County Looks To Wireless For Western Connection

By Therese Howe
(Created: Thursday, January 11, 2007 8:08 AM EST)

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Focus on the county's broadband debate has shifted westward, where residents will be asked to answer the question of whether they're willing to trade their views for high-speed Internet service.

Almost a year after supervisors scrapped a proposal to build a $320 million fiber-optic network that would serve the entire county, the county is now reframing the broadband access debate to focus on wireless as the potential answer to increase the availability of high-speed Internet service, particularly in the west.

Anyone with a stake in the issue-from residents who have been unable to get broadband to companies offering to build towers from which wireless service could be provided, to the county's current wireless providers-is invited to provide input Jan. 23 when the board of supervisors' Economic Development Committee is scheduled to take up the topic.

At that meeting, county Broadband Services Manager Scott Bashore will provide a recap of the county's broadband efforts, leading up to why "wireless makes the most sense for western Loudoun," said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), who chairs the committee.

The county has set a goal of expanding broadband availability in the county to 90 percent from its current 86 percent, according to Bashore, who adds that the service is primarily offered in the east, where the majority of the county's population resides.

Bashore also is working on updating the county's Strategic Land Use Plan for Telecommunications Facilities, which was last changed in 2002.

"The original intent was for it to be good for about five years, so we're on track with updating it," Bashore said, adding that in the past four years, the market has changed with new towers being built and fewer national telecommunications carriers offering service.

Part of the impetus behind the county's efforts has been the upswing in the number of applications for towers and monopoles to provide cellular and high-speed Internet services.

"I thought it was important to get ahead of the game before dealing with these applications for individual monopoles. We need to take a look at the big picture ... and know where it fits in the plan rather than piecemeal," Waters said.

Among the proposals are two submitted by Community Wireless Structures, a Falls Church company that builds 100- to 200-foot structures from which carriers such as Verizon and Cingular can provide cellular and wireless Internet service.

One proposal, for a 120-foot pole south of Leesburg in Virts Corner, was forwarded on Tuesday to the board of supervisors' Feb. 6 meeting for action. Supervisors hope to see the company accede to residents' requests for a pole disguised as a tree rather than the company's proposed graduated paint monopole.

The second proposal was filed Dec. 29 and is more expansive, calling for six sites in northwestern Loudoun that have one or two poles of 100 or 150 feet high. The company has leased locations at White's Ferry, Taylorstown, Round Hill, on Mountain Road on the east side of Short Hill Mountain, at the intersection of Rts. 9 and 287, and on the east side of Rt. 287 near Lovettsville.

"We know whenever solutions are proposed, they encounter local opposition," said Bob Gordon, an attorney who is a partner in the company, adding that the concern "all boils down to visual impact."

To provide information to the public and increase public awareness of the project, the company has created a Web site, www.getloudounonline.org, that solicits input from residents and offers information on upcoming public hearings. The company expects the first to occur in the spring before the county's planning commission, then in the summer before the board of supervisors.

"We want to hear from people who are still on dial-up and tired of it or are very frustrated because when they're driving, the cell phone blinks out," Gordon said. "We feel there's a silent majority, but do they care enough to get to the public hearings?"

As the county gears up to handle the monopole applications and prepares to address the broader question of expanding broadband availability, current wireless providers such as Marty Dougherty's Roadstar and Steve Acups' Lucketts.net were surprised to hear concerns about service in the west.

"I've been here three years, and whenever somebody identifies they want broadband, we get it to them," Acups said, adding that his coverage area includes Lovettsville and Lucketts, across into Maryland. "I'd be surprised if there was a business case to be made because if there is, we've already moved into it."

Both he and Dougherty were surprised to hear about the latest monopole proposal, with Dougherty saying that although he could potentially use one of the towers, he couldn't use all of them because they would interfere with the service.

"I'm disappointed because it's not necessary and it really distracts from what we'd like to do with broadband, which is low-impact towers," Dougherty said. Instead, what may happen is that "cell phones will become our competitors; they usually don't deploy on anything less than high tower."

In response, Gordon of CWS indicated that the towers would be available for all companies to use, on a first come, first served basis, and that increased competition in the market from other carriers would benefit consumers.
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