South Bethany follows in Fenwick’s footsteps on cell service

In order to improve cell phone coverage, major wireless companies want to add new, but smaller antennas in local towns. Leading the way in coastal Delaware, Verizon Wireless just finished helping Fenwick Island develop a permitting process for the new infrastructure, and now the corporation has moved on to South Bethany.

Since local governments are required to respond to such requests in a reasonable amount of time, it’s easier just to have a process for evaluating such requests. After all, people and many police stations rely heavily on a strong mobile signal, for both business (such as responding to a 911 call or conducting business on the go) and pleasure (such as sending photos from a cell phone or watching shows on an iPad).

On Dec 14, the South Bethany Town Council approved the first of three readings of Ordinance 193-18, which creates policies and procedures for the deployment and installation of small wireless facilities in rights-of-way within the Town’s jurisdiction. Discussion will continue at future meetings of the South Bethany Town Council or Charter & Code Committee.

The draft was based heavily on code from Fenwick Island and from Verizon attorneys.

It includes “a lot of legal stuff, and when you read a sentence and you don’t understand it, an attorney wrote it,” joked committee Chair John Fields.

For now, the committee left much of the legal stuff alone, but they changed other details that didn’t originally benefit South Bethany, such as increasing fees and removing a provision that basically allowed wireless companies to bypass Town decisions.

“We cut a lot of stuff out of here that wasn’t good for the Town,” said Council Member Jimmy Oliver.

This law will impact any of the wireless companies. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile might all come knocking someday to request additional poles to benefit their customers.

This isn’t something where the Town solicits bids. It’s a flat-out fee to do business. It’s not like cable service, where Mediacom’s the only company in town because they’re the only ones willing to build infrastructure.

The only reason the council referred so frequently to Verizon in this instance was because that company specially approached them. But that means that, just because one company is considerate enough to do something, the Town may have to require that by law if they want other companies to follow suit.

“We don’t really have a choice. They’re coming,” said Council Member Sue Callaway.

“We’re trying to regulate what they’re doing,” said Mayor Tim Saxton.

Traditionally, when thinking of wireless antennas, people think of tall “macro” towers that reach long distances. But Verizon and other wireless companies are now using “small-cell” antennas to boost the signal. That includes canister or panel antennas, usually a more discreet 2 feet tall, attached to utility poles.

For now, companies just want to improve their existing 4G coverage. But over the next few years, they’ll roll out a new generation of high-speed technology, or 5G, which packs a punch, but requires even more, but smaller, antennas at close range.

In other South Bethany Town Council news:

• The Town ratified the ambulance agreement with the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company (BBVFC). Rates will remain unchanged for the next five years for residents of Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach and members of the Sea Colony Recreational Association.

• The budget process is about to begin for the Town’s 2020 fiscal year. The Budget & Finance Committee will meet Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, at 9 a.m. to begin reviewing budget requests. They will likely propose a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), particularly since the federal government recently awarded a COLA to its workers, retirees and Social Security recipients in recognition of rising inflation.

• In the canals, the “floating islands” of grass will be pruned in December. The Town is still waiting for the Woods Hole Group (WHG) to finish their research and offer specific proposals to improve water quality in the canals. They did bathymetric and sub-bottom acoustic surveys, plus core sampling, in September.

• South Bethany has a new website, at https://southbethany.delaware.gov. The State-created website is expected to be easier for Town Hall staff to update by themselves. Many local towns use the low-cost service, provided by the State’s Government Information Center.

The South Bethany Town Council does not typically meet in January, so the next council meeting is set for Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, at 6 p.m.

 

By Laura Walter

Staff Reporter