By James Matthews
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It’s taken a little longer than expected to convert cellular phone towers from LTE to 5G capacity as part of the Cell Gap Project.
Dysart’s township council was updated March 28 about progress made by the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), the group that’s heading up the project.
Closing gaps in cellular coverage will improve service, help residents stay connected, and increase cellphone capacity in the region. Ultimately, better service will better support public safety through a more reliable 9-1-1 emergency service.
All that translates to a better tourism experience for visitors. Improved wireless service will cultivate a robust economy.
As many as 312 existing sites will be upgraded to support LTE cellphones and 5G service. So far, about 297 sites have been completed.
About 260 new sites will be built. As many as 74 sites will be located on existing towers of other service providers.
It’s anticipated that the work will be completed by 2025.
“We are making very good progress in our upgrades,” said Jason St. Pierre, the CEO at EORN.
However, he said, it was hoped the project would have been farther along by this point.
“It’s taken us a little bit longer to get to this point than we’d initially anticipated when we developed the project,” St. Pierre said.
While he characterized progress as favourable thus far, EORN will adopt a more aggressive pace over the next two years, he said.
Once the updated technology is in place, it’ll be able to accommodate faster and newer technology as it comes onto market.
“What we’re building today we really are looking to future proof our network,” he said. “We’re building the right network with the right coverage to be able to service not just today but also the future.”
In Haliburton County, EORN has upgraded 19 of 21 towers. And all six towers in Dysart have been upgraded. They propose to build 31 new towers in the county, with 13 of them to be erected in Dysart.
“It is one of the most aggressive builds that we have within our eastern Ontario regional network plan with Rogers,” St. Pierre said.
Jeff Iles, the township’s planning and land information director, spoke to council about a 75-metre guyed communications tower Rogers proposed to put in an area of Elephant Lake Road northwest of Benoir Lake.
The proposed tower is in line with the EORN work to upgrade the service in the region.
The site location is about 264 metres from the nearest residence when policy dictates that at least a kilometre distance is preferred. And it’s a guyed-style tower when a mono-pine style is encouraged.
“The applicant knows that the setback distance of 264 metres from a residence is consistent with other towers in Dysart and elsewhere,” Iles said. “They further state that locating the tower 1,000 metres from a residence means that the tower would fail to cover the subscribers in the area.”
Further, mono-pine style towers have a maximum height of 40 metres which is not of the height to meet the technical requirements.
Iles said the proposed site will have minimal impact on surrounding land uses.
Councillor Tammy Donaldson said the site acquisition specialist contracted by Rogers identified at least 10 sites suitable for the structure.
The chosen site, she said, is the only one that’s located near a residence.
“Our communities are counting on council to protect their interest, and that why we’re were elected,” she said. “It’s definitely not that we don’t want cell service to our communities, it’s just that there are other options or locations that are possible and other solutions … and we need to recognize that.”
Jeff McKay, the site acquisition specialist, said the public consultation process is an opportunity to address concerns and questions.
“There are no new comments raised here today that haven’t been addressed fully, formally in the public consultation process,” McKay said.
Telecommunication towers need to be situated where they can best cover a specific area, he said. And the Elephant Lake Road site is such a location.
“These towers pose a risk at no location that’s publicly accessible, even at the base of the tower, to health or anything else,” he said.
Mayor Murray Fearrey asked what the issues were that disqualified the other identified sites for the tower.
McKay said those sites weren’t chosen because of signal coverage concerns. HD coverage would be displaced from residents if the tower was to be at a different site.
“At the location that we are, we’re capturing hundreds of additional residents into that 5G good coverage radius, which is the product that cluster of people need,” McKay said.