For those AT&T wireless customers who experienced crappy cell-phone reception in the Carmel Valley area early last year, we now know the culprit: Hotel mogul and newspaper publisher Douglas Manchester.
During the last few years, Manchester has accumulated an impressive record of above-the-law behavior. Voice of San Diego discovered that Manchester had ignored the permitting process when he installed an antique-car museum at U-T San Diego's Mission Valley headquarters. The San Diego Reader found that Manchester also installed a helipad at his five-star resort, the Grand Del Mar, without bothering to apply for permits.
Now we can add federal telecommunications regulations to the list of rules Manchester doesn't think apply to him. ---
Federal Communications Commission records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show Manchester played a two-month cat-and-mouse game with AT&T representatives and FCC enforcers who sought to shut down two unlicensed cell-phone-signal boosters installed on Manchester's property.
In January 2011, AT&T began noticing interference with cellular service in Carmel Valley. After about two weeks, AT&T technicians traced the source to an office at the Grand Del Mar and Manchester's nearby personal residence. AT&T contacted the Grand Del Mar's IT director, who admitted that "bi-directional amplifiers" (BDAs) had been installed at both locations and said they would be turned off.
According the records, the devices were installed to improve Manchester's Verizon reception. Federal regulations require private citizens to go through a formal process through their service providers before installing cellular-signal boosters.
Manchester, who was in the process of selling his bay-front hotel, the Manchester Grand Hyatt, for $570 million, didn't keep the BDAs off for long. At the end of February, AT&T contacted the FCC field office to complain that Manchester had begun firing up the boosters on the weekends, again producing interference.
The FCC agreed to investigate and initiate the formal warning process. Two weeks later, Manchester tried a new technique, tuning the BDAs to a slightly different frequency.
FCC field operatives went out and verified the interference, both at Manchester's home residence and the Manchester Financial Group office at the Grand Del Mar. The investigators tried to call up to Manchester's house using the intercom at the gate, but there was no answer. They phoned the Grand Del Mar's IT manager on his desk phone and cell phone, and, again, no answer.
The next day, an FCC investigator tried again to contact the manager, calling at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. No one picked up, and no one returned their messages. AT&T's calls to the Grand Del Mar called were also met with silence.
Meanwhile, the interference continued for three more days.
On March 14, a different Grand Del Mar manager called the FCC and agreed to turn off the BDAs, adding that a few days would be needed for a contractor to turn them off.
Four days later, AT&T reported that the BDAs had finally been shut off. The FCC also sent out warning letters to Manchester threatening him with fines and imprisonment if he continued.
"I am writing in response to the letter issued from the FCC regarding the unlicensed operation of the BDA at both the Manchester Residence and the Manchester Financial Group office, both locations in Carmel Valley," Manchester's development manager wrote in an April 12, 2011, email. (The author's name was redacted, but Perry Dealy is well-known to hold that title.) "We have since discontinued use of both amplifiers. AT&T is aware of this and has confirmed we are no longer inferring [sic] with their signal."
The case was closed on April 15, 2011.
Props to Dave Rice at the Reader for reporting the basics of the complaints in October.