Cure to Paradise Valley cell phone woes within reach

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins is asking residents to accept his invitation to a May 17 community conversation on the topic of improving cell phone service townwide. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Officials at the Town of Paradise Valley believe workable solutions are beginning to emerge in solving one of the doldrums of living in the 21st Century: poor cell phone service.

Paradise Valley Town Council and its Planning Commission 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 17 is hosting a “community conversation” at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive, for residents to learn what town leaders have in mind to improve mobile phone coverage.

Because of the community’s geography and land-use patterns, traditional macro cell sites are limited within town limits. Sloping hillsides and mountains create challenges to the quality of cell phone coverage and how that service can be improved, town officials say.

In 2011 the town attempted to rectify the issues through new technology known as a distributed antenna system, which consists of a fiber-optic backbone that includes a series of six-foot antenna nodes installed throughout a community improving coverage, voice quality and internet access of cell phones, according to Independent archives.

The pins represent residents contacting the Town of Paradise Valley in regard to a call for resident input into local cell phone reception issues last year. (Submitted graphic)

As a solution, 42 antenna nodes had been installed throughout Paradise Valley embedded within faux cacti.
Turns out, a new option to be presented at the community conversation is similar, but different to the 2011 effort.

“We know we have a problem that has been demonstrated a variety of different ways,” said Town Manager Kevin Burke is a May 9 phone interview.

“We kind of got sidelined this year, when a bill preempting cities to control and manage utility infrastructure in a right of way. This bill was going to allow the carriers to put a pole in the right of way — none of which goes along with our aesthetic standard.”

HB 2365 was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on March 31 allowing wireless carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint to install, operate and maintain small-cell equipment in city and town rights-of-way, according to the League of Arizona Cities and Towns.

“We lobbied hard and our representatives were very aggressive for us and we got some modifications where we think it is a workable bill for us,” he said. “We did a pretty good job to protect our ability to make decisions locally.”

While Mr. Burke says it appears HB 2365 does allow for some municipal management of its rights-of-way he also points legal interpretations have yet to be made.

“I think there is still going to be a couple of years of interpretation of what this bill says and what it doesn’t say — that is clouding the issue a little bit,” he said.

Mr. Burke points out what residents will hear may be a bit similar as one of the two directions the municipality may take is another series of 30 to 50 small-cell antenna nodes or the town may seek locations for more traditional macro-cell-tower sites.

A collection of approaches

Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins is spearheading the cell phone coverage issue.

“We know that the challenge is a lack of infrastructure,” he said in a May 9 statement.

Michael Collins

“So the answer is going to include more infrastructure somewhere. The fundamental question is what is the least intrusive, most aesthetic type of infrastructure that we can install that provides significant improvement to wireless coverage and quality. It could be faux rocks or cacti on the mountains, multiple fake facades on resort structures, faux trees and cactus in the valleys, mini towers throughout town, or some combination of the above.”

Mayor Collins contends HB 2365 was all about the private industry leveraging its ability to provide better service to its customer base with fewer municipal hurdles to overcome.

“It gives the service providers more leverage against cities and towns by limiting local discretion and regulatory regimes the industry has claimed obstructs the free market and their ability to provide quality services to the residents of those cities and towns,” he said. “For Paradise Valley it lessens our ability to self-determine infrastructure placement.”

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to Paradise Valley cell phone coverage, Mayor Collins says.

“I think that it will take a combination of approaches to be successful because one size or solution will not fit all,” he said. “Hopefully we can identify the best areas for installing infrastructure and the best solutions for those sites, mitigating any potential adverse impacts the infrastructure may bring to those neighborhoods. To do this, we need to conduct an incredibly open and transparent infrastructure siting process, multiple neighborhood discussions in areas proposed, and multiple commission and council meetings where those affected residents can voice their opinions.”

Mayor Collins point out a robust public discussion will be the first step toward finding a workable solution.

“It’s finding a solution or series of solutions that everyone can live with that’s the challenge. We just need to have a full and robust public discussion over the pros and cons of each approach and work hard and together to find solutions that work,” he said. “It’s not rocket science and we’re not curing cancer. This is completely achievable and there is no reason that Paradise Valley can’t have the highest quality wireless infrastructure in the Arizona while still maintaining our resolute commitment to the aesthetics of our built and natural environments.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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