UPPER MARLBORO – Just weeks after residents in Greenbelt and Accokeek raised loud opposition to Milestone Communications possibly constructing cell phone towers in their communities, the Prince George’s County Board of Education met with the company for updates on its contract. On May 23, the board met with Milestone in a small committee meeting for […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Just weeks after residents in Greenbelt and Accokeek raised loud opposition to Milestone Communications possibly constructing cell phone towers in their communities, the Prince George’s County Board of Education met with the company for updates on its contract.
On May 23, the board met with Milestone in a small committee meeting for updates on its current proposals as well as to discuss the contract the school system has with the communications company.
Boardmember Sonya Williams made the suggestion to board leadership to host such a meeting since so many members of the board took their seats after the contract was approved.
“Several of our board members are new to the board and were not here during the original contract signature. So as a result, a lot of fruits of that contract are now coming to be realized,” she said. “The community has a lot of angst about it and we as the board are trying to understand the relationship.”
Len Forkas, founder of Milestone, provided updates on the two most recent ventures of the company in Greenbelt and Accokeek. Both of those tower proposals were recently dropped due to various reasons. The Milestone leader said the company has just started moving forward with proposals after a slight slump in interest in building towers on the part of cell phone companies.
“In 2012, AT&T and T-Mobile decided to merge. They were our two biggest customers and for two years, they did nothing,” he said. “So we had nothing come through our pipeline until 2014.”
As Milestone starts to take advantage of opportunities afforded in the contract with PGCPS, the community is starting to see more instances of cell phone tower proposals and communication around what is going to happen has been key.
However, communication has also been a key issue when it comes to Milestone moving forward, as Boardmember Lupi Qunteros-Grady pointed out in her letter to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell when asking him to reject the tower proposed at Eleanor Roosevelt High School.
“The process followed by Milestone Communications has shown a lack of respect for community engagement and a complete dismissal of community concerns. The very location of one meeting showed a clear insensitivity to the community’s views. Milestone’s decision to host a meeting outside of the high school and city of Greenbelt limited local participation by design,” she wrote.
Forkas said the company has a long process dedicated to informing residents about possible towers and that process begins long before a tower will ever break ground on a site. He did, however, admit there have been some hiccups in the process in Prince George’s County and said Milestone will do better.
For the tower in Greenbelt, Forkas said T-Mobile itself decided to back out of the Roosevelt location and instead decided to pursue adding a tower to a nearby building the company initially had its eye on. That location is still in the same general area.
“The fact of the matter is there is an insatiable demand for data traveling through these devices and in order for the carriers to keep pace with the demand from consumers they have to do three things: they have to buy spectrum from the (Federal Communications Commission), the need to upgrade to the most recent equipment and the third is they have to deploy more towers,” Forkas said.
In Prince George’s, nearly 80 percent of all emergency calls are made from cell phones now, Forkas said. At the same time, the biggest challenge is providing service to residential communities, which typically can only be reached by building towers in large spaces such as parks or schoolyards.
“That’s why our partnerships with schools and parks have been so successful, because we have a lot of flexibility on the type of tower we choose, as well as the location,” he said. “The other thing is schools need resources and this is a great opportunity to be able to combine a solution for the infrastructure with the potential for revenue.”
Beyond the cell phone carriers’ need for more towers, there is the issue of health and safety concerns from residents. Forkas said there is a disconnect between the perception of towers and the “actual science,” though he admitted advocates and opponents of the tower may just need to “agree to disagree.”
However, board members suggested Milestone and PGCPS partner on creating a section of the school system website dedicated to providing information about towers, their possible health affects or lack thereof, updates to annual testing of radiation levels and a list of possible sites for towers.
In addition, Board Chair Segun Eubanks, who said he is in favor of the contract with Milestone, said he wants the company and board to move forward cautiously after the proposals were pulled at Roosevelt and Accokeek because of perceived issues of inequity.
“The decisions to not build in Roosevelt and Accokeek have made it extremely difficult for me,” he said. “I think we put ourselves in a very precarious situation if it looks like the politically influential communities are able to avoid cell phone towers and the politically less influential and less economically powerful communities end up with cell phone towers.”