By Russ and Tiña De Maris
If you’re in Quartzsite, Arizona, you don’t need turkeys or fat guys in red suits to mark the season. Just try and fire up your internet service using one of the largest providers in the area and you’ll know the winter season has arrived. Springtime in the Northwest may be characterized by slow-moving slugs, but winter in Quartzsite is slow-moving internet service.
It’s something we look forward to with dread every year. Spring, summer and fall, our little Verizon “hotspot” delivers typical download speeds of around 12 Mbps, with seemingly blazing 5 or 6 Mbps upload speeds. Even while on the line with Verizon tech reps, our upload speeds were around 3.0, and downloads? A blazing 0.31. That’s not a finger-slip-on-the-key – it’s 0.31 Mbps, slower than the proverbial molasses pour in the dead of a North Dakota January.
If you’re a fulltimer or anyone else who relies on the internet for making a living, and Verizon is your carrier, get ready to go for broke if you plan on wintering in Quartzsite. Last year we faced similar issues, and for a couple of months we got big dollar credits on our Verizon network bill for all the days the tech folks took to try and “figure out” just why so many Verizon customers in the area were calling with gripes about snail-paced service. The best we could get was one tech who told us that it was simple: The network in Quartzsite was overloaded, and that the company really needed to put up at least another tower. This year a technician told us, “To be honest, it doesn’t appear that the company will do anything about the problem, other than just wait for the traffic to go down.”
A few days after our reporting of issues to Verizon about the Quartzsite area, we had occasion to head out to the Los Angeles area. While sitting in a parking lot in Pomona, our speeds were “better” than that in Quartzsite, if you allow that around 2 Mbps download speeds are better. This got us to wondering if maybe we really were suffering from an equipment issue, rather than a network issue. That question was quickly resolved when on the return trip, we stopped in Indio. There our download speeds were better than ten times the speed in the LA area – a roaring 22 Mbps plus.
Prior to the LA trip, we contacted Verizon’s public relations folks for their input. Initially, the company provided this simple statement regarding the Quartzsite speed issue through their lead public relations representative, Jennine Brew:
“Our team is well aware of the annual influx of traffic in Quartzsite during the time period you described. Over the years, we have significantly increased capacity in the area to specifically accommodate this period, capacity that is far beyond what is normal for a town of this size.
“We acknowledge that there’s still room for improvement. In fact, we’ve taken steps that increased capacity for this season and are analyzing further enhancements for 2018.”
Our response to that was that if their “increased capacity” wasn’t cutting it before Thanksgiving, the major wave of cellular users that typically blow in after Christmas would undoubtedly create even more issues then. How about installing an additional temporary cell tower, or COW [cellular on wheels], to handle the increased traffic load? Ms. Brew’s response was that she could arrange for their Network Executive Director to talk about speed issues. We decided to put off publishing the story until after we had a chance to question this executive, and set a date of Tuesday, November 28, for the discussion. That was confirmed again, last Monday.
But alas, on Tuesday, a couple of hours prior to the slated phone interview, along came the word, “Our Network Exec Director had an urgent issue arise so he will not be able to speak with you.” They did throw everyone a bone. Public Relations Director Brew wrote, “I was informed that enhancements will be made to the site over the next few weeks.” As to a temporary cell tower? “It is not out of the question but it is not in the plan as of now.”
When pushed about just what “enhancements” meant, the response probably should have been expected. “The plan is still in development so I can’t delve into further details, but the expectation is that users will have a better experience.” Better than what? We’ll let the users vote on that – “over the next few weeks.” And as to getting a COW or two? “We are using them sparingly for events.” Interestingly, Verizon sent out COWs to three separate locations across the U.S. during last summer’s solar eclipse to cope with increased usage for an event that might have lasted a few days. Compare that to the months-long Quartzsite phenomenon and one begins to wonder just where Verizon’s priorities lie.
Maybe this is an appropriate time to quote Lilly Tomlin’s character, Ernestine the telephone operator from the 60’s comedy, Laugh-In. “We’re the phone company. We don’t care; we don’t have to.” For our own issues, we spent close to a couple of hours on the phone with technical support. After having our calls “escalated” to the next higher authority, when we reached the third level of support and were basically told we were essentially “fresh out of luck” until after the snowbird season diminished, we pressed for a credit on our bill and got a fairly sizable one.
This may be the best way to deal with slow internet performance in Quartzsite, and anywhere else in the country, like Pomona, Calif., as an example, where Verizon (and perhaps other carriers) are simply not keeping the supply up with the demand. Get on the horn, complain long and hard to tech support, and demand, at the least, a substantial refund on the amount you pay. If enough users did it, maybe the cell carriers will get the message. As to a credit on the bill, for some this may be helpful. But if you lose money at work because of connectivity issues, it’s cold comfort.