Paradise Valley continues crusade for reliable cell phone service

Paradise Valley Town Hall is at 6401 E. Lincoln Drive. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

After years of speaking to industry experts seeking solutions to spotty cell phone reception, the Town of Paradise Valley continues its quest to find an answer to cure dropped calls for residents.

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.

Now, the town has released a request for information, seeking responses by Sept. 14. According to the RFI, Deputy Town Manager Dawn Marie Buckland is seeking collaboration to improve cellular services for residents, guests and motorists passing through.

The formation of a cellular task force was approved by town council on Feb. 22.

“The Cell Phone Task Force was created by the town council to work toward improving cell phone service throughout the town, with a focus on improving the strength and reliability of ‘voice’ coverage,” Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner said.

“The RFI is a detailed and formal expression of the town’s strong and immediate interest in receiving input and proposed solutions from key industry players regarding our cellular coverage, and especially from the carriers themselves.”

The issue of cell phone reception in the Town of Paradise Valley has been longstanding.

Efforts dating back to 2011 sought to rectify the issue as then the town allowed the installation of 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 system consisted of 42 antenna nodes installed throughout Paradise Valley embedded within faux cacti and a similar idea was sprung following a May 2017 Community Conversation where it was proposed that 30 to 50 small-cell antenna nodes be added to the existing distributed antenna system, but a true solution has yet to materialize, town officials contend.

Jerry Bien-Willner

The RFI is coupled with specific, relevant data from a town-commissioned engineering study that shows the current coverage levels for the four major cell carriers throughout the town, an Aug. 9 press release by the municipality details.

Ultimately, the request for information seeks to engage with wireless carriers, cell tower companies or other expert parties who may have interest in designing, installing and operating infrastructure that will improve voice service without materially impacting the town’s aesthetics, the press release stated.

“The goal is to start a dialogue with the key industry players, and enlist their ideas and help to improve coverage and quality of service,” Mr. Bien-Willner said, noting the request has been widely published and sent directly to industry contacts.

The issue of balancing top-notch service with Paradise Valley’s aesthetic requirements is a difficult issue, Mr. Bien-Willner says.

“Many of us certainly feel frustration, but this is a difficult issue,” he said.

“It can only be solved with participation from the industry, which we welcome. The town also deeply values aesthetics — which are key to our quality of life and property values, and which the residents have worked hard to improve over the years by undergrounding the power and phone lines that used to exist in town.”

According to the vice mayor, many residents he’s heard from do not want 60-to-100-foot towers in the municipality or near their homes.

“In addition, we don’t have the commercial locations or population density that other communities have, which means that there many not be as much ‘demand’ for service from the industry perspective, and the infrastructure needed to establish cell sites in town generally requires more planning and significant investment,” he said.

“Even without these factors these would be real work to do, but our special considerations make it all the more challenging. That stated, as with other difficult problems we have encountered, we don’t shrink from a challenge and we’re excited to work with the industry to devise and implement solutions that are in line with expectations of the council and our residents.”

The municipality welcomes industry input in order to improve cell service. Interested parties are encouraged to review the RFI on the town’s website at paradisevalleyaz.gov.

“All interested industry players can participate, and are welcomed and encouraged to do so, by simply completing a letter of interest and providing some basic information about themselves,” the press release stated.

Mr. Bien-Willer says the RFI will begin a dialogue with an eye toward constructive steps for near- and long-term solutions, which will be brought back to council.

“I am very encouraged to hear that even at this early juncture, there are several expressions of interest to work with us from (the) industry (at-large),” he said. “We will keep the public informed, so stay tuned!”

Questions and inquires on the topic can be sent to cellcoverage@paradisevalleyaz.gov.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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