Metro-East News

Poor AT&T cell service has resulted in dropped 911 calls, Macoupin County sheriff says

The exterior of the Macoupin County Jail and Sheriff's Department.
The exterior of the Macoupin County Jail and Sheriff's Department. Macoupin County Sheriff's Office

Macoupin County residents are increasingly struggling with poor cellphone reception and service, with calls, some to 911, consistently dropping in the area.

Sheriff Shawn Kahl said over the past six to eight months, the cell service in the area, provided by AT&T, has worsened to the point that it has hindered investigations and endangered residents trying to call 911.

Kahl said while he used to be able to talk on the phone in his office, he now has to go outside to take calls. He also cannot talk on the phone in his house in Carlinville, and instead has to "run outside" whenever the sheriff's department or someone else calls him.

"It's gotten worse and worse, and now it's terrible," he said.

AT&T spokesperson Jim Kimberly said the company has had technicians studying the issue in the county — which could be caused by the terrain, building materials and the age of phones used — for more than a week, and was meeting with community members to talk about the problem. AT&T has additional upgrades planned for the area, including new technologies and cell sites, Kimberly said.

Kahl said the problem seems to be county-wide, with everywhere from Staunton to Chesterfield dealing with dropped calls and poor reception. He said he thinks the problem may be due to a limited number of towers in the area and increased amount of cellphones.

"It's just not fair that we pay the same amount as everyone else and our service doesn't work," he said. "They put a disclaimer that cellphones aren't going to work everywhere, but our problem is just that they don't work."

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Kahl said they especially have problems when authorities are trying to find someone and attempt to ping a cellphone, or use cell towers to locate a phone's position.

Kahl said he and others have tried reaching AT&T multiple times about the problem but have not received any solutions.

"They know they have a problem, but they don't care to admit it," he said. "I would be for Verizon coming in and throwing up their towers; we would all switch in a heartbeat ... I think another cellphone company could really benefit in this area."

A Facebook group called 'Macoupin County AT&T Users Forum" has reached about 2,000 members in the past month, with residents discussing dropped calls and low service bars.

"I just know when I pay for something and I pick it up and it works less than 40 percent of the time," Kahl said.

“We are always looking for ways to improve service and the experience for our customers," Kimberly wrote in an email to the BND. "We have additional upgrades planned for the area, including adding new technologies and new cell sites. If customers have questions about their service, we suggest they contact our customer care team at 1-800-331-0500.”

Kaley Johnson: 618-239-2526, @KaleyJohnson6