- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2000

The Federal Communications Commission is inquiring about why cellular-telephone service was omitted from subways in the poorer parts of the District of Columbia and Prince George's County, Md., an FCC spokeswoman said Thursday.

"Right now, we are still trying to learn all the details of this situation," the spokeswoman said. "At face value, it appears to be a private, contractual dispute between Bell Atlantic and Metro."

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that Bell Atlantic Nynex has not provided cellular-telephone service in subway tunnels in the metropolitan area's poorer neighborhoods as it promised in 1995.

The situation, which has sparked outrage among local officials, has raised safety concerns in the wake of an April 20 fire in a tunnel near the Foggy Bottom Metro station. The emergency cell-phone calls made by trapped passengers during that fire would have been impossible to make at stations in poorer areas.

Bell Atlantic Nynex agreed in a 1995 contract to install transmitters in all the tunnels, but the work was stopped amid disagreements with Metro over the project's cost and scope.

Expansion of the subway's cell-phone service stopped in 1997 after service had begun in downtown and in Northwest, in Montgomery County, Md., and in Northern Virginia.

The Blue Line east of the Anacostia River, which was opened in November 1980, and the Green Line in Columbia Heights still have no cell-phone service, The Times has found.

A spokesman for Verizon Wireless, a joint venture involving Bell Atlantic and other cell-phone companies, said Metro caused the dispute and Verizon intends to complete the subway cellular transmitter system.

Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann, however, said Bell Atlantic caused the impasse.

An FCC spokeswoman said Thursday that the commission has received some calls about the service lapse, but no official complaints have been filed.

She said the FCC will request information about the contract and try to determine whether the poorer neighborhoods were intentionally not served.

The FCC regulates the cell-phone industry.

"The FCC always strives to promote the deployment of service to all consumers," the spokeswoman said. "If there is a segment of the marketplace that's being intentionally left behind, it's something that we would be concerned about and would like to see addressed."

In addition, Edward M. Myers, acting chairman of the D.C. Public Service Commission, has said his agency will look into the cell-phone service dispute.

Jim Gerace, vice president of corporate communications for Verizon, said Thursday the company would cooperate with any inquiries made by the FCC or any other regulatory agency.

"If they call, we will tell them what they want to know," he said.

Following The Times' report on Tuesday, Verizon and Metro have resumed negotiations to resume construction of the cell-phone transmitter system. Metro had agreed to pay for installation of the system, while Bell Atlantic has said it would pay for the equipment.

Bell Atlantic and Metro signed agreements in 1993 and 1995 that required Bell Atlantic to pay for a public safety antenna system that would be installed in the subway tunnels and be used by local police and fire departments.

Because of its impasse with Bell Atlantic, Metro decided to spend $2.2 million to install the police and fire antenna system.

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