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Dickinson's interrupted cellphone service not an isolated incident

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With the recent cellular phone reception issues seemingly solved in Dickinson, customers are talking, texting and browsing away.

But lingering in the airwaves is the question of when another booster-driven disturbance might creep up.

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The region might not be alone in its troubles with privately used signal enhancers, but western North Dakota is a sort of mecca for booster issues, said AT&T spokesman Alex Carey.

"We have had a lot of issues in western North Dakota," Carey said. "We've also had issues at different times all across the country, but the Oil Patch region is certainly where many of our complaints have come."

Also called bi-directional amplifiers, boosters and repeaters are devices used to enhance the signal of an electronic device. The problem: The rules for the use of such devices are largely unclear and they can at times cause interference for potentially thousands of cellular customers, as happened in Dickinson last week.

"If customers are identified with these boosters that are causing interference, they are asked to turn them off because they are causing problems on our network," Carey said. "If they refuse to turn them off, usually they would be told that is an FCC violation to keep the device in operation."

The question of how a booster user would know if their device is causing wide-range outages remains largely unanswered. The Federal Communications Commission is looking into the situation and will release new findings for the regulation of signal boosters, according to FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield.

"The FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2011 and those results will be released in the future," Wigfield said.

Carey said a booster-caused interference episode recently occurred with another carrier in upstate New York. In August, a malfunctioning private booster in an apartment in Miami caused an interference problem that lasted for 48 hours, according to a letter sent last month from AT&T attorney William Roughton Jr. to the FCC.

As part of a memo on the FCC website pertaining to the rulemaking process, the federal commission describes boosters as holding "great promise to improve wireless coverage" while "malfunctioning and improperly designed or installed signal boosters can interfere with wireless networks and cause interference to a range of communication services, including emergency and 911 calls."

Boosters can be obtained at a variety of electronic and cellular carrier outlets and can be easily purchased off the Internet.

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Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
(701) 456-1207
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