Dead zones, live radio

Carroll County: Sharing communications tower is good idea, but may not plug Lineboro gap.

January 06, 2000

THE $8 million "seamless" emergency radio network for Carroll County that was supposed to be completed in 1996 still has an annoying hole in the fabric.

It's the troublesome hilly terrain of Lineboro, in northeast county, which is still without fire, medical and emergency services connection to the 800-megahertz, two-way government network.

The county's negotiations with several landowners to secure a possible site for the Lineboro antenna tower have fallen through. Landowners are wary of allowing a tall steel tower to be built on their property; too many complaints from neighbors about the unsightly structure, they say.

The episode illustrates the county's continuing struggle to control the proliferation of communications towers, whether for private wireless telephone companies or government services. These towers soar into the sky, intruding on the landscape. They are intimidating to neighbors by their sheer size -- even if the worry about radiation is unproven.

The logical answer is to require wireless phone companies and government agencies to share towers (or other existing tall structures), if possible. That is the thrust of rules that are soon to be adopted by the Carroll County commissioners in response to a spurt of tower applications from private firms.

Indeed, Carroll officials now say the most promising site for a new Lineboro-area antenna would be on a 250-foot-high tower in Melrose that is already approved for construction by Sprint PCS Corp.

But there's serious question whether that location will fill the dead spots and make the emergency communications network truly countywide. For years, the expert conclusion has been that Lineboro needs a much taller tower, perhaps 400 feet, to overcome its topographical challenges. That issue needs to be explored.

This is an example of the limits to communications tower-sharing strategies. If an existing tower can't serve the network need, then a new tower may be required.

The principle of sharing is also reinforced by the predicament, however. The first move must be to find an alternative to erecting a new antenna tower.

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