Casco woos cell phone companies

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Wooing might seem a little old-fashioned in a world of text messaging and video chatting.

However, the word of advice from a cell tower expert indicates that it would work in Casco’s favor to woo these companies. Something as simple as writing official letters and e-mails to the cell service providers could tip the odds in the town’s favor.

Dave Libby, a cell tower builder from Falmouth, provided a question-and-answer session at the Casco Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday.

The ultimate goal, which has been pursued for at least two years, is to install a tower that would provide cell phone service to Casco Village. The Village is notorious for having virtually no cell phone service.

Currently, there are three cell towers within the boundaries of Casco. Two are located about 200 feet apart on Hacker’s Hill and a third is at Red Mill Lumber off Route 302. Essentially, there are two locations for three towers in a town that is 24-square miles.

“The other coverage comes from other towns,” Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said.

The biggest obstacle — other than the mountainous terrain — is the small customer base, Libby said.

“It’s all about profitability,” he said.

Libby suggested three ways that the Town of Casco can gain the interest of cell service providers.

One method is to have in place zoning that is favorable for cell towers, he said.

“It is a small industry. Although these are big firms, those guys know which towns are friendly. The tower companies will go online and see if the town is user-friendly,” Libby said.

Therefore, he advised that the town’s code enforcement officer review zoning ordinances to make sure that the language provides an open door for cell service providers.

Secondly, Libby recommended that the town pinpoint areas that could be “telecom zones.” He explained that the Town of Gray did this recently. By identifying four areas of town where cell phone towers are permitted, Gray now allows companies that want to build towers to get a permit by right, he said.

The third piece of advice is writing letters to carriers, he said.

“I talked to two different carriers. And they both said to get letters,” he said.

At the end of the discussion, Morton handed his business card to Libby who planned to e-mail an address list of cell service companies.

“I think you have some homework to do. See what you can do to make the town a little more attractive,” Libby told the board.

“I am not speaking for the carriers. I can help you. I am in the tower business. I can only build it if I have the customers,” he said.

“Come up with telecom-friendly zones in town. Then proactively go after them,” he said.

“Tell the tower companies that you are looking at ordinances to make them more user-friendly,” he said.

Ideally, the town would like to invest in a cell tower that could be placed on a roof and would get rid of the dead zones in the Village.

According to Libby, new technology like small cell technology is cost prohibitive at this point in time. However, that cost should go down as the technology becomes more commonplace, he said.

Morton asked Libby about roof top installations, which was of particular interest to the town.

“What are you looking at for heights?” he asked.

Libby suggested enlisting the help of a company that provides RoofMetrics testing.

“They come in with computer models. How much would it take to get rid of dead spots?

How much higher do we need to cover those dead spots and make them go away,” Libby said.

“Like I said, (the cell service carriers) know there is a coverage problem,” Libby said.

Selectmen Tom Peaslee asked, “If they know, why aren’t they putting one in the Village?”

Libby answered, “It is a big investment.”

“As big as we think Verizon or AT&T is, they are people and they want to feel welcome in a community,” he said.

“It wouldn’t hurt to shoot off an e-mail tomorrow. It is a good sign to see that selectmen have reached out,” he said.

“I guarantee you that in time, you will have coverage,” Libby said.

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