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Longboat Key Monday, Mar. 29, 2021 5 months ago

Leaders express concerns about spotty wireless service

The town is trying to partner with a private provider to improve service on the north end of the island.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

A March project update about Longboat Key’s undergrounding utilities project quickly turned into a discussion about spotty wireless and cell service on the north end of the island.

“It’s been an issue ever since I lived on the island for 23 years, and it’s still an issue,” Vice Mayor Mike Haycock said. “I was down at one of the restaurants in mid-Key, and couldn’t get any cell service.”

Longboat Key town commissioners pointed out how the poor cell service creates the possibility of two main problems:

  • Contacting 911 in the event of an emergency.
  • Having people conduct business from their Longboat Key properties.

“We need to be assured that there’s connectivity with our police and fire [departments],” Town Manager Tom Harmer said.

At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop mentioned how several of her neighbors work from home.

“We have some fairly significant Fortune 500 and other executives who are here trying to work and function, and sometimes not successfully because of our cell phone inadequacies,” Bishop said. “Hopefully, we could maybe pull some leverage from them as well.''

The town has retained KCI Technologies as an advisor to continue discussions with cell-service carriers. Public Works Director Isaac Brownman told the Observer in February that the town’s contract with KCI is not to exceed $16,300.

KCI senior project manager Marshall Pearsall presented to the Town Commission on March 22 about how the company is trying to facilitate town partnerships with Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or Dish.

“My one takeaway is that specifically to wireless, initially, it was deemed a nicety,” Pearsall said. “It was something that was only accessible to a small percentage of our population, but now the technologies have become a critical part of our infrastructure, and we’re all aware of how important it is to our daily lives.”

Pearsall said he recommends for the town to take a phased approach with a private wireless carrier to improve service. Current technology only allows for 5G broadband cellular networks to work in dense cities.

“Unlike Tampa, there are areas in Longboat Key where the coverage is not…there is more to be desired, and 4G is a very practical, cost-effective solution to providing those coverage issues,” Pearsall said.

Pearsall said he would like to see Longboat Key achieve “wireless parity” with the surrounding community.

“My hope is that the wireless technologies are deployed within the town that they will be able to have options to the existing broadband services, the wired broadband services that are deployed in people’s homes, and these should be able to be provided wirelessly,” Pearsall said. “Also, the objective is to provide a foundation for smart-city technologies as they evolve for many years to come.”

The town and KCI are working to continue conversations with private carriers.

“Marshall [Pearsall] is helping us, leveraging his background to how to facilitate conversations with [the wireless carriers] in a manner that’s going to generate that interest and educate them,” Brownman said.

Phase 1 switch-over process

The first of several houses on the southern end of the island on March 24 were switched from aerial electrical services to underground.

“As we know with the FPL switching order, we are running a little bit behind on that, but as far as the infrastructure, everything is in place,” said CDM Smith project consultant Mark Porter.

Phase one of the project goes from the southern end of Longboat Key to the Country Club Shores neighborhood.

Final conversions in phase one will continue as crews remove aerial electrical poles.

Work on phase two of the project continues from the northern tip of the island to Dream Island Road.

Phase three work goes from Country Club Shores to the county line. Phase four goes from Dream Island Road south to the county line.

Longboat Key plans to have its underground utilities project finished by the end of 2022. 

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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