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Why (And How) The State Measured Cell Service Around Vermont

A row of six phones, each served by a different carrier with a variety of wires.
John Dillon
Six phones, each served by a different carrier, were used in testing done by the Vermont Department of Public Service this fall. The test results were used to challenge claims made by cell carriers about the coverage they provide.

Two state officialsdevised a data collection project this fall to challenge cell carriers' claims that between them they cover virtually the entire state.

All Things Considered host Henry Epp talked to VPR reporter John Dillon about the goal of improving cell service around Vermont, and the MacGyver-like problem solving that went into the state's challenge. 

Listen to their conversation above, and read John Dillon's full story here.

What Cell Carriers Claimed

Six cell phone companies serve the state of Vermont, and they’ve told the Federal Communications Commission that virtually all the state gets good coverage — except for a piece of Essex County in the Northeast Kingdom and pockets of central Vermont in the Green Mountain National Forest.

What The State Did To Test It

When Clay Purvis and Corey Chase, two state officials with the Vermont Department of Public Service, saw the carriers’ coverage maps, they just didn’t believe them. They knew, as everyone who drives around the state knows, dropped calls and dead zones occur throughout Vermont.

The FCC has $4.5 billion available to help the carriers improve coverage to underserved areas nationally. So Purvis and Chase scrambled to challenge the data before the FCC, planning a data collection project involving 6,000 miles behind the wheel of a state-owned Prius and six cell phones (each served by a different carrier) that could conduct download speed tests.

MORE FROM VPR — State Official Went Roaming Around Vermont To Test Cell Coverage Claims [Jan. 16]

What's Next?

Purvis said there were "wide disparities" between what the carriers' coverage maps indicated and the state's test results. Based on this Vermont data, and similar challenges by other states, the FCC has now opened up a national investigation into whether the carriers claims about coverage are true. 

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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