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Spotty Swan Valley cell coverage raises concerns

Discussion in 'Western US Wireless Forum' started by Andy, Nov 11, 2007.

  1. Andy

    Andy Diamond Senior Member
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    Spotty Swan Valley cell coverage raises concerns

    A dispatcher's voice crackling over the radio is the only thing keeping Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Tony Buff company as he patrols the lonely stretch of highway north of Condon.

    U.S. Highway 83 parallels Lake County's eastern border, away from all the hustle and bustle of Flathead Lake and other, more populated areas on the west side.

    For seven years, Buff has patrolled this area. Its solitude, he said, is good for fishing, but bad in emergencies.
    *
    The 60-mile stretch between Seeley Lake and Swan Lake has no cell phone service. Radio transmission is spotty during bad weather. Drivers involved in accidents are forced to knock on neighbors' doors to use a landline phone, or hitch a ride to the nearest town from a passing car.

    “It's out in the middle of nowhere,” Buff said. “It's isolated from anything else.”

    Seeley-Swan residents call it the “dead zone.” Some want to change all that.

    Members of the Swan Lake Community Club are waiting to hear back from Verizon Wireless about a formal request they submitted at the end of September to install one or more cell phone towers in the area. It's a matter of public safety, they argue.

    This summer, the group gathered signatures of people who support enhanced cellular services in the Swan Valley. More than 2,300 people signed one of 11 petitions located at businesses in Condon, Ferndale, Echo Lake, Seeley Lake, Bigfork and the Swan townsite.

    It could be years before residents hear back from Verizon Wireless. In the meantime, there's a growing concern about what cell towers could do to the landscape's aesthetic appeal. At the Swan Valley Community Council's next meeting, members will consider adopting regulations restricting the type, height and look of cell towers in the Swan Valley.

    Each day, while parked along the side of Highway 83, Buff wonders if today is the day his radio will fail.

    Buff hopes he won't ever have to call for emergency backup. But in the off-chance he should, his radio is the only way to call for help.

    “It's certainly a concern to my wife,” said Buff, who admits cellular service would make his job easier.

    Plus, not having the ability to phone home when he's running late at work “is very annoying,” he said.

    The community's petition, in fact, arose out of that concern for public safety.

    When escapees from the state prison in Deer Lodge broke into a Swan home last June, the family who lived there and returned a short time later couldn't call authorities. The escapees had disconnected their phone, said Sue Ellison, petition coordinator.

    The family had to drive six miles up the road to the command post to report the incident to authorities.

    Countless accidents occur on the long two-lane highway, especially at dawn and dusk. Boating accidents, too, require quick medical response, Ellison said. In such instances, minutes matter.

    “When people are in trouble, you have to wait for the kindness of a passing stranger or hike up the road to a stranger's home,” she said. “Someone has to find a phone.”

    For several years, Helena sports teams have not traveled U.S. Highway 83 on road trips to Kalispell. One year, a team bus slid off the road. The students had to flag down a truck driver with a two-way radio, said Jim Opitz, Helena High activities director. Another time, a bus lost one of its headlights.

    “They were pretty stranded,” he said.

    After that, the school district set a policy that between Thanksgiving and Easter, Helena sports teams must travel through Missoula and north on U.S. Highway 93 to Kalispell - even though it is 40 miles longer.

    Plus, there are frequent power outages in the Swan during the winter, Ellison said, leaving landlines useless and residents helpless in emergencies.

    Volunteers circulated the petition over the summer, hauling them to the Swan Lake community pancake breakfasts. Thousands of summer travelers, part-time residents, firefighters and residents signed their names.

    Ellison points to rural places like Lincoln, which got cell service installed earlier this year. Just as Lincoln is a major route between Missoula and Great Falls, so is Highway 83 a major route leading to the Flathead Valley, she said.

    Not everyone is enthusiastic about cell service in the Swan Valley.

    Peter Guynn lives in Colorado, but has owned property in the Swan for more than two decades. He plans to retire there, and therefore has a vested interested in protecting the valley's natural resources.

    A big, metal cell tower with red blinking lights would infringe upon the view, he said.

    “Pretty soon, you have all these marred landscapes, and that's ugly,” he said. “There's a right way and wrong way to do this. It's a misconception that there's nothing that can be done otherwise.”

    Guynn researched the topic. Other cities have proved that camouflaging cell phone towers, or restricting their height, can eliminate visual intrusions, he said.

    On the east and west coasts, towers are sometimes hidden inside a chapel's steeple. Other times, cell towers are built inside flagpoles or designed to look like palm trees. Guynn suggests installing cell phone technology at the top of fire lookouts.

    He presented his case to the Swan Valley Community Council at its last meeting. Guynn encouraged the county to start thinking about adopting restrictions to regulate how cell service providers can construct towers in the Swan - before it's too late, he said.

    “I'm just trying to prepare the valley so a disaster does not happen.”

    The Swan Lake Community Club chose to solicit cell service from Verizon Wireless because it seemed, by word of mouth, that most residents are customers already, Ellison said.

    The club is not biased toward Verizon, she said. If the company says “no,” the club will ask a different cell phone provider.

    A request such as this one is unusual, said Bob Kelley, Verizon Wireless media manager. While the company receives requests from civic leaders from time to time, it's not often that they see a grassroots effort.

    Still, it could be years before Verizon Wireless makes a decision.

    Verizon assesses every site, looking at such things as nearby cell coverage, population, demand and financial viability, Kelley said. To get a new cell tower online costs anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 per site.

    A Verizon team has already visited the Swan Valley, but it's not likely residents would see a cell tower before 2009, or possibly longer, depending on budget priorities, Kelley said.

    “Certainly, we take into account if a community has secured a number of signatures. At the same time, it has to be a cost-effective decision for the corporation,” he said.

    Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at Chelsi.Moy@Missoulian.com

    Missoulian: Spotty Swan Valley cell coverage raises concerns
     
  2. Andy

    Andy Diamond Senior Member
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    They may have better luck asking ALLTEL for enchanced coverage there than waiting for Verizon to allocate some money to this rural area!
     
  3. Gman

    Gman Senior Member
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    Interesting article. It's good to see people being proactive about getting coverage where there is none. I was through that area in the summer and if an emergency occurs it's an awful place to not be able to call 911.

    The more they can get their local city/county officials to buy in, the sooner they may have coverage assuming Verizon (or someone) buys in. There is a similar movement on the east coast in a mountainous region (New York state?) where there was a strong effort to get coverage before this winter but I have not heard anything about it lately.
     
  4. Andy

    Andy Diamond Senior Member
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    Yes, I am pleased to see the citizens of this area take things into their own hands, even if they are discouraged that things may take a while. The area on the East Coast where Verizon is currently trying to add service is in the Adirondacks. There are huge stretches without coverage currently.
     
  5. RJB

    RJB Gold Senior Member
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    Sometimes the little guys can win.
     
  6. Fire14

    Fire14 Easy,Cheap & Sleazy
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    Yes it is nice to see people not fighting carriers to put up towers & maybe because they have requested it, the zoning board will make it easier for the carrier(s) to put up towers where needed in this area for life safety.
     
  7. Andy

    Andy Diamond Senior Member
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    Wirelessly posted (Mozilla/4.8 [en] (Windows NT 5.0; U) BlackBerry8130/4.3.0 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 VendorID/105)

    Lol but you will always get the nimbys just like the guy mentioned in this article whose eyes would be soured if a tower were to be out up
     
  8. BillRadio

    BillRadio Wireless Consultant
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    If 200 people sign a petition, Viaero Wireless will build a cell site anywhere in their NE & CO territory. I can see Verizon not being too anxious to add a site, but Alltel or Chinook might be interested if a number of the residents agree in writing to become new customers.

    There is enough coverage available in the area to prevent a Phase 2 carrier like Commnet to build there. The community needs to hold a bake sale and go ahead and build a tower...and they will come. Combine the tower with police communcations and they might get federal(homeland security?) money.

    We just had a similar story about a town near Colorado Springs (Victor, CO) with no cellular service, but so far people don't mind asking someone to use their landline. I'ts old school, but it's the way we did it less than a decade ago.
     
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  9. markuhde

    markuhde Junior Member
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    As far as I know this area is all planned coverage on CellularOne (MTPCS former Chinook Wireless). Without any doubt it WILL be spotty and incomplete coverage, due to terrain and lack of desire to make huge investments and as noted the difficulty of siting there with the concerns of others, but it should be covered eventually - their map at cellonenation.com shows it as future coverage.
     
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