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AT&T hopes for better foothill coverage through challenged merger

Residents wary of more data, less competition
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A cell phone company is hoping to bring improved service to the foothills, but some local residents are wary about the change. Lane Kasselman, spokesman for AT&T, said the company is hoping to mitigate two issues that cell phone users face, coverage and capacity, with a merger with T-Mobile USA. Kasselman said in the Auburn and surrounding area, this will let them more than double the number of cell sites they have, adding about a dozen new sites. Recently the company finished constructing a 78-foot monopine cell tower off Borland Avenue in the city of Auburn. Kasselman said brand new infrastructure takes about two years to build in California, but the merger could bring T-Mobile customers into the AT&T network and provide its current customers with greater coverage in a few months. At the end of August, the United States Department of Justice filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T to block the $39 billion merger. “We feel the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile would result in tens of millions of consumers across the U.S. facing higher prices, fewer choices, and lower quality products for wireless services,” said James Cole, deputy attorney general, at the time the lawsuit was filed. Kasselman said the Federal Communications Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission are currently investigating the potential merger to make sure it is in the “public interest of Californians.” Kasselman said in the next couple of weeks there will be more meetings about the lawsuit with a more exact timeline of how long the process will take. “This is not unusual, an antitrust investigation, for a suit like this to occur, and we are optimistic,” he said. “It’s a delay in the process. We don’t know yet how long of a delay, but we are hopeful it will be a fairly short one.” An answer about the merger could come as soon as early next year, Kasselman said. If the merger were to not go through, Kasselman said the company would continue have to re-evaluate how to best provide service in the foothill area. “At this point our plan to improve those coverage issues is the acquisition of T-Mobile,” he said. Part of providing better coverage is to ready the area for 4G and 4GLTE coverage in the future, which would allow much faster data usage capabilities for things like downloading movies and songs. Currently most residents in the area have 3G coverage, according to Kasselman. Using an analogy, Kasselman said 3G runs about 2-5 miles per hour, 4G is expected to run about 6 mph and 4G LTE would run about 20-40 mph initially. 4GLTE coverage is still being constructed. Auburn resident Cori Mulliken, 34, who lives on Foresthill Avenue, said she is a Verizon customer and doesn’t have good service in her house. “I certainly don’t get cell service in my house,” Mulliken said. “I have to sit outside. During the summer it’s fine, but I guess in the winter I will be wishing for more cell towers.” Mulliken said she knows a lot of people use their cell phones as their main lines now, but she doesn’t think increasing even more what people can do on their phones is a good idea. “As far as the 4G, 3G thing, honestly I don’t really care,” she said. “It’s just going to increase solitude and loneliness. We are forgetting how to communicate one on one and that is just going to lead to complete loneliness I think.” Foresthill Avenue resident Dorothy Lasken said she and her family are Verizon cell phone customers, but have AT&T for their land line and Internet. Lasken said her cell phone coverage is really shakey in her home and usually clears up when she gets outside. Lasken’s daughter Elianna, 23, said their Internet goes down frequently in their home. Elianna Lasken said although she doesn’t use data on her phone, it sounds like a good idea for more local residents to be able to have more data capabilities. However, Elianna said she didn’t really like the idea of the merger. “I feel uncomfortable about them getting even bigger,” she said. “I think they need more competition because right now they can kind of do whatever they want and it’s like, ‘Too bad, who are you going to go to?’” Elianna Lasken said she does know some of her coworkers who try to use data on their phones. “I have heard them kind of grumble about the coverage before,” she said. “I know one girl in particular, she is always trying to go on the Internet, but it’s really slow.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com