Effort aims to boost Pitkin County’s cell coverage
Ryan Summerlin October 2, 2012
ASPEN – Eventual relief may be in sight for cellphone users affected by the annoying holes in service in the Roaring Fork Valley and dead zones in places such as the Fryingpan and Crystal valleys.Pitkin County has embarked on a study to find out where service is lacking and where there might be opportunities to install towers to boost cellular and broadband coverage.”It became clear through the report findings that the county’s geography is extremely prohibitive in providing ubiquitous service,” said a recent memo from county staff members to the county commissioners. The county study collected 4 million data points throughout the area to determine where improvements are needed, according to County Manager Jon Peacock.Nearly all carriers lack sufficient coverage in seven general areas of the broader Roaring Fork basin. Those are: along Highway 133 south of Carbondale, along Frying Pan Road east of Basalt, in a large portion of Snowmass Village, along Highway 82 east of Aspen, on Castle Creek Road, on Maroon Creek Road and on major portions of all four ski areas.Now, the county is prioritizing sites to determine which to try to improve first. The Pitkin County Public Safety Council was consulted to find out where its efforts would be enhanced with increased service.Along with identifying where service needs to be improved, the county is looking at availability of its land and other sites for installation of cell towers and other infrastructure. It makes the most sense to dovetail studies of where service needs to be enhanced along with availability of property, Peacock said. It makes no sense to prioritize coverage when no site for infrastructure is available.The county is looking at its own property as well as land owned by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and private parties.”The information on the study-area reports showed a partnership with Aspen Skiing Co. would be beneficial for this project,” the county staff memo said. “Cellular service coverage works best when broadcast across a valley from where service is desired. The (Skico) properties would be beneficial to expanding coverage to areas in Pitkin County and county sites and/or properties would be beneficial to providing coverage to the ski areas.”Once the county and partners determine where it makes sense to pursue installation of towers, it will likely put out a request for proposals for companies that want to pursue the work. The projects could be alluring because the county could lease out land, Peacock noted.The county wants towers and infrastructure installed that benefits multiple carriers. “That’s the whole goal here – efficiency,” Peacock said. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon all provide service in the valley.No timetable is set yet for when the county would like to pursue projects. Peacock noted the county has funds available for such projects because voters approved a ballot measure in November that gives permission to use taxes collected for the translator system to extend broadband and cell service.