By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: August 29, 2018 | 12:30 p.m.
Cell service expected to improve across Courthouse District for Verizon customers
PRINCE GEORGE – “Can you hear me now? Good!”
Those words were part of an effective marketing campaign by telecommunications giant Verizon during the early-2000s as they touted the strength of their cellular network and for some, that service can live up to the company’s marketing while others, particularly in the Courthouse District of Prince George County, the story is far different as weak cellular reception, particularly for Verizon customers has created headaches for uses in the area, but a new agreement between the county and the cell service provider could bring some relief.
During their lone meeting in July, supervisors gave the go-ahead to enter into an agreement with Verizon to allow them to co-locate their equipment on the county’s water tower located along Courthouse Road, using space previously held by nTelos Wireless, who has since removed their equipment from the tower.
According to county documents, Verizon Wireless, one of the nation’s largest cell phone company approached the county to see if they place their equipment on the county’s water tower in the former place that nTelos Wireless used to lease.
Currently, rival service provider AT&T has equipment on the water tower as they lease space from the county to be there and, at one-time nTelos, which is now operated by Sprint also had equipment on the tower, but has since left, resulting in the opening on the structure.
While the public hearing saw no comment from residents either for or against the matter, much of the public hearing on the agreement itself was spent reviewing some of the particulars of the contract that had been discussed when the proposal was initially made in February.
According to county staff, this proposal wouldn’t have an impact on the tank itself as Verizon would simply assume the space left vacant by nTelos. When the matter was brought up during the winter of this year, it was revealed that Verizon Wireless had an interest in buying the part of the land where their equipment would be housed but the county was firm in their position of telling the multi-billion dollar company that property would not be for sale.
“We are going to let Verizon Wireless know that we have do not intend to sell that area they are looking to occupy,” county representatives said at the time, noting that the decision to not sell land to Verizon “could delay” negotiations, but the agreement being presented to Verizon by the county has a similar architecture to the agreement the county had with nTelos Wireless and currently has with AT&T.
When asked in February, County Attorney Steven Micas explained to supervisors and the audience in attendance that the basis for the county Utilities Department not wanting to sell the property is due to the fact that it will “complicate the county’s use of the parcel” and “we need the flexibility of the county to come and go and use the facility.”
“The primary use is for water, not for telecommunications,” he said. “But I think it is important for the Board to know if Verizon takes a hard line saying you have to give us the land, that will delay improvements to cell phone service in the Courthouse area.”
He continued, “The county has every interest in getting Verizon up on that tower but we don’t think it is in the county’s best interest to sell the parcel.”
As part of the now-approved lease agreement, Verizon is to pay Prince George County $27,600 per year over a term of five years, with four additional five-year options. Each of those five-year renewals includes a ten percent increase in annual lease costs, meaning if Verizon wanted to renew their lease for another five years at the end of the first five years of the agreement where they are being charged $27,600, that renewal would see their annual lease rise to $30,360 for the next five years until their next option, and so on.
According to county documents, Verizon Wireless would be “responsible for all improvements to and maintenance to support their equipment at the water tower” and the proposed equipment will not impact operations or maintenance of the water tower.
In addition, the company would cease operations on the tower in the event that their equipment interferes with county emergency communications.
“Verizon documents numerous complaints from citizens regarding their coverage,” paperwork from the county reported leading up to the hearing. “The lease will allow Verizon to significantly increase their coverage in the county as well as their capacities, thereby reducing lag times.”