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?
"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.' "