Thursday, June 13, 2019

Malibu's Endless Cell Phone Problems - Malibu Magazine

Malibu's Endless Cell Phone Problems - Malibu Magazine

Malibu's Endless Cell Phone Problems - Malibu Magazine

Posted: 13 Jun 2019 03:30 PM PDT

During and after the Woolsey fire, citizens and emergency workers and other professionals struggled with communication challenges. Now, months on, in some isolated areas such as Nicholas Beach along the PCH and mountain and canyon areas, there still is no cell service. Further, there are pocket areas where some citizens consistently experience dropped calls and many Malibuites claim that they experience such frustrations more now than they did before the Woolsey fire.  

According to, a constantly-updated, well-respected industry ratings site that enables a person to check reception in his area, Malibu's area code – 90265 - gets abysmal ratings across all major carriers. Other nearby communities, including Calabasas, Topanga, get equally poor ratings. 

Malibu Magazine drove across Malibu, traveling from Getty Center to County Line and found that, although Sprint had a slight edge in East Malibu, overall, service from all vendors was sporadic. The attached maps were created and indicate red where there was no cell service and only up to one bar, yellow for areas with service between two and three bars and green for areas performing at between three and four bars. Seldom did a vendor's service achieve a 4-bar setting and service fluctuations were experienced using cell phones serviced by all major telecommunications carriers.  

"After the fire, we had dropped calls and no cell phone service at all at times," said Lisa Hall, the school secretary for Our Lady of Malibu School. "The school didn't have service for a few days during the rainy season, which caused serious concerns because staff needed to communicate with parents about early dismissals and other details that one deals with when operating a school."

Clearly, inconsistent cell service is not merely an inconvenience - it presents serious safety issues.  As one attempts to define the ongoing obstacles that Malibu citizens face as they try to obtain consistent cell service, one wonders whether it is really necessary for there to be a digital divide in America such that citizens of Malibu are the victims of information asymmetry?

There are several prefatory principles to understand when figuring out how to define and how to try to solve Malibu's cell phone service problems. First, cell service can be provided via cell towers, or via small cells, often referred to as "nodes" and fiber that are mounted on utility poles.  Alternatively, customers can obtain cell phone service via WiFi and it can even be accessed via satellites. 

Second, cell service coverage – the area that a particular type of communications infrastructure covers - differs from capacity, which is affected by connectivity limitations attributable to the fact that signals to and from a cell tower, or via another internet service mechanism, are only able to carry so much data at any given time.

The Traditional Infrastructure for Cell Phone Service

When people think about how cell phone service works, they often think of cell towers. "Malibu no longer has cell phone towers per se," said Adrian Fernandez, Senior Planner for the City of Malibu. "Verizon had a cell phone tower in the City center, but removed it to make way for the Santa Monica Community College and the company has since placed a temporary pole next to the Malibu Library to provide service."

Hans Laetz has been highly involved in seeking ways to ensure that the cell phone sector is responsive to Malibu's needs. He is very knowledgeable about cell phone vendors using telephone poles for infrastructure because he successfully advocated and convinced the State of California to bring an action before the California Public Utilities Commission against SCE and five co-defendant cell phone companies for their causing the 2007 Malibu Canyon Fire.  

Laetz, who manages KBUU, Malibu's only radio station, has to access consistent cellular and internet service for the station. "Using cell towers in Malibu is not cost effective because one-half of the signals would go out to sea and one-half would go to canyons that are very sparsely populated," He said. "Therefore, companies like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon, as well as others such as Google, utilize the infrastructure established by Crown Castle to put up cell antennas on a series of poles."

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