Task force assembling with aim to solve Paradise Valley cell phone woes

Can you hear me now: Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins is spearheading an effort to cure Paradise Valley cell phone reception woes. (File photo)

Paradise Valley Town Council is looking to solve a problem that has plagued residents and visitors alike since the dawn of the Digital Age: cell phone reception.

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.

But a solution will be found, contends Paradise Valley Mayor Michael Collins and Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner, as Paradise Valley Town Council are forming a citizen task force to develop workable solutions the community can live with.

A view of the topography of the Town of Paradise Valley that makes cell phone reception a troublesome part of living in the affluent enclave. (File phoo)

“Looking back, in 2017, we didn’t really accomplish much at this table,” Mayor Collins said at the onset of a Feb. 8 study session discussion focused on the complex problem of solving cell phone reception issues within Paradise Valley parameters.

“It was clear a little bit of a different approach with technology maybe didn’t create a sense of urgency, but I think there was a lot of positive movement … I think we have validated the issues. The problem is lack of infrastructure to deliver the quality and service our residents desire.”

Paradise Valley Town Council is set to approve the formation of the cell phone task force, which will be comprised of both steering committee membership and general members, during its Feb. 22 meeting at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

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 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.

“This comes at a time when we are wrapping up the public safety communications tower,” Mayor Collins said of the recently completed first responder communications project. “We had some positive feedback in that direction. This is a critical issue — it is a public safety issue — and we want to dedicate some focus for a possible solution.”

The new public safety communications tower affixed adjacent to Mummy Mountain provides the Paradise Valley Police Department effective communication throughout the extreme topography of the community and allows the department to become a member of the regional wireless cooperative.

The regional wireless cooperative allows first responders to use existing radio channels to talk with different public safety agencies as needs arise.

To complete tenets of an IGA with the Phoenix Fire Department, the Town of Paradise Valley has to be included in the regional wireless cooperative. The city of Phoenix is the licensed provider for fire safety and ambulatory services through a 2006 IGA agreed upon between both local governments.

Mayor Collins recalls the success of the Paradise Valley Public Safety Task Force — a group of citizens led by then-Vice Mayor Collins — locally known as the precipice of the technological overhaul at the Paradise Valley Police Department.

“I will tell you the bones of this resolution came from the resolution that we created for the public safety task force,” Mayor Collins said of the task force that will come to fruition. “There are minutes and a record of activity. There is a structure of formality and that is what we are proposing here for this steering committee.”

The Paradise Valley Public Safety Task Force was comprised of more than 50 residents who participated regularly over an 11-week period toward the end of calendar year 2012. The advisory committee, at the time, came on the heels of a series of home burglaries.

The task force

As envisioned by both Mayor Collins and Vice Mayor Bien-Willner the Paradise Valley Cellular Task Force will consist of steering and non-voting members whereas the mayor and vice mayor will serve as chairman and vice chairman.

Paradise Valley Town Manager Kevin Burke will appoint four members of municipal staff until community members assume those roles, according to the task force resolution.

The general membership of the task force will not be limited meanwhile the steering committee will be granted a $50,000 limit for contracting with a third-party industry expert to better prepare possible solutions.
The ultimate goal of the task force is to provide a formal report with possible cell phone reception solutions by fall 2018, town officials say.

“We are looking at this on a volunteer basis for general membership,” Mayor Collins said of his approach to solve a problem becoming paramount for residents and their loved ones.  “We did hire an outside consultant for the public safety task force and I found that experience to be incredibly beneficial and I don’t think we would have had the outcome we did without him.”

Before he was elected Maricopa County Sheriff, Paul Penzone, offered his expertise to Paradise Valley to shape the public safety task force recommendations largely responsible for the technological improvements to the department lauded by officers and resident alike.

Michael Collins

“I’m looking to not drop a cell phone call with my 82-year-old step dad,” Mayor Collins said of one of his personal motivations to try and find workable solutions townwide. “My goal is to solve that basic requirement.

At least for me, that is to get stable cellular service reception throughout the town.”

Vice Mayor Bien-Willner contends the purpose of the task force is to find a workable solution devised by residents of the municipality.

“I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and continue to work on this,” he said.

“I think this is the right thing to do at this time to be focused on this issue. The open process gives transparency, but it also keeps this a focus. We are looking at this as a potential tool. We have leveraged as much as we can, which have basically been no-cost opportunities. That is great, but we need to make sure we have the full spectrum of the possibilities of the solutions here.”

Vice Mayor Bien-Willner points out the hiring of the consultant will come from a majority vote of the steering members once residents have an opportunity to participate.

“There is accountability there with a majority vote,” he said. “I think the idea is to keep this moving forward. We know what a cell tower looks like, we just don’t want to have them here, but anything this task force does comes back to council.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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