LEWISTON —  When local AT&T workers recently flipped the switches turning on mobile broadband for their cell phone customers across much of central Maine, they left a hole in downtown Lewiston and Auburn.

But don’t take it personally, AT&T Spokeswoman Kate MacKinnon said Monday. It’s a glitch at a cell site atop a Park Street building.

“We hope to have it remedied in a few days, knock on wood,” she said. “We are still working on it.”

When the work is complete, the company hopes to blanket new areas with so-called “3G” wireless coverage. They include cities such as Lewiston, Auburn, Augusta, Waterville and Bangor and small towns such as Poland, Durham, Greene, Sabattus, Litchfield, Monmouth Bowdoin and Bowdoinham.

In all, more than two dozen cell sites were included, MacKinnon said.

For AT&T customers, particularly those using data-hungry smartphones such as Blackberries, Androids and iPhones, it’s a big change.

Robert Snape of Bowdoin was shocked before Christmas when the 3G logo appeared in the top right corner of his new iPhone, which was frustratingly slow while using the standard cell signal for the Internet.

“It makes me not want to throw my iPhone 4 across the room,” Snape said. “It’s superfast.”

It’s a luxury that seems overdue, he said, especially since other carriers, including Sprint, Verizon and U.S. Cellular, have been offering mobile broadband coverage here for at least a year. T-Mobile’s 3G coverage reaches the Portland area but no farther north.

The advances seem to be following cell phones’ first expansion, when the signals grew out of the cities and suddenly seemed to work in rural areas with relatively few people. Today, most cell phones offer voice service in most places.

Data seems to be the second wave. With many people now using phones for surfing the Web or sending e-mail or using Internet-based applications or apps, phone companies had to get better at sending data quickly.

U.S. Cellular Spokesman Eric Conlon compared the change to 3G or “third generation” speeds to changing how your computer is hooked to the Internet. Dial-up connections were eclipsed by DSL and cable modems, which eclipsed the older technology by making it possible for people to quickly browse the Web, listen to music or watch TV over the Internet.

Devices like Blackberries or Android-based phones or iPhones similarly demand fast data.

“It’s huge, and it’s not just business customers anymore,” Conlon said. “I use mine to check my fantasy football scores.”

AT&T has seen similar growth, in large part due to its exclusive deal with Apple, the maker of the iPhone. Since its launch in 2007, the iPhone has worked only on AT&T.

Nationally, the demand for data among AT&T customers has risen by 1,000 percent in three years, MacKinnon said.

That may be changing. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and others have reported that Apple and AT&T’s deal is ending, and a new agreement will soon be announced for Verizon to sell its own version of the iPhone. However, none of the companies involved have confirmed the change.

For now, MacKinnon hopes the final Lewiston site will change over to 3G and the pleas from customers will end.

MacKinnon has chatted with many on Facebook and Twitter.

“Personally, this is one of my favorite network enhancements,” she said.

Snape said he is just happy to travel around central Maine and use his new phone as it was intended.

“I couldn’t use the Internet without it,” he said.

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