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Date of Issue: April 02, 2008

BIEO learns cell provider needs customer

Members of the Barrier Island Elected Officials organization may have breathed a collective sigh of relief at their March 20 meeting, when they learned that wireless communications facilities company NextG Network does not yet have a contract with a cellular provider to build its distributive antenna systems on Anna Maria Island or Longboat Key.

Island elected officials have learned at several public meetings on cell tower applications that Islanders don’t want unsightly cell towers on Anna Maria Island.

Cases in point: The cell tower at Smith Realtors on Marina Drive in Holmes Beach and the proposed - but never approved - cell tower to sit atop the Roser Memorial Community Church in Anna Maria.

But any relief at the BIEO meeting is likely only short-lived.

Chris Sinclair of NextG told the BIEO that his company is actively engaged in contract talks with a cell phone service provider. Once that contract is signed, Sinclair said he anticipates NextG will immediately begin the engineering and design phase of its project.

Sinclair said the company has identified 25 locations on Longboat Key, 12 in Holmes Beach, six in Bradenton Beach and five in Anna Maria for its DAS system. Because its signal does not extend more than several hundred yards, the DAS system needs numerous locations. DAS, however, is not a massive cell tower structure such as the one at Smith Realtors, Sinclair said.

Rather, DAS is essentially a short antenna that attaches to the top of an existing pole such as a Florida Power & Light utility pole, with a rectangular box of accompanying equipment attached lower on the pole.

Holmes Beach City Commissioner David Zaccagnino said he didn’t see any good in DAS for Holmes Beach. He maintained that the current cell tower at Smith Realtors is sufficient for wireless needs, at least in his city.

“There is no benefit that I can see if you are going to add unsightly poles. Are we opening the door to a bunch of mini-towers?” he asked.

Sinclair assured BIEO members that the DAS system is not obtrusive, will hardly be noticed, requires no public funds be utilized and provides an economic benefit to the city in the form of fees.

But Sinclair admitted that the “driving force” to install the system has to be a customer, which NextG is currently lacking. NextG is not an “end-user” company, but a “carrier’s carrier” and works for a wireless provider such as Verizon, Nextel or Sprint. He did note that one DAS system could provide service for up to four operators.

He also said the company needs just a “few hundred square feet” on the ground for its relay equipment if FP&L does not agree to house the boxes on its utility poles.

And there are “challenges” currently with FPL in the negotiations to utilize existing utility poles for DAS equipment.

But not to worry, Sinclair said. The company already has been approached by an Island property owner who has a site on the ground that would meet NextG needs.

Sinclair admitted that there is no contract in place at this time. “We are dealing in the abstract.”

The company has already made a presentation to the Holmes Beach City Commission and the Longboat Key Town Council in preparation for a signed contract with a provider and successful negotiations with FPL.

Under federal law, municipalities cannot deny a wireless company from providing service within city limits and constructing a wireless communications facility - also known as a cell tower. Cities can, however, enact ordinances and plans that control the size, location and height of such facilities.

In other business, members also got an overview of a plan presented by West Manatee Fire Rescue District board member Larry Tyler to encourage sprinkler systems be installed in all new construction in the district.