Local News

Possible Compromise for Cell Phone Companies, Residents

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ORANGE COUNTY — For cell phone owners, nothing is more frustrating than hitting a dead spot where the phone cuts out. The solution is simple: more cell towers. But many towns are fighting to keep new cell towers out.

The cell phone companies say they need the towers to get a good signal for all of their customers.Orange Countyis looking at a solution that could make the cell phone companies and residents happy.

People will try anything to dress up a cell tower to make it blend in better, but weighing the needs of cell phone customers and the desires of the public to protect its scenery is a tough balancing act.

"It's certainly an eyesore to me," saidOrange County CommissionerBarry Jacobs.

Jacobs wants to find a better way to locate cell towers in Orange County.

"We're reactive. We'd like to be pro-active. We'd like to try and inject some organization into this instead of just reacting to applications," said Jacobs.

Orange County is one of the first areas in the Triangle to look at something called pre-gridding. It involves picking certain spots where cell towers can go to prevent them from ending up in the middle of neighborhoods.

"This pre-gridding process enables a county ahead of time to go ahead and select sites that will balance both the need for coverage as well as handle the aesthetic and environmental concerns of the local community," said Paul Meyer of theAssociation of County Commissioners.

The County still does not know how much it would cost to map out all of the cell phone tower sites, but so far, Jacobs sees few disadvantages.

"Right now, the downsides have to do with the towers popping up in places where people find them offensive and having gaps in the telecommunications grid. If we can address those two ends of the spectrum, then I see few downsides," said Jacobs.

With the pre-gridding plan, numerous sites that would be pre-selected would be where towers already exist.

This idea has been tried in western North Carolina where many people are concerned about scenic views near the Blue Ridge Parkway.