Verizon pushes for small cell installations in Dillon
DILLON — Residents and visitors in Dillon may soon be seeing improved coverage for their cell service and data needs in the near future as the town considers the installation of new small cell towers around town.
Representatives with Verizon Wireless were in attendance at the Dillon Town Council workshop earlier this week to pitch officials and staff on a proposal to set up new small cell technology in public right of ways at two or three locations around town. According to Verizon, the move would help to fill in coverage gaps and expand their network’s capacity for managing data traffic.
“The data tasks on phones are really increasing dramatically,” said Andrew Cole with Verizon. “Those trends are why we need to add small cells. … When we look at those data tasks on the phones, it’s like a highway. When you have a lot of folks on the highway it gets clogged. That’s what’s going on with our networks. Adding small cells is like adding new lanes, and adding new on- and off-ramps so that those data tasks get where they need to be.”
Cole pointed to figures from recent mobile data traffic forecasts — including recent reports published by major communications companies like Cisco and Ericsson — to help provide insight on the rapid growth of data usage over recent years, and the necessity for major cell carriers to push for more widespread small cell technology to keep up with demand.
According to the Ericsson Mobility Report from June 2019, global mobile data usage grew 82% between quarter one in 2018 and quarter one in 2019. The same report estimates that the average usage of data traffic per smartphone in North America is expected to grow from 7 gigabytes per month in 2018 to 39 per month in 2024. For large-scale carriers like Verizon, entering into agreements with municipalities like Dillon is key to meeting that demand.
“The FCC came out with an order in 2018 that sets parameters for when and how local jurisdictions can regulate adding small cells to the public right of way,” said Cole, referring to a measure implemented in Sept. 2018 meant to remove barriers that inhibit the deployment of necessary 5G infrastructure — including limiting application fees, limiting when a municipality can prohibit an installation and establishing new shot clocks for local governments to rule on applications.
“We have traditionally built our equipment within agreements with both public and private entities, and we do that one by one,” Cole continued. “The idea is that when we start to roll out small cells in the volume that we’re looking at to be able to keep up with those trends, it will be difficult to negotiate those one by one. That FCC order set the regulatory environment to facilitate how the wireless carriers can work with jurisdictions to place those small cells in the public right of way.”
Verizon identified a few potential locations for small site poles in town, including on the corner of Lake Dillon Drive near the post office and along LaBonte Street next to the tennis courts.
Any installations would either be inconspicuously built onto existing structures like traffic lights, or would be built into new freestanding poles. Cole said the equipment would be 4G technology, but would later facilitate the transition to 5G as well.
The recent FCC rollback on regulations does allow local jurisdictions to provide guidance on aesthetics. That means that Dillon would have some say in terms of how high the poles would be built and what they’d look like.
While federal regulations do leave some measure of local control, those regulations need to be codified before the town receives an application for new small cell installations. Dillon’s Town Attorney Nicholas Cotton-Baez noted that it may be in the town’s best interest to pass an emergency ordinance at the next council meeting to assure the town is able to get their desired guidelines on the books.
There were some concerns among council members, particularly in how the towers would work with other cell carriers. Cole noted that because of the small size of the installations, they’re typically not co-located with other carriers. Though, council members are pushing for cooperation.
“I wouldn’t want to see the town put up a pole just for Verizon,” Councilor Jen Barchers said. “I’d want to see cooperation, and work that way instead of giving loyalty to one company. I just don’t think that’s right, and I don’t want to see 20 poles in town. … I’m open to more information, but I have a lot of reservations.”
“I would like to open it up to other carriers also who may want to be in on it,” Councilor Kyle Hendricks added. “There’s no reason to put it off. We should contact them also and bring it up.”
Ultimately town officials decided to continue in conversations with Verizon, along with potentially reaching out to other carriers.
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