Monthly Archives: June 2007

City to examine the other wireless: cell phone towers

After mediating several fiery disputes between homeowners and cellular phone companies, the City Council is planning to consider amendments to their wireless communications tower guidelines. They’ll vote Tuesday to open the discussion, a necessary precursor to an amendment to their zoning codes.

So what’s in store? “Controversy,” says John Schlegel, the city/county planning director.

Most folks expect a signal on their phone wherever they are in this city of 355,000. But, as companies try to put up new towers to handle more calls, neighbors are fighting to keep the poles out of their backyards — and even the backyards that are more than a block away. They fear their home values will fall and their view of the big Kansas sky will be ruined. Wichitans aren’t unique here — people across the country have fought off towers and found companies willing to disguise their facilities, hide them or simply find a different location. So the Wichita-Sedgwick County planning department has drafted a plan to outline areas that are acceptable for towers. Schlegel says he expects cell phone companies to dislike that since they have a lot of freedom to place towers now. But, the plan is just a starting point, he said. This month, the City Council will review the plan. Then it will be heard by community people with the wireless industry before going before district advisory boards citywide in August and September. A Council vote on new regulations is expected in November. Check out this PDF link if you’d like to see what the city considers “sensitive” areas. And check out this PDF link for the city’s existing policy, which was created in 2000.

Baby steps toward citywide wireless Internet

A little more than three weeks ago, City Council members decided not to start negotiating a deal with Michigan-based wireless Internet company Azulstar for citywide wireless service. Instead, the Council appointed members Paul Gray and Jeff Longwell to travel to a couple cities that already have an Azulstar wireless system to see how well it performs firsthand. But that’s not happening yet, either.

Longwell says that the two cities he and Gray were going to visit — Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Rio Rancho, New Mexico — aren’t fully functional. City officials in Rio Rancho have vented frustrations about Azulstar’s service and failure to meet contractual obligations. Meanwhile, Winston-Salem’s system has yet to be built. Longwell said setbacks in these cities further justify the Council’s cautious approach. “I don’t think we’re doing a disservice to the public by dragging our feet a little bit,” he said in a conversation with The Hall Monitor this week. Longwell hopes to see how Azulstar reacts to the complaints they’re facing before moving ahead with contract talk. Futhermore, he says, the city may benefit by waiting as new technologies surface. You can’t wait forever because there will always be something new, he said, but in this case a slow approach may be best. “There’s no reason for us to get too excited,” he said. “It’s not like anybody is dramatically ahead of us.” Longwell said the issue will likely be discussed at the June 12 Council meeting.

For more on Rio Rancho’s problems, see this story.
For an update on Winston-Salem, check this one out.
For an overview of problems cities are having with wireless Internet, check out this AP story.