Phone system in St. Augustine victim of 9/11


Although it’s not likely that they were attacked by terrorists, Nextel customers in St. Augustine found themselves without phone service for most of the day Friday, September 11th.

Sprint, who is still licking its wounds from the August 2005 merger with Nextel Communications Inc., reported to Historic City News that as of yesterday morning, three St. Johns county communications towers used by its Nextel customers were out-of-service.

They remain out-of-service today, causing Nextel subscribers in the area to be unable to make and receive phone calls or use Nextel’s popular “direct connect” walkie talkie feature.

Most Sprint customers on the Sprint PCS network were not affected; that is due largely to the fact that Sprint operates a combination of 2G & 3G wireless networks utilizing CDMA technology. Even though it’s been four years since the merger, “i-phones” used by Nextel subscribers are based on iDEN technology — the technologies are not interchangeable.

Both St. Johns County and the City of St. Augustine have contracts with Nextel to provide wireless service. Many employees who do not receive an issued phone, subscribe to Nextel on their own in order to participate in direct connect calling which is unlimited on most Nextel plans.

Large agencies, like the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office rely heavily on Motorola’s proprietary direct connect technology that was only available from Nextel when it was first introduced. Motorola now makes that technology available to other wireless carriers like Verizon Wireless.

Sprint CEO Dan Hesse recently sat down for an interview with PBS and admitted, “In 20 / 20 hindsight, [the merger with Nextel] was [a bad idea], yes.” Sprint’s gone back and forth on the idea of spinning off Nextel over the past couple years, so it’s not surprising for Hesse to think the Nextel technology merger was a mistake — but to hear Sprint’s CEO actually say out loud that he thinks a very active part of its network shouldn’t have become part of the company is a little unsettling for Nextel subscribers.

The merger was so disastrous with such a complex array of technical problems and customer service issues which ending up costing the company millions of lost customers, that a group of investors, represented by San Diego-based Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP, are pursuing a class-action suit against Sprint Nextel Corp. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Since the Nextel merger, the participants have watched the stock’s price fall from near $20 to below $4 a share today.