'Can you hear me now?' - Group seeks a 'yes' on Hilton Head

April 11, 2011 

  • Jim Collett: Spent 25 years with Bell Systems and Bell Atlantic/Verizon in business planning, computer systems and network planning.

  • Al Bischoff: Worked more than 20 years in global business development and held positions within AT&T, Lucent Technologies and Verizon.

  • Kathy Ewell: Has more than 30 years of experience in sales, marketing and business development with Digital Equipment Corp., Microsoft, Cisco and others.

  • Bill Jordan: Retired after a 25-year career in telecommunications technology, including work as a research scientist for Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies.

  • Bill Schmitt: Was named one of Computerworld's Top 100 IT Executives in 2003.

  • Dick Sell: Worked for Motorola, including as general manager of the cellular infrastructure division in Asia.

  • Glenn Way: Owns Tabby Road Wealth Management Group on Hilton Head and had a successful career in radio broadcasting.

A group of telecommunications industry experts formed by former Hilton Head mayoral candidate Jim Collett hopes to abolish the ubiquitous question heard 'round the island: Can you hear me now?

  • Collett pulled together a task force last month on behalf of the Greater Island Council to address cellphone and Internet service. Each member has worked with some facet of the telecommunications field, including marketing, research and development, network planning, and delivery.

    "We want telephone service to stop being a negative for economic development ..." said Collett, who was approached by Mayor Drew Laughlin to study the issue.Hilton Head's tree canopy, flat terrain and low elevation limit phone coverage in places, Collett said.

    "Clearly, we have challenges with wireless phone and Internet coverage on this island. We need to work to get the best communications network we can," Laughlin said.

    That's particularly important if the island is to attract business travelers and diversify the economy by luring knowledge-based companies, he added.

    Town Council listed evaluating technology infrastructure as a top priority for 2011.

    The volunteer task force, which is not an official arm of town government, has set out to advise the town on the effect its rules and procedures have on the ability of commercial carriers to expand service by installing cell towers and other equipment. The group also will compare the quality of telecommunications service to other resort destinations and assess improvement each year, Collett said.

    First on the agenda, though, is measuring precisely the extent of cell coverage across the island.

    "You hear, 'My cellphone is lousy here,' from people and stories of the dropped calls, but it's all anecdotal," Collett said. "We need data we can measure effectively."

    He said such measurements could require town funding for a test truck and other help.

    "It will be more sophisticated," he said, "than pulling out your cellphone and saying, 'I have two bars here.' "

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