Can You Hear Me Now?

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

It’s probably been a while since you last heard the question …“Can you hear me now?”  Verizon used the tag line incessantly between 2002-2011 to get the point across that they were always working to improve their wireless network.  It was an annoying advertising campaign, but true.  Verizon and its competitors are always adding or adjusting antennas on their cellular towers to better serve their customers.  Most don’t realize that such a robust wireless network demands a lot of towers.

Did you know that the City of Auburn Hills has been at the forefront in planning for the network of towers used by wireless companies – like Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and others – within our community?  Back in November 1998, the Planning Commission adopted a Wireless Concentration Map, as shown below, which outlined eight locations (yellow dots) where towers were planned and could locate.  Two additional locations (red dots) were added in 2007, increasing the total locations to ten.

The Planning Commission worked to locate these towers in non-residential areas

The Planning Commission worked to locate these towers in non-residential areas

Why did the City care?  Like public infrastructure (roads, water, and sewer), the need for citizens to communicate on a private wireless network has developed into an “essential service.”  Since wireless infrastructure is provided by the private sector, the Federal government passed a law in 1996 that restricted a local government’s zoning authority to regulate the deployment of these towers.  So, Auburn Hills has worked together with the wireless industry over the years to maintain a reasonable plan that encourages the “co-location” of multiple carriers on a single tower.  This was done to avoid the proliferation of towers throughout the community.  It has worked with much success.

The City Council will review an antenna addition for AT&T to this tower (right hand side) located on the City's Municipal Campus, east of the Community Center, at tonight's Council meeting

The City Council will review an antenna addition for AT&T to this tower (right hand side) located on the City’s Municipal Campus, east of the Community Center, at tonight’s Council meeting

Interestingly, experts tell us that things are changing in the industry.  They say the towers that have gone up over the past two decades are becoming dinosaurs.  With the increase in internet data needs, we will see more “stealth” applications such as antennas on buildings or on top of telephone poles.

As technology advances and the number of wireless data consumers increase, it will be fun to see what the next 20 years will bring.  No doubt, Auburn Hills will be ready.