Cape Charles Mirror Report
by Wayne Creed
Developer Bill Parr brought a draft text amendment before the Board ofSupervisors last Tuesday which would update County ordinances to accommodate the construction of communication towers up to 199 feet, which would be used to provide broadband internet services to under served parts of Northampton.
The Eastern Shore Broadband Authority of Virginia has run fiber optic cable up the spine of the Shore, but connecting the last mile, especially to outlying areas has proven to be a challenge. It is Parr’s hope, that by getting an ordinance that addresses towers that are dedicated to just broadband internet service on the books, the process can finally be formally opened up to competitive processes. Patrick Cody of the Northampton ADHOC committee, was also on hand to talk about the implications of the Federally funded FirstNet broadband initiative.
FirstNet was signed into law on February 22, 2012, and created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). TheFirstNet mission is to “build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety.” This network will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications.
“We need to have some kind of plan of where we are going to put these structures, so we don’t have three poor systems but one good system. If we have a plan where it is best to locate these towers. I am very pro on spreading this but we want a good system rather then three that operate marginally, so that everybody can make money,” Supervisor Hogg said.
Bill Parr responded, “There is a lot of complexity in this, from a structural engineering standpoint and a radio transmission standpoint. What we are attempting to do here is separate broadband towers from any other structures. So they will be treated preferentially because local people will benefit from broadband towers, where others they may or may not. They are considered the telephone poles of the future.”
“What we want to ensure is that we have one reliable system. I already have Verizon, so I don’t need another unreliable system. I want the best result coming out. Once you get above the tree canopy, how high do you really have to go?” Hogg asked.
“That all depends on the area you are trying to serve. The signal goes down, so those trees may block a signal from a 100 foot tower that it might not from a 120 foot tower. The distribution of the trees also matters. There a a lot of issues,” Parr said.
Hogg asked, “Is it possible for the Board to find out what would be the best antenna pattern that would best serve the County?”
Parr responded, “There are multiple companies that do this so you would have to bring in internet service providers as opposed to the local broadband authority which is where they get their service from. You want to invite the companys that do that to a work session to discuss how to work together to best serve the community. There are a lot of engineering questions that are costly to answer.”
“Should the County be the ones to say this is our idea of where these towers should go? This is the layout and you put it out there for bid for whomever that wants to put up a tower, and they bid for it or we find some way to select them. What is the best way to get the best service to our community and should the County pay for this study?” Hogg asked.
Parr responded, “The best way I know of so far is the free enterprise system and a competitive environment where there are people that want to be served and providers that want to make money providing that service and using their ingenuity to figure out the best way to do it. This is a rapidly evolving industry. We want affordable broadband service for the people that live here, and doing it wirelessly to areas where it is not practical to run a cable is the goal. The County could build the towers and rent space to ISPs that want to provide service. The Cape Charles area, the Town Edge takes up a lot of area, and the Town Edge is where a lot of people need to be served. Nothing would be by-right, it would require a special use permit. This issue, we just want to get it on the chart so in the industrial district, the commercial district, the Town Edge, you can at least file an application. For local broadband, not any other purpose. ”
Patrick Cody stated, “It is a complex issue. What Mr. Parr read in his text amendment really comes out of dictates from the FCC. We are talking broadband services to small businesses and residences off of 13. FCC has just allocated new frequencies called FirstNet, for broadband for first responders. The first meeting for that for Virginia is September 30th and I plan to attend. I’m looking here and we have three systems, the FirstNet, the one Bill is planning to build out, and the ones we already have in place, and I’m saying enough already; I want one system not three. I want one set of towers with generators and multiple people on towers, so from my point of view, co-location for a distributed broadband network is absolutely necessary. The primary transmission towers should be done by the Broadband Authority. The base is the big cost, and it may cost more than the tower. Beefing a tower up for co-location is a minor increase. It may be a deal breaker for someone as a business case, but as far as the overall facility, it is a minor increase. Whether it is driven by State regs or FirstNet, there will be money behind that is coming out of public safety and Homeland Security. One of the pitches I intend to make in Richmond is not only do we not want to build three sets of towers, we want the right to use the state towers and federal towers that are already exist on the Shore of which there are already a couple of dozen. That is without touching the cell towers. There are least half a dozen towers for the kind of thing Bill is talking about doing already on the Shore, and certain people already have permission to get on them, such as the sheriff’s department, but it is not available to the public or private companies. But if we work this deal in Richmond, to roll out FirstNet, but this means the State and Federal towers are included in the analysis of where antennas can go or where things can be done. My goal is to get one cogent system out there in terms of towers, because towers require security, and power backup if they are going to be lifeline towers; if you are talking about first responders you are talking about lifeline towers. If we get into telemedicine, as I hope the ADHOC Committee will do, they are going to be lifeline on residential broadband too. It is an absolutely critical public utility, in this day and age. It is a complex issue, and the text amendment to allow these height towers I think can go forward and can run in parallel but expect that we will be coming back with plans saying here is how a system gets rolled out, and it is going to involve competition.”
Chairman Hubbard asked, “You mention that you are going to Richmond, should we wait for that, or should we jump in now?”
Cody responded , “I think you need to move with your text amendments according to your own schedule and your own decision. I don’t expect anything to come out of this first meeting. My reason for going is to be one of the first voices to say we’ll work with it, we’ll participate, but these are some of the kinds of issues that some of the local people are faced with it.”
Consensus was to ask the Planning Commission to take up the issue, and analyze how many, and what size towers may be needed to move this initiative forward.