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Heritage Trust and community members say if a cell tower were to come to Mount Sinai, they’d prefer to see it behind the Heritage Center at the park. Photo by Tom Carbone

A beloved local park is gauging the reception of a potential development.

Members of Heritage Trust in Mount Sinai are currently evaluating a proposal made by a Verizon representative last month to build a cellphone tower on the property.

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage.”

— Lori Baldassare

According to Lori Baldassare, the nonprofit’s president, the group was contacted by Verizon Wireless consultant, Robert Monteleone, a few weeks before the trust’s annual meeting in early February.

Without a design or any specific plan yet in place, Baldassare said Verizon’s bare-bones pitch is to install a tower somewhere on a 0.7-acre stretch of property at 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road to help eliminate a cellular “dead zone” in the area, where weak signals and dropped calls can create safety issues. More and more cell towers have popped up across the state in recent years as less residents hold onto their landlines, instead relying almost completely on their cellphones. Phone carriers, like Verizon and AT&T, are required to make sure dangerous coverage gaps are filled.

Baldassare said she and other Heritage members requested more information from Monteleone as to how obtrusive the proposed tower would be and exactly where the structure might be located on the scenic site, which features a playground, baseball field, walking path, gardens, a plant maze and mini-golf course.

“Do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

— Ann Becker

“Aesthetically, we would want it to look nice, and we don’t want it to change the whole character at Heritage,” Baldassare said, hoping that the tower be built behind the Heritage Center building, where there are already tall poles and transformers installed. “We certainly don’t want it in front of our building.”

But a cell tower at Heritage would come with an added benefit, Baldassare said.

“Part of the reason we’re considering it is that the income generated from the cell tower — roughly between $2,500 and $3,500 a month — would go directly to Heritage Trust to help support our programs, activities and efforts at the park,” she said. “It would certainly be a help to us as we don’t get taxpayer money, and rely on donations.”

She said she was “cautiously pursuing” the idea.

“We’re trying to weigh out the pros and cons based on what comes back to us from Verizon,” Baldassare said. “We’re doing our due diligence.”

The topic came up during a March 5 Mount Sinai Civic Association meeting. Civic Association President Ann Becker led the discussion, raising questions and making clear to the public that no application for the cellphone tower has been submitted.

“Nothing has happened yet, but it’s now on our radar,” Becker said. “I guess the downside is, do we want a cell tower in the park? Every tower I’ve seen has been very big, tall and noticeable with a big concrete base.”

“This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community.”

— John Leonard

Vice President Brad Arrington said there are alternative models and size options available when it comes to towers.“Would there be room on a cellphone tower to share and cooperate with other providers?” asked park volunteer Fred Drewes, referring to the service of not just Verizon customers.

Becker said there is.

“If Verizon builds it and, say, Sprint rents from Verizon by paying an additional fee, there would be that additional benefit,” she said. “One tower, more money, less construction.”

Mount Sinai resident John Leonard said via Facebook that he would support the cell tower as long as the revenue went to the Heritage Trust, which he commended for being a 100 percent volunteer board.

“They have done amazing things,” Leonard said. “This would be an example of the money going to a true community organization with low overhead and all the benefits directly applied to the community. It’ll help this group continue doing great things for our region.”

But not all residents seem to be on board.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Robyn Blumstein said. “What an eyesore for a beautiful park.”

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

They say in life communication is key.

Those in the vicinity of Port Jefferson Village Hall and the Port Jefferson Country Club should soon expect to see improved cellphone signal reception thanks to an action taken by the village board Feb. 5. The board unanimously passed a resolution approving the design of the two Verizon antennae.

According to village Mayor Margot Garant, the antennae will not resemble the controversial cellphone towers being debated in places like the Village of Old Field. The mayor described Port Jeff’s new signal boosters in an email as “completely non-invasive and hidden.” She said they are small boards that will be placed behind wood in the cupolas, or small domes typically adorning the roof of a building. She said the devices will strengthen cellular reception in the vicinity of the two locations and would net the village about $13,000 annually in revenue per unit.

She added that the installation was desired in part as a way to alleviate an ongoing issue of inefficient cell service at and around the country club and village beaches, each located in the northeastern corner of Port Jefferson.

“We need cell service at the country club and beaches desperately for emergency related services,” she said.

Board Trustee Stanley Loucks, who also serves as the board’s liaison to the recreation department, expressed similar concerns about signal strength at the club.

“There are many areas on the country club property where there is absolutely no service,” Loucks said. “You can actually move a few feet and lose service. This has been a problem for many years and presents a dangerous situation. Golfers, tennis players, maintenance workers and club guests can and have experienced situations where assistance was needed, and they could not make contact with anyone. This becomes more of a problem when you are on or near our beaches.”

Residents’ concerns about the safety of stronger cellphone signals in close proximity to communities have abounded during the Village of Old Field’s public discourse about a proposed tower at a public park, known by many as Kaltenborn Commons, located at the intersection of Old Field Road and Quaker Path.

Oleg Gang, who works at Brookhaven National Laboratory, said during a hearing on the proposed Old Field cellphone tower he lives in close proximity to the proposed location and was among those who voiced opposition due to health risks.

According to the website of the American Cancer Society, there is currently very little evidence to support the idea of cellphone towers increasing the risk of cancers or other health problems.

Others in Old Field have also balked at the proposal because of the look of the tower. The proposed tower is similar to one installed in Belle Terre Village in recent years, according to Tanya Negron, founder of Elite Towers, a Long Island-based company that develops wireless telecommunications tower sites and is working on the Old Field project.

In August 2016, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) revealed a list of areas on Long Island deemed to be “dead zones” for cellphone service. The list was compiled through a crowdsourcing campaign and included Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Port Jefferson Station, North Country Road in Port Jefferson and Norton Avenue in Terryville.

“A heavily populated region like Long Island shouldn’t be home to over 200 dead zones,” Schumer said at the time, adding shoddy cell service could be a deterrent for individuals or businesses looking to move to the area.

Senator Chuck Schumer is taking wireless network companies to task for poor service in areas of Long Island. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Frustrating dropped calls, undelivered text messages and slow loading web pages may soon be a thing of the past on Long Island if one U.S. Senator has anything to say about it.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) submitted a list to wireless carriers of more than 200 ‘dead zones’ for cellular service on Long Island Aug. 25. The list was accumulated by Long Island residents identifying areas where frequent lapses in service occur to Schumer’s website over the course of several months. North Country Road in Port Jefferson and Setauket, Main Street in Northport, Route 25 in Smithtown, Shore Road in Mount Sinai and Hawkins Avenue in Stony Brook were among the North Shore locations residents pegged for spotty service according to a press release from Schumer’s office.

Infographic by TBR News Media
Infographic by TBR News Media

“When it comes to cell service on Long Island, these dead zones are proof carriers need to —quite frankly— raise the bar,” Schumer said in a statement. “A heavily populated region like Long Island shouldn’t be home to over 200 dead zones. Just a stone’s throw away from New York City and home to several universities, thousands of businesses and more, Long Island’s cell phone coverage must remain uninterrupted. Now that Long Islanders have submitted critical dead zones locations to my office, our wireless carries must make sure they are fixed. I will share these locations to carriers and am urging them to come up with a solution that meets the needs of both Nassau and Suffolk residents.”

Spokespeople from wireless carriers T-Mobile and AT&T did not respond to requests for comment regarding Schumer’s list. Andrew Testa, a public relations manager for Verizon Wireless’ northeast market, deferred questions regarding the Senator’s list of dead zones to international nonprofit CTIA — The Wireless Association, who has represented the wireless communications industry since 1984. CTIA spokeswoman Amy Storey declined to comment on behalf of any of their members, which include Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint.

One company addressed Schumer’s concerns.

“Sprint is committed to making sure Sprint customers have a great experience on our network and we’re investing to improve our coverage and reliability on Long Island,” company spokeswoman Adrienne Norton said in an email Aug. 26. “We share Senator Schumer’s goal of better service for Sprint customers and look forward to working with him to enact legislation that will reduce barriers to network deployment.”

Norton added that more Sprint cell sites, or towers should be expected on Long Island in the next nine months, which should improve service.

Schumer said lapses in cellphone coverage could create dangerous situations if GPS technology fails, and could deter business owners from setting up shop or tourists from visiting Long Island if problems persist. He called on wireless companies to come up with solutions to alleviate the issues.

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The cell tower located on the property of Smithtown Landing Country Club will be increasing 50 feet to improve service. Stock photo

Can you hear me now?

A cell phone tower in the heart of Smithtown will be growing 50 feet taller, thanks to a unanimous vote by the town board last month that should improve service for AT&T and Verizon customers throughout the town — especially in times of emergency, officials said. The tower, owned by Site Tech Wireless LLC, was given the go-ahead to increase its height from 75 feet to 125 feet where it currently stands at the Smithtown Landing Country Club.

“The primary purpose of the extension is public safety,” said Bailey Larkin, the attorney representing Site Tech. “The town currently maintains two whip antenna on top of the existing 75-foot site. The pole, these two whip antennas, will be on the top of the extension at 125 feet.”

The 50 feet, he said, would make for better service in tough-to-reach areas of town like the area surrounding Nissequogue River in Kings Park.

Michael Lynch, a state-certified real estate appraiser based out of Huntington, told the town board at a public hearing back in 2013 that he did not anticipate the extra 50 feet would affect the surrounding area financially or environmentally, within a quarter-acre radius of the tower.

The unanimous decision came at the board’s June 2 meeting after the town ruled the project would have no negative impacts on the greater Smithtown community. Under the plan, AT&T and Verizon would both be increasing their heights on the pole or replacing their equipment altogether to provide better service. Larkin said both carriers had been experiencing service issues over the past several years, ultimately making it difficult to be effective for groups that rely heavily on it, like emergency responders.

The town had initially built the tower at 75 feet in 2010 without a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, resulting in a $750 fine Site Tech had to pay as a violation.

The applicant said a taller tower could potentially save a few steps in the greater process of rerouting calls to other area cell towers whenever the Smithtown tower falls short. Currently, emergency calls in the area run the risk of being rerouted to Connecticut and then routed again to Suffolk County’s emergency responder system in order to bypass the Smithtown tower’s shortcomings.

The application will now go before the Smithtown Board of Site Plan Review for approval.