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Verizon and Charter Spectrum communications services came back online intermittently in Chaffee County Tuesday, July 3, and improved overnight following an extended service outage.

Company officials reported that technicians repaired a fiber optic line damaged by the Spring Creek Fire and that the flames did not harm a microwave tower that was previously thought to be damaged.

Prior to the restoration of service, Chaffee County Sheriff John Spezze called the loss of communication services an unacceptable safety risk during the county commissioners’ meeting Tuesday.

“People can’t call 911 from a Verizon phone or from Charter Spectrum,” said Spezze. “Regular 911 is working fine, but we can’t notify people with Verizon phones. They are supposed to roll over to AT&T, but it doesn’t work. (I think) competition is the issue – AT&T won’t agree.”

This is the third time in a year that Chaffee County has lost service with Verizon. The outage coincides with the large volume of tourists that have descended upon the Upper Arkansas Valley for the Fourth of July week.

“So 911 is supposed to have priority routing over other calls when the system is busy,” said Chaffee County Commissioner Keith Baker. “They say it’s working, but they won’t run tests when the cable is down.”

“We can get some texts through, but it’s slow,” said Spezze. “You think it’s working and then it quits. Nothing has changed at the county center, just the ability of Verizon customers to call in. About all we can do right now is notify people via public phone, and there is a risk to safety.”

Commissioners asked why Verizon didn’t have somebody out working on the outage. Spezze replied that Verizon started repair work on Sunday (nearly 48 hours after the outage first began). “There’s no
redundancy in the system.”

But they have to lease redundant routing,” said Baker. “It’s a separate agreement, if paid for.”

“It’s killing businesses and a huge safety issue,” said Spezze.

“We’ve had three interruptions in a year,” said Commissioner Dave Potts. “Why not go to
AT&T? What kind of control do we have?”

“Service reliability with AT&T isn’t what it used to be,” said Chaffee County Director of Administration Bob Christiansen.

“If this happened in Denver, it would not be acceptable,” said Spezze. “The tower near the Search and Rescue Building isn’t a tower, it’s a repeater. The tower on (Mt.) Princeton is failing.”

He expressed concern over the outage in the face of growing fire danger. “The (U.S.) Forest Service says conditions are extreme. You can’t discharge weapons in a forest because of the Forest Service Stage 2 fire conditions, and 70 percent of people here have cell phones only – no land lines.”

Editor’s Note: The Chaffee County Sheriff’s Department says, should cell outages occur again,  use a land line to report a 911 emergency.