More cell phone towers slated for Hilton Head island

tbarton@islandpacket.comJuly 16, 2012 

More good news seems in store for Hilton Head Island residents and visitors frustrated by dropped calls, sluggish downloads and wireless dead zones.

American Tower plans to build several new cell towers within a year, according to town staff members. The news comes a few weeks after AT&T activated two new cell sites on the island to improve service.

The towers are expected to serve AT&T and Verizon customers, with space for other carriers to place equipment.

"That will result in a very significant improvement on the island," Jim Collett, chairman of a task force pushing for better wireless service, wrote in an email to The Island Packet.

The recent flurry is the result of the Town Council's decision July 3 to ease regulations on building new towers, town and industry officials say.

The old rules required towers to be farther from homes, which eliminated the most suitable sites, according to American Tower.

The old setbacks were unnecessary, a company representative told the town in May, because most towers are made to fold like a straw, buckling inward, as opposed to falling outward like a chopped tree.

The change means, for example, that Providence Presbyterian Church can place a cell tower on property it owns off South Forest Beach Drive.

Previously, town setback requirements would have prevented the church from developing the rest of the property, according to church elder Jack Daly, president of the Forest Beach Owners Association. Now, the tower can be closer to the church's property line, allowing the interior property to be used for recreation fields or a youth camp, Daly said.

The tower would cover the South Forest Beach and Coligny areas, including the beach, "which no other property in the area could feasibly do," Daly said.

Those areas, along with Port Royal Plantation, are among the worst on the island for cell service, according to coverage maps created by a consultant.

"You've got a lot of demand for service in that area, especially during the summer, because you've got a large density of people consolidated in a small area with hotels and resorts, condos, apartments and rental homes," senior town planner Shea Farrar said. "And as usage increases, it shrinks the tower's coverage area, creating need for another tower."

Daly said it is nearly impossible to get a cell signal in Coligny at 4 p.m. on a Saturday from June to August because of so many visitors using their cellphones.

"With a new tower, you'll get full-bar service and could get 4G service, if you have the right carrier," he said.

Church lawyers are negotiating a lease with American Tower, proceeds from which could support the church's youth programs, Daly said.

Attempts Monday to reach American Tower for comment were unsuccessful.

Town officials are also finalizing a lease with American Tower to build a 148-foot tower on town-owned land on Jenkins Island for AT&T customers.

American Tower has discussed placing towers elsewhere on the island, but has not committed to specific locations, Farrar said.

Related content

  1. Cell companies push to fill coverage gaps on Hilton Head: June 20, 2012
  2. Hilton Head council endorses changes to ease cell tower placement: June 19, 2012
  3. Task force, research firm to test island cellphone coverage: Aug. 1, 2011

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