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Gaps in cellphone coverage in the city of Naples pose life and safety concerns, prompting City Council to consider hiring a national consultant to analyze the coverage and fill gaps while balancing aesthetics and fears of 5G radiation. 

Council members cited coverage problems on the north and south ends of the 12.3-square-mile city, where there are currently 15 cell towers permitted, all except one by Verizon Wireless. Most in the city are nonconcealed small cell towers, not macro cells. 

“I’ve gotten many, many, many more calls from residents complaining about poor cell coverage in Naples, particularly at the north end of town than I have from residents complaining about the risk of radiation poisoning,” councilman Ray Christman said during a June 5 meeting, adding that he understood concerns about mitigating the aesthetic impact and blending cell towers into the fabric of the city. 

“Cell service is a fundamental necessity of life in Naples and every other part of this country and in this world today that we just have to recognize and acceptand working with these businesses that provide that is therefore a necessary part,” he added. 

In June 2017, the state declined the city’s request to veto small cell tower legislation and that November, the Federal Communications Commission streamlined the review process for replacement utility poles to facilitate build-out of next-generation wireless infrastructure. In April 2018, the city was contacted by its first small cell company, Crown Castle Fiber, which applied for a small-cell permit. 

Fearing a proliferation, the city passed aesthetic standards in March 2019 to preempt efforts associated with FCC regulations permitting small-antenna permits. Now, there are 15 towers and seven pending Verizon permits. 

City Manager Jay Boodheshwar said there are preemptive state statutes and regulatory agencies within the state and the federal government, concerns about aesthetics and safety, in addition to strict permit application deadlines staff must adhere to, so many municipalities turned to the private sector to guide them. 

Susan Rabold, vice president of South Carolina-based CityScape Consultants Inc., noted most towers in the city are small cells, but all four providers will need the same service coverage to meet subscribers’ demands. “They’re all going to want to have that equal access and you have to provide that equal access,” Rabold said. 

CityScape, which only works with governments, maps coverage areas and gaps, predicts future needs, reviews permit applications and suggests aesthetic alternatives, such as mock trees that blend into the landscape, towers painted to blend into the environment or wiring hidden in cylindrical shields atop existing poles. She noted the city had mostly nonconcealed small cells and at least one macro cell, but could consider concealed and semiconcealed towers. 

Rabold, who noted Naples needs more cell infrastructure, said one of its clients determined it would need 40 to 50 small cells to meet capacity, so it’s amending its codes to focus more on macro cells, something the city may want to consider. 

Council directed the city manager to consider CityScape and bring back more information at a future meeting. 

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