“We all want to have better cell service. I just don’t know how we get to the decision.”
— Mayor Jim Brown
Get a champion.
For goodness sakes, talk about another Longboat Key tar baby. That’s what this is.
And we all know the story: Some Longboat residents would love to have a 150-foot cell tower erected on the north side of the Key to improve their cellphone reception. Other Longboat residents are rabidly opposed; they say beautiful Longboat Key is no place for a cell tower, even if it’s disguised as a pine tree.
(As an aside, as of last week, that strident opposition declined by one. Former Mayor Jeremy Whatmough and his wife, Myrna, closed on the sale of their Gulf of Mexico Drive home across the street from the former site of a proposed cell tower. The former mayor acknowledged he no longer has standing, but he still believes “Longboat Key is no place for a cell tower.”)
And then, of course, there is the Town Commission. Commissioners have adopted the U.S. Senate approach to the issue — always avoiding a vote on whether a tower is permitted.
So commissioners turned to their bailout man, Town Manager David Bullock, hoping he would find the magic solution.
But if you talk to Bullock, he will tell you: It’s not the town government’s job to improve your cellular service.
“We clearly have a regulatory role in siting and land use,” Bullock told us. The issue of service, he said, is between the customer and the provider. As Bullock aptly recommended, Longboat residents should take their case to their carriers.
He’s right. If you don’t like your reception, complain to your carrier. Or, switch carriers.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. Bullock joked that Longboat residents have been turning to the town to solve this problem in part because residents can actually talk to someone. Try getting through to a human being at one of the cell carriers. Good luck with that.
So here’s what should happen: Do what Provincetown, Mass., did. In that vein:
1) First and foremost, Longboat Key residents, businesses and the town need a cellular-service champion. And he or she doesn’t have to be Bullock or a town employee. They could be a resident or a hired consultant. But this champion needs to be someone who has the skills to bring the town, the cellular providers and the companies that erect the towers or cell sites together.
2) The Town Commission needs to send the cell carriers a strong definitive message: Sorry, Longboat Key will never allow a 150-foot tower. An alternative must be used.
On that point, the Verizons and Sprints will squawk. They like to rent space on towers because towers are inexpensive.
But as Provincetown has shown (small-cell sites will provide that resort town with satsifactory coverage), the carriers will indeed negotiate when they know the town won’t budge.
3) If necessary, be willing to provide an incentive for the small-cell site contractor to do business here. In Provincetown, the government gave the contractors reduced rent on public buildings for five years.
Mr. Mayor, you want better service? Start by recruiting your cell-service champion.