WOODLAND PARK, NJ - Verizon Wireless is seeking consent from the Woodland Park municipality to place small antennas called "network nodes," on utility poles in the borough’s right of way.
The goal is to place approximately 3 foot long antennas on existing utility poles and/or light poles to improve network capacity. The idea is to enhance coverage areas by adding additional wireless facilities in the municipal right of way and curbing weak signal areas limited by the existing cell towers and rooftop antennas.
Borough officials described the "right-of-way" as the area between the curb and the property line in Woodland Park. It's typically the city or town's strip of land from the edge of the street back about 3 to 10 feet, for the purpose of allowing the a city or town to build and maintain the street, curb and gutter, storm sewers and possibly underground utilities. This land is primarily the responsibility of the landowner but the city has the right to determine what takes place there.
Mauricio Barragan, wireless site acquisition specialist for Tilson Technology Management, Inc., a company contracted with Verizon to lease the sites and install the network nodes, gave a presentation of the plan to the Borough Council at its meeting on Feb. 1.
"Verizon is on a state-wide initiative to improve the network and they're filling the pockets of where the network is weakest," said Barragan. "They already have the towers up, and we're not putting more towers up. Instead, we're putting equipment up on top of utility poles."
Barragan noted that photos from Warren Township, where such antennas were placed, were submitted to council members, along with details regarding the plan.
"It would go up on a regular utility pole," he added. "What we're looking to do is receive the borough's consent. We don't have locations yet in the right of way."
He also said that once they had that information they would come back to the council to present the location(s) that were identified.
"We want to make sure we get the council's approval for it," added Barragan.
Mayor Keith Kazmark asked Barragan as to when Verizon would know the amount of network nodes to be installed and become available.
"We are constantly pushing Verizon to give us that number," Barragan replied, adding the company is currently undergoing a reorganization between its southern and northern offices. "Because of that, we have other towns waiting on those numbers. We've also had other towns that have given us approval on a contingent basis, to us providing that information. We won't be able to do that unless we had those numbers."
Barragan gave a ballpark figure on the amount of antennas that could be placed, based on the size of Woodland Park.
"I would say it might be one to three antennas. More likely less than three. Other towns have gotten away with one antenna," he said, adding other towns, such as Jersey City and Weehawken, which are more densely populated, would require more than one.
Kazmark added that with all the technology that "comes down the pike" and municipalities becoming more responsible for infrastructure, many residents have initially resisted it, particularly during the time when the solar panels were installed on the telephone poles.
"All of the sudden, one day, residents woke up and they were there," Kazmark explained. "They were somewhat unsightly, and people had them over their front lawns, so there was some pushback there. If we're talking between one or three, or even less than five town-wide, I wouldn't necessarily hold back on authorizing a resolution. But if we're talking multiple nodes on each street, I would have more reluctance until we knew what the scope of the project would be."
Kevin Galland, borough municipal clerk, discussed the prospect of other wireless companies following in Verizon's path.
"It's my understanding that whatever authority is given to Verizon's request, it would also have to be offered to any other wireless communication companies in similar fashion," said Galland. "Because there's only one atop of a utility pole, if Verizon happens to be first at the gate and they install a certain number of nodes, it's also going to be causing other carriers to be selecting other poles in a given area."
Barragan answered that potentially it would, depending on the carrier, and whether or not they're looking to do the same thing Verizon is.
"Verizon seems to be ahead of the curve when it comes to their technology and they usually do things first, so it's possible other carrier will do the same thing," Barragan explained.
Galland noted the interpretation of "right of way," as the area between the curb and the property line, and asked about the company potentially having antennas at every possible street on its utility poles.
Barragan replied that it wasn't Verizon's intent but that it was possible.
"Once the company can identify what areas actually need the antennas, they would then come back and present that to the council," he said.
Tracy Kallert asked about the benefit for residents in having antennas placed. Barragan responded that he personally has Verizon cellular service but does not have a signal inside the municipal building.
"Adding these nodes would be able to enhance their capacity than just the cell towers," he said. "What's happening is that more people are using their phones to do more than just make phone calls and it pulls more data. It will enhance the coverage and phone quality, and it will allow for better service even in buildings like this."
Barragan added that more research needs to be done to see at what location the nodes would be placed at.
"Our engineers have to see where the need to put in the nodes to place them in their location. Specific areas where the coverage drops or isn't enough will be examined and we'll suggest putting an antenna in that location," he further added. "If it doesn't help the situation, then that's something we will come back and address."
He also noted that adding another cell tower wouldn't work, due to the fact that it requires being a minimum of 1,000 feet apart from one another.
"Once we identify what areas need antennas," he noted, "that's when we'll come back to the council."
Kazmark suggested that the council to prepare a resolution for its next meeting granting the approval is contingent upon the identified number poles to be installed town-wide.