The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday March 28th

Town Tough on Cell Towers

Rick Bushman says local regulations make it more difficult to obtain cellular towers in Chapel Hill.

The complaints about signal quality and inconsistency have brought the town's regulation policy and the providers' service to the forefront.

"There are two streets in Chapel Hill where I don't get any service -- on Estes Drive and on Franklin Street near Estes," said Lindsay Bauer, a junior psychology major.

Proximity to towers, surrounding terrain and building density, the phone itself and the intricacy of a service provider's network factor into the quality of service, said Josh Ray, a manager at Office Supplies & More, a retail store for AT&T and Verizon located on Franklin Street.

Some providers say the process of obtaining towers in Chapel Hill is more difficult than in other locations.

"With all (service providers) it's harder to get towers built in Chapel Hill than it is in other towns, such as Raleigh," said Rick Bushman, a sales and operations manager at WireFree, a retail provider of AT&T and Verizon service also in Chapel Hill.

But Rob Wilson, the town's principal planner, said Chapel Hill strictly regulates new tower construction to maintain the beauty and atmosphere of the town.

Wilson also said town officials prefer to have cellular providers co-locate whenever possible, meaning companies should build towers on existing structures. "Throwing up towers everywhere is not very conducive (to maintaining beauty)," Wilson said.

"The water towers around town all have cellular," he added. "The (Chapel Hill Town) Council's policy has been to encourage co-location."

Wilson also said the town's preference for co-location is reflected in its approval process.

"The town's review process, as established by the council, is very lengthy," he said. "(Co-location) is something, if the town approves, that can happen very quickly."

The time frame for achieving the special-use permit to construct a tower takes more than one year, while co-location permits may be granted in a few weeks, Wilson said.

Lawrence McWright, director of engineering for Nextel's market in the Carolinas, said the density and concentration of buildings in an area also play a role in determining the quality of service.

"In the computer lab you can get service, but nowhere else in the library," said Leah Hill, a senior advertising major.

Ray also said the phone itself plays a role in the quality of service.

He said service providers have contracts with phone manufacturers that allow usage of the phone to be linked exclusively to the service provider.

"You can't use one phone from (one company) and then switch to (another)," he said.

McWright maintained that Chapel Hill should not lag behind other areas in cellular service, especially with the number of users increasing.

"In general we design for similar service in every area."

The City Editor can be reached


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