help,” Hupp said.

The 2010 storm caused one death and widespread property damage.