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Shoeleather Journalism in the Digital Age

Shoeleather Journalism
in the Digital Age

Paradise Valley Town Council devises innovative process to solve legacy cell phone reception issues

Photo of Cell Phone icon where reception has been an issue in Paradise Valley
Providing dependable cellular coverage has been a legacy issue for leaders at Paradise Valley Town Hall, 6401. E. Lincoln Drive. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress.com)

Paradise Valley joins forces with
telecommunications industry to forge infrastructure

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

For most Americans, the cellular phone provides primary access to the outside world, a peek into the digital landscape and, most recently, a glimpse into the influencer world of social media.

But aside from a device to distract, the cellular phone has evolved into a vital lifeline providing direct access to first responder help in the event of a medical emergency or a need for police response.

But in the Town of Paradise Valley the picturesque peaks and troughs of the diverse topography, which makes for iconic landscapes and resort properties alike, creates a frequency of unreliable cell phone coverage — a luxury not yet achieved by the affluent enclave of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“Having a solid and dependable connection with a cell phone of any major carrier throughout our town is important so that anyone can reach 911 whenever necessary,” Paradise Valley Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner told the Arizona Digital Free Press.

“It’s also important that people in Paradise Valley can receive calls to stay in touch on important matters, for example, for parents to be able to receive urgent contact from or about their children or grandchildren, or to hear from a friend or family member who may have an urgent need.”

Providing dependable cellular coverage has been a legacy issue for leaders at Paradise Valley Town Hall, 6401. E. Lincoln Drive.

But Paradise Valley Town Manager Jill Keimach explains a detailed plan fueled through a public-private partnership might be just right for an innovative solution to the cell phone reception problem.

“The town is attempting to streamline and facilitate the closure of gaps in cell phone coverage throughout Paradise Valley all while still protecting the aesthetics and beauty of the community,” she said.

“The carriers are able and encouraged to install antenna if they fit the town’s strict design guidelines and safety requirements. The town will work to encourage the carriers to make closing the cell phone gaps in Paradise Valley a priority for them as well.”

Come this December, Ms. Keimach reports, Paradise Valley officials believe the conditions will be just right for private sector carriers.

“The Town Council directed staff last night to come back on Dec. 8 with a process that will enable cellular carriers to apply for the installation of a cell phone antenna at one of five high priority sites that have been identified to close the gaps in cell coverage around town,” she said following an Oct. 27 work session discussion at Town Hall.

“If the carrier can meet the town’s previously approved design standards and code requirements — and state and federal requirements — the town manager will be given the authority to approve those applications in order to streamline the process. The Town Council also unanimously approved waiving their permit fees.”

A view of general areas where cell phone reception is problematic within municipal borders.

Mayor Bien-Willner says he hopes this is a watershed moment for a positive move forward in the saga of cell phone reception.

“Thanks to work among the town, the cell carriers, and town stakeholders, we now have a fairly advanced plan with identified locations to add cellular infrastructure that will help to fill remaining gaps in coverage around town, for example, one location is the fire station off of Tatum,” he explained.

“In additional good news, this does not contemplate the installation of tall or unsightly towers, but instead respects our town’s aesthetic values of low height — the more ‘invisible’ any new infrastructure can be, the better.”

Making the Paradise Valley
conditions just right

Paradise Valley Town Council hosted a work session discussion Thursday, Oct. 27, on the forthcoming zoning code text amendment, which will allow the town manager to approve applications or any of the several identified sites for private cell carriers to begin approved telecommunications installations.

“Within seven days of approval, the Town Council will have the power to have any approval reconsidered in public, as they do now,” Ms. Keimach explained of Town Council controls around the administrative approval process. “If the antenna can be seen from public right-of-way, the application cannot be approved.”

Paradise Valley Senior Planner Paul Michaud provided to Town Council the approved sites — a total of five potential sites have been identified for discreet telecommunications installations — throughout the municipality.

During his presentation, Mr. Michaud reported these five locations:

  1. The Sanctuary Resort;
  2. The Paradise Valley Country Club;
  3. Fire Station No. 91, which is found along Tatum Boulevard;
  4. Cosanti Foundation; and
  5. The top of Invergordon Road.

Mr. Michaud provided to Town Council paramount requirements of the telecommunications installation including the “faux design element.”

“We have taken an innovative path that recognized that as a small town with low density and relatively low population, but with unusually high standards for minimizing visual impacts of infrastructure, we needed an approach to improving coverage as unique as our town,” Mayor Bien-Willner said of the rigorous municipal approach.

“So, we invited all the major carriers in to dialogue with us after we had described our town’s challenges in coverage, which included a coverage map that we prepared. Our ongoing dialogue and cooperation with the carriers has been very fruitful and has encouraged engagement and investment in our town’s cellular infrastructure.”

Paradise Valley Community Resource Officer Jimmy Phan says dependable cell phone coverage is an essential piece of communications.

“Dependable cell phone receptions allow our officers to utilize our mobile systems in the car,” he said. “This permits us to process and gain information at the scene as needed; however, if the system is not working, we would resort to utilizing our dispatch team for detailed information. Cell phone reception plays a role primarily for our callers to reach our dispatch team.

“Having good cellphone reception allows us to utilize phone location, if needed, to locate our caller if they’re not aware of where they are within the town. There are only a few areas in our town that have coverage weak spots where we would be improving the reception, so I am unable to give you more fidelity with the location of where cell phone coverage is not at its strongest.”

Officer Phan explains dispatch radio services are more dependable and provide the primary telecommunications between dispatch and officer in the Town of Paradise Valley.

“For police officers, we use cellphone to supplement our duties day-to-day; however, our primary utilization would be through our radio whereas cellphone use as secondary,” he said clarifying the reliability of police dispatch.

Paradise Valley Councilman Mark Stanton applauds the local effort.

“This is a top concern for our residents, so I applaud all of the hard work that has been put into this,” he said looking at the adminstrative framework due back before Town Council in December for final review.

“I really support the cell phone providers’ efforts on this,” he said. “This all seems to be on the right track.”

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