“Sometimes you’ll get a signal. Sometimes you won’t,” Town Manager Bob Frye said of the current situation. “It’s better in the winter when there’s no leaves on the trees. This will cover the town proper and everybody should see much better coverage once that’s up.”
Highlands Country Club, Wildcat Cliffs, Big Bear Pen and Horse Cove should also see better coverage.
The improved service will come from changes to a radio tower the town already owns in the Big Bear Pen area. Right now, the tower is 80 feet tall with an FM radio transmitter on top. The plan is to extend the existing tower 20 feet to install the cell tower antenna and to move the FM transmitter 10 feet above that. A 5-to-10-foot lightning rod would bring the entire height to about 120 feet, well below the county’s height limit of 180 feet.
“The tower’s already on top of a mountain to begin with, so we won’t really have any problems as far as coverage. Anywhere from 90 foot on up to 100 foot would be great with that tower,” said Matt Shuler, Highlands’ director of management information systems and geographic information systems. “Nobody wants one that tall. We would prefer not to have anything close to the 180[-foot] county mark.”
Currently, the town board is negotiating its lease rate for Verizon to use the tower. Verizon will also pay for all improvements to the tower.
Not everybody is happy about the pending agreement, however. Because the town already owns the existing tower, no public hearing was required, but two residents came to the meeting to express their disapproval.
“Two residents were there who were quite upset about it,” Frye said.
Talking points included health concerns related to the tower’s proximity to their homes.
However, Frye said, Highlands’ status as a tourist town makes cell coverage a necessity, not a luxury.
“We are a tourist-driven destination,” he said. “If people have a choice of coming here or a place where they have cell phones and iPads, they’ll make that decision.”
With smartphones becoming increasingly prevalent, better coverage is needed for those devices to work.
“Anything that will make it easier for the citizens and our guests to have cell phone reception, it’s a good thing,” Frye said.