Verizon, South Bethany discuss best path to service improvements


As Verizon Wireless continues its quest to improve mobile coverage across coastal Delaware, they have begun discussions at the Town of South Bethany.

In the past year, Verizon’s Bonnie Metz also helped the Town of Fenwick Island write a permitting process for new and replacement poles with small antennas. Currently, the two parties are brainstorming ideal locations for new poles.

South Bethany had delayed writing an ordinance until now, not expecting the topic or technology to advance so quickly. Now, the town council wanted some background.

But now South Bethany is moving. The town manager and code enforcement constable will work with Verizon’s Metz to draft some laws, which would eventually need committee and council approval.

Traditionally, when thinking of wireless antennas, people think of tall “macro” towers that reach long distances. But Verizon and other wireless companies are now proposing “small-cell” antennas to boost the signal. That includes canister or panel antennas, usually a discreet two feet tall, attached to utility poles.

Metz estimated that Verizon saw a 50-percent increase in data usage in 2017, due to Verizon’s unlimited data plans and heavy cell phone usage. 

Mobile data is used to send multimedia text messages, such as those with photos and video. It also allows cell phones and tablets to access the internet anywhere, without the use of Wi-Fi.

“Say that the wireless network is like a roadway, and you have a lot of traffic on there,” as people share pictures and watch videos or TV,” Metz told South Bethany Town Council on Oct. 12. So mobile carriers are “adding is what we call ‘off-ramps’ to the roadway to alleviate some of that … we use these small cells. They’re closer to the ground.”

These will improve the existing 4G network, although it could better position coastal Delaware for the almost instantaneous 5G coverage, which is being introduced to major cities over the next year. It’ll become more widespread in the next few years.

Verizon has led the charge publically in south coastal Delaware, but the other three major carriers, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, could also come to town, requesting to install poles or mount small cells to existing poles. Small cell tech covers from 250 to 1,000 feet, depending on network usage.

Laws require mobile carriers to use existing poles where possible, but also require governments to respond to permit requests within a few months.

Verizon is requesting to be part of the law-making process partly to save time. A law can be useless if written by people who don’t understand the technology.

Until South Bethany completes an ordinance, Verizon will continue working behind the scenes, in order to file permits as soon as possible.

There is no cost to the town.

“The goal is that it’s a robust and working network,” Metz said, for customers and for public safety. “We wouldn’t put them up unless we were experiencing capacity issues.”

In other South Bethany news:

• Gerald “Jerry” Masiello was appointed to fill the next nine months of a term vacated by Wayne Schrader in September. The second year of the term will be filled in the summertime election.

• The floating wetlands did better than expected in their first 100 days. They’re collecting nutrients from the water at a speedy rate, and “the plants took off and are growing,” Frank Weisgerber said of the tall grasses with foot-long roots. “It’s like we have a green forest growing at the end of our canals.”

• To prevent irresponsible spending, town council eliminated a policy that allowed councilmembers to unilaterally use discretionary spending or be eligible for reimbursement without prior council approval. Now, they must get council permission beforehand. Different departments still have contingency money for unexpected needs.

• There will be a town potluck on Oct. 27 at Town Hall.

• South Bethany Town Council’s next workshop meeting will be Thursday, Oct. 25, at 3 p.m.

 

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter