Fenwick, Utility Explore Wireless Options Due To Rising Data Usage

FENWICK ISLAND – Town officials agreed to seek additional options for the placement of wireless infrastructure in town after a meeting with Verizon Wireless last week.

Last Thursday, Verizon Wireless representative Bonnie Metz met with the Fenwick Island Town Council and members of the public in a workshop to discuss the proposed location for cellular towers and antennas that will improve the town’s wireless coverage.

“We’ve seen an exponential use in the data usage for wireless coverage over the last couple of years,” she said. “In 2017, our usage grew over 55 percent in one year.”

Metz said unlimited data plans and the way in which people use their mobile devices have impacted the town’s wireless capacity. In many instances, 911 calls to patrol cellphones were dropped due to poor service.

“Because of that increase in capacity, we actually have to add capacity to the network to stay ahead of the demand and to fill gaps in capacity that we are seeing now,” she said.

To that end, Metz presented the council and community members with two options that would improve cell service in the municipality.

The first option consisted of installing two, 60-foot poles – one placed behind town hall and another to replace a utility pole on James Street – with panels situated at the top, while the second consisted of installing five small cell antennas at the top existing utility poles from the north end of town to the south.

“The only one in that design that’s actually in the city is actually proposed for Essex Street,” she said.

While she said the two poles would give the town sufficient coverage for the foreseeable future, Metz noted that establishing five small cell antennas would better prepare the town for 5G capability.

“Putting five poles up now, in my view, will position the town better for 5G because we’ll have the infrastructure in place for five poles instead of two,” she said. “If we already made the investment and placed infrastructure there, we might go there first (with 5G).”

While she praised Verizon’s plans, Councilwoman Vicki Carmean questioned if both options would provide sufficient coverage for residents and visitors on the bayside, where cell reception is worse.

“Most of the people live on the bayside and we aren’t getting coverage, so I would like to see it positioned where we can get coverage,” she said.

Resident Colleen Wilson told Metz that she favored the first option.

“It sounds really uncertain when 5G will be here,” she said, “so I think it would be better to do two poles.”

Resident Bill Weistling, however, said he favored Verizon’s second option.

“Personally, I think we should do everything possible and go with design two,” he said. “If we are talking about doing this process, we’ve got to be forward thinking.”

Metz agreed, and pointing out that 83 percent of millennials considered cell coverage and Internet capability to be the most important thing when buying or renting a home.

“It’s something from an economic development standpoint … that I’m throwing out there,” she said.

Instead of choosing between the two options, the town council opted to wait for Verizon engineers to reexamine the second design and look into placing a small cell antenna behind town hall instead of on Essex Street.

“We are trying to get a solution that works really well with the town and that people will be happy with,” Mayor Gene Langan said.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.