The Rogers Peak cellular site has been something of a ‘saga’ over the years. For a very long time, the valley below was blanketed by great analog service provided by Western Wireless, which later became Alltel. Unfortunately, sometime in 2011, this site was taken offline. Who made this decision, and why this decision was made is still not clear. The result however, is a complete loss of cellular coverage in the valley below, as well as the surrounding areas.
The location of all antennas on top of Rogers Peak is shown below.
Current State of Affairs
AT&T and Commnet have both filed applications in the past with the FCC to add a site at Rogers Peak to their respective cellular licenses. However, despite the site being added to both licenses as a listed location (at separate times), the site has now been removed from both.
AT&T also funded a comprehensive study about the feasibility of building a new tower structure on top of Rogers Peak in 2013. In 2014, this study was completed. It is unclear what became of all of this research, or where the stumbling block actually was that prevented deployment of the site. I reached out to AT&T for any information, and have not received a response. The full report can be viewed here. (This report was sourced via a FOIA request from the National Park Service.) Whatever happened, as previously stated, the site is no longer listed in AT&T’s license.
There is no documentation available from the FCC records that gives any indication to what happened to the site Commnet applied to deploy, nor whether it was utilizing existing infrastructure on the mountain, or a new structure. The only information I was able to receive from my FOIA request was that there was a cost estimate provided by the NPS for the option of deploying a new “lite-site” adjacent to the existing structures. The cost estimated to complete just the environmental impact survey was around $175,000. Considering that the site could fit well within the already-developed land area on top of the peak, this seems astronomical and unreasonable, and may have contributed to Commnet dropping plans for the site. I imagine that cost is more than the entire site itself should typically cost to deploy.
What has become clear is that the former equipment deployed by Western Wireless is either unused or removed. Given that an AMPS base station typically consumes more power than a newer digital base station, there should be no logical barrier to a carrier coming in and leasing the space formerly occupied by Alltel, and using the former antenna mounting position(s) used by Alltel. This may force a carrier into using an omni antenna instead of sectorized panels, however Commnet is already using omni antennas on the new Stovepipe Wells site that was just erected, so this doesn’t seem to be that great of an issue. Also, Commnet is already using satellite backhaul on their two deployed sites within the park, so transport also shouldn’t be an issue.
No matter the reasoning, the loss of the Rogers Peak site has dealt a serious blow to public safety and convenience within the park. There is no telling how many emergencies may come up in the future that could be averted by having a means of communication. Death Valley is known for tourists coming in unprepared, and sometimes not living long enough to leave because of their lack of planning. Cellular communication may be the difference between life and death in these cases. While I do not feel that there is enough information on the table to pass judgement, given the extremely high cost quoted for an environmental survey on top of the peak, it appears that the NPS is making it rather difficult for a carrier to come in and provide service from this location.
The NPS has (thankfully) started the process to fix this issue and modernize the site at the top of Rogers Peak. You can see the page dedicated to the process here. AT&T does have plans included with this project to add a site (inside of a new shelter), which would finally restore service to much of the park that has been without since the old site went down.