- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2000

Bell Atlantic Nynex has not provided cellular telephone service in subway tunnels in the District of Columbia's and Prince George's County's (Md.) poorest neighborhoods as it promised in 1995, documents obtained by The Washington Times show.
The situation presents a safety hazard in that the emergency cell-phone calls made by passengers during last month's tunnel fire near the Foggy Bottom Metro station would have been impossible to make at stations in poorer areas.
Metro, whose procedures allow workers to try to put out fires before calling the city fire department, did not contact firefighters until 15 minutes after the April 20 blaze was spotted. Passengers trapped in the tunnel and passers-by on the street above made the first reports to the D.C. fire department.
"When you need to use it, you have to have it," said Sandre Norwood, 24, of Largo, Md., who travels the subway from the Addison Road station to his job at Friendship Heights. "This area is underserved. I guess it's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil."
Bell Atlantic and Metro agreed in contracts in 1993 and 1995 to expand cell-phone service to the entire subway system by 1998.
But expansion of the subway's cell-phone service stopped in 1997 after service had begun in downtown and Northwest Washington, Montgomery County, Md., and Northern Virginia. Asked about the gaps in service, a spokeswoman for the cellular-phone firm told The Times the company had fulfilled the requirements of the contract.
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.
The cell-phone system that was to be installed throughout the subway system by Dec. 31, 1998, was to include antennas for emergency service radios for police and fire departments in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Metro must provide antennas for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department's radio system, according to a 1976 agreement with the fire department.
However, because Bell Atlantic did not provide the antenna system, Metro must spend $2.2 million to install the public safety antenna system itself.
"In 1993, Bell Atlantic planned for the installation to go through the entire system," said Metro spokesman Ray Feldmann. "The fire department work the antennae were going to be done along with that. Most of the work was completed, and for some reason Bell Atlantic stopped providing the [antenna] cable."
Mr. Feldmann said the contract required Bell Atlantic to spend $4 million on the system and, when the money ran out, it was up to the phone company to decide whether to extend service throughout the system. He said he did not know why the poorer neighborhoods were excluded.
"We would love to see the cell-phone network completed. We are continuing to have discussion with Bell Atlantic about that," Mr. Feldmann said. "It is ultimately their decision to invest the money."
Bell Atlantic Nynex formed a joint venture with three other cellular companies in April to form Verizon Wireless, which provides nationwide cell-phone services.
Sherri Cunningham, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, said she did not know why certain places around the District do not have cell-phone service. She said, however, the company has completed 85 percent of the cellular systems on Metro and possibly could fund the completion in the future.
"We are constantly evaluating the network," she said, adding that the company "fulfilled the terms of our contract" for the public safety antenna system.
Meanwhile, Metro riders in the area's less affluent neighborhoods remain frustrated and worried about their lack of cell-phone service.
"Suppose this train caught on fire," said Deborah Smith, 46, of Northeast after she got off a subway train at the Addison Road Station. "You could not contact anyone."
"What if something happened where we needed to call the fire department or the police?" said Bondell McShay, 37, of Northeast. "We couldn't do anything to help ourselves.
"It is just a part of the neighborhood they feel that it is not necessary. But we need it, too," Mr. McShay added while riding home on the subway from his job in Oakton.
Documents show that Bell Atlantic agreed to provide $4 million worth of equipment to install cell-phone antennas and Metro workers were to install the equipment. But work was never begun in areas east of the Anacostia, or in Columbia Heights and Fort Totten.
Confidential Metro documents estimated the Bell Atlantic project would make about $1.8 million per year, of which Metro would get 20 percent, or about $360,000, a year.
There was a lot of fanfare when the system was first set up in April 1994. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, who made the first underground phone call, said the project was a "logical marriage" between transportation and telecommunications.
Because of Bell Atlantic's investment, Metro gave the company an exclusive contract in 1993 to provide cell-phone service inside the tunnels.
The original Metro-Bell Atlantic contract called for the installation of cell-phone service in subway tunnels in downtown Washington, Rosslyn and Crystal City.
The contract was amended in March 1995 to include all subway tunnels and stations, including the extension to Franconia-Springfield on the Blue Line and the Green Line from U Street to Greenbelt, both of which were under construction at the time. They have never had cell-phone service provided.
That agreement did not include extending the cellular system on the Green Line from Anacostia to Branch Avenue, which is now under construction.

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