Cellular Coverage Study Completed, To Be Released Tuesday; Gaps Identified, New Sites Proposed


Based on a widely anticipated report that identifies where cell coverage in New Canaan is “substantially absent,” officials are recommending that the town turn down AT&T’s proposal for a tower at the Transfer Station until it’s clear how service improves with the activation of a cell site at the Norwalk Armory.

The Utilities Commission on Monday night in formally approving and endorsing the findings of the “Wireless Market Study for the Town of New Canaan”—a report that should be available on the town’s municipal website some time on Tuesday—also is recommending that the town government “consider using municipal property, municipal rights-of-way, and/or encourage the use of appropriate, selected private properties and properties held in trust for the location of future cell sites in order to expeditiously address the coverage gaps located in the west, northwest, northeast and eastern parts of town.”

In reading from its formal resolution, the commission during its regular monthly meeting, held in the Brooks Room at the New Canaan Nature Center, underscored that any access to public property for a wireless carrier must follow a design that’s “minimally obtrusive and/or employs stealth cell site designs or technology.”

The resolution, endorsed 6-0 by the all-volunteer commission, follows a “drive test” that saw radio-engineering firm Centerline Solutions track cell coverage street-by-street in New Canaan in order to determine signal strength on a granular level—and make some estimates about how much cell service additionally will improve once towers at Silver Hill Hospital and the armory go live. (In fact, Centerline will perform an additional drive test in the eastern part of New Canaan once Silver Hill cell site is active—it will carry AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.)

Led by Commissioner Tom Tesluk, who earned praise on Monday from his colleagues in the group, the months-long effort positions New Canaan well to decide exactly where service is most lacking—a shortfall that the town should try to address, officials say, for public safety as well as quality of life.

The commission in its resolution acknowledges that “proposals for erecting tall, obtrusive and visually destructive cell towers in residential neighborhoods are widely unpopular with residents.”

As noted below, the Centerline report evaluates 50 pieces of private and public land that, based on the company’s analysis, could best address gaps in cellular service coverage in New Canaan.

According to Centerline’s report, cell coverage is “substantially absent”:

  • In the area west of Route 124 from Frogtown Road up to the state line with Pound Ridge;
  • Northwest, north and northeast of Country Club Road between Wydendown Road and the state line and the Wilton town line;
  • and on Valley Road and the eastern border of the town, stretching from the Merritt Parkway up to the state line at Vista.

Those findings cover one of 11 “Key Points” summarized by the Utility Commission from Centerline’s cellular coverage analysis of New Canaan. Here are the 10 others (and again, check the municipal website on Tuesday for a full copy of the Centerline report):

  1. Achieving comprehensive wireless coverage in New Canaan is challenging due to topography and the density/height of manmade or natural obstructions (morphology). Hills, valleys and ridgelines all create terrain contours that may block radio signals. Morphology concerns include the high density of trees that impede and degrade wireless signals.
  2. Of the four wireless carriers that serve New Canaan, AT&T Wireless offers the widest geographic coverage, followed by Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint.
  3. AT&T’s current wireless data network covers 75% of the town. The AT&T wireless voice service covers 66% of the town. There are notable gaps in AT&T’s coverage in the East, Northeast, North and Northwest parts of town.
  4. Verizon’s current wireless data network also covers 75% of the town. Verizon’s wireless voice network covers 50% of the town. The Verizon network has coverage gaps North of downtown, in the East, Northeast, Northwest parts of town.
  5. T-Mobile’s current wireless voice and data networks cover 33% of the town largely between downtown and Waveny Park. T-Mobile’s network has significant gaps in the East, Northeast, North, Northwest and West parts of town.
  6. Spring’s wireless voice and data networks cover approximately 25% of the town primarily in the areas between downtown and Waveny Park.
  7. The Silver Hill cell site, which will host antennas for AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, is under construction and expected to go live in the first quarter of 2015. When activated, this site will significantly improve coverage for each of these carriers in the Eastern and Northeastern parts of town. The Centerline report has prepared a predicted coverage analysis for the Silver Hill site based on the technical data filed with the CT Siting Council. In addition, Centerlien will carry out a supplemental drive test of the Southeast, East and Northeast part of town once the site goes live.
  8. The Norwalk Armory site, which consists of two monopole towers hosting antennas for AT&T and Verizon, respectively, is working its way through the CT State approval process. A construction start date has not yet been announced. Assuming the site is activated as planned, it will significantly improve coverage in the Southeast and East parts of the town. Centerline has prepared a predictive coverage analysis for the Armory site based on the technical data filed with the CT State Siting Council.
  9. The paper also includes “search circles” which identify areas where additional cell sites might be able to address the current coverage gaps and lists municipal properties in these areas where future sites might be based.
  10. Appendix C to this report evaluates more than 50 parcels of municipal property and several parcels of private property as potential locations for new cell sites. These are ranked relative to their likelihood of being able to address the “coverage gaps” which the study revealed.

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