Longboat heading down wrong path with light poles, technology

Editor & Publisher

Imagine the Town Commission sitting in an entirely dark room with no information, no direction and the room is spinning quickly. Any words spoken are blurred by the rapid movement. The effect is mix of dizziness, nausea, dread and fear. It is like a bad carnival ride.

That is like watching our town leaders make a decision on light poles for our community.

It goes like this.

Once upon a time, Longboat Key voters approved through two referendums spending about $50 million to bury its utility lines, install a fiber optic backbone and replace the streetlights ideally with upgraded and aesthetically superior fixtures.

And just like building a home, the fun stuff comes at the end — the finish work. That would be in our case the streetlights and the landscaping.

But of course we have no landscaping plan and we certainly have not seen as a community examples of the actual streetlights we will be getting. Let me explain why: Smart Cell technology.

Excuse the oxymoron, but Smart Cells and Smart Poles are now driving the entire process governing the height of our future light poles.

The original thought was to bury everything, unclutter the community and only put back the minimum lighting infrastructure we need or want as a community.

But now, the Commission has taken on an entirely new and ambitious endeavor: to implement a small cell, smart pole network island-wide.

The Town cannot spend the referendum money on this because it is not what was approved by voters. But, the Town has partnered with a private company that will erect poles throughout the community and co-locate smart cell antennas on every light pole all in the hope that they can sell the plan to wireless telecommunication companies like Sprint and Verizon

The problem is the network has to be island-wide. So even areas that have undergrounded wires and very few light poles will have an undetermined number of these poles with rectangular antennae boxes attached.

Bay Isles, Country Club Shores, Islandside, the north-end, The Village and everywhere in between will have to have an infrastructure to support this endeavor to make it viable and marketable.

Part of the justification or argument is that if we build it with our private partner, Waterleaf, the telecommunication giants can be encouraged and cajoled to use our system and we can define the height and spacing and look of the system.

But the reality is we cannot force any company to co-locate or use our system and there are absolutely no contracts or agreements that say they will. We are simply helping Waterleaf with a system that if it sells to one company at a profit can justify its build-out.

We should be far more concerned with creating and crafting a code and ordinances regulating the look and height of any future telecommunications poles and antennas. We are allowed to do that under Federal law and so long as the regulations do not preclude the technology and allow a viable system they are defensible.

This act of Longboat Key partnering in the telecommunication business and designing the height of its light pole fixtures and facilitating the development of countless new antennae poles and infrastructure puts us directly in a business where we do not belong.

We should seek to regulate our destiny. We should not be subsidizing and facilitating this plan.

What we should be doing is laying the fiber optic cable, the dark fiber, as we all agreed upon as a community. Then we should be picking out the most aesthetically superior light fixtures we can afford.

This undergrounding project is supposed to be all about creating a beautiful visual environment. It is about safety in storms and property values. It is not about littering the Key and believing we are on the leading edge of technology.

Look at the community center debate with Ringling, look at our building code and codes for reconstruction, look at how we as community navigate the parking dilemma at the Mar Vista. Our municipal DNA does not lend itself to rapid deployment of technological solutions. We crawl into our Brave New World on Longboat Key.

We should stick to what makes this community great: — protecting its greatest asset — the natural beauty of the island and the strength and integrity of its development regulations.

When 5g technologies come and as phones and their antennas become increasingly more receptive, it is our codes and regulations that will herald and define our future. Let the market come and we will be ready.

Do our Longboat leaders really believe they and Waterleaf and the build-out of a defensive telecommunication network will be the solution to the mid-Key cell phone reception issues?

I bet it will simply be Longboat Key’s very own Maginot Line. Look how well that served France. The French believed they were safe, forward thinking and fully protected. It was a costly mistake. In the end, they were simply bypassed.

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3 Responses for “Longboat heading down wrong path with light poles, technology”

  1. What is black fiber says:

    I found your letter interesting. As someone on the north end in a one story house I have unreliable cell coverage that makes working on LBK difficult. So I need cell coverage. I would have preferred a nice big cross or flag pole at the church. But the government suggested mini cell as an alternative and the voters opposed the cell tower so here we are. Now the town is proposing to run the mini cell (5g) system along with a mystery black fiber network. No business plan. No defined customers. But they have our tax dollars to do it because the voters blindly said yes. It is time to demand greater accountability from our government. We need to see business plans and project scope documents. You need to have details not generalizations when you vote. You need to understand that the absentee property owners are not an unlimited ATM machine. Otherwise you will continue to have these “bridge to nowhere” projects. It is unfortunate this letter appeared after the winter residents departed.

  2. Steve Keller says:

    Steve Reid’s observations are right on the money – hope the Commissioner’s are tuned in.

  3. Barry C Rookes says:

    Introspective piece that nails what many of my neighbours also believe. Let’s stick to what we know and not be misguided in thinking that our commission of bright senior statesmen have the new vision of the telecommunication future. I’ve not heard of any think tank consultation from national experts on this fast moving industry. Stick to your knitting gentlemen.

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