Hearing witness says drive test results support need for proposed cell tower
● By Richard Gaw
Throughout his three-hour testimony and cross-examination before the New Garden Township Zoning Hearing Board on Oct. 16, a design engineer stood by the results of a two-day test in April that he said supported the need for a telecommunications tower to be built in Landenberg, in order to strengthen the coverage area in the vicinity of the Old Stenning Farm, where the tower is proposed to be constructed.
The hearing was held before the township's Zoning Hearing Board and moderated by township solicitor Winifred Sebastian, Esq. It was a continuation of the Oct. 2 hearing, when an amended plan was agreed to that would scratch the original pine tree design of the tower, in favor of being redesigned to resemble a barn silo – known as a stealth silo structure that would contain the cell tower and include protective fencing, landscaping and access to main road.
For nearly two hours, Christopher Shubert, an attorney with Riley, Riper, Hollin & Collagreco and the legal representative for Eco-Site, Inc., asked his witness Andrew Peterson, a radio frequency design engineer with DBM Engineering in Fairville, Pa., to provide the details of a drive test Peterson supervised on April 24 and 25 in Landenberg, that assessed the service level of the wireless providers that are currently serving the area – T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and AT&T.
Peterson worked on the testing and concluding report with representatives from King of Prussia-based QuadGen Wireless Solutions, Inc. No representatives from the company were called as witnesses at the hearing.
Peterson was deployed by Eco-Site, Inc., as part of the company's application to install a 125-foot tall personal wireless services facility for T-Mobile Northeast, LLC on property owned by Arthur and Renee Santoro at 1511 Yeatmans Station Road in Landenberg.
Referring to the findings of the test, Peterson told Shubert there was a service gap in cell coverage among the wireless providers who provide service in the township, that he estimated to encompass 8.7 square miles. He identified the gap area to be bound by Good Hope Road, Doe Run Road and Little Baltimore Road to the north; North Star Road, Crossan Road, Doe Run Road and Thompson Station Road to the east; Chambers Rock Road to the south; and New London Road and Flint Hill Road to the west.
Peterson said that the gap contains 25 miles of thruways and 20 miles of neighborhood roads, 839 total parcels and 764 residences in Pennsylvania, and 1,171 parcels and 1,007 residences in Delaware.
The purpose of the drive test, Peterson said, was to assess the 'real-world' radio frequency, strength and quality of service that the subscriber experiences on the day of testing. The test, he said, also used 8 phones in the test vehicle that placed test calls to determine their rate of connectivity. Placing calls from the vehicle, Peterson said, better emulates what a typical driver experiences when he or she makes a call from his or her vehicle.
The test included 283 total cell phone calls, 147 of which attempted to reach T-Mobile users within the area. Of those, 11 didn't go through: Eight were dropped calls and three were ineffective attempts. Translated, that's 7.4 percent of the calls made in the testing area that were considered adverse, which Peterson said is in excess of the case law reliability threshold, which is set at 95 percent. Service providers tend to set their ideal successful call rate at about 98 percent.
Of the service providers tested, T-Mobile had the lowest percentage of adverse calls, while AT&T and Verizon Wireless registered the highest percentage.
“Today's subscribers expect their wireless devices to work, anywhere and under any circumstances, although practically, that's not always possible, for a variety of reasons,” Peterson said. “My drive test was a comprehensive benchmark test that included all of the carriers and their frequencies. We felt that it was appropriate to look at everything. The courts have established that in order to prove a substantial gap in coverage, we need to demonstrate that there are adverse caller rates at more than five percent, in order to qualify that an area has a gap in service.”
The test was chosen to be done at a time of the year when the trees in the area were largely devoid of leaves, Peterson said, because its results would not be impacted by the presence of foliage.
Eco-Site, Inc. is challenging the validity of the township's zoning ordinance because they claim it violates The Telecommunications Act of 1996; is unduly restrictive and fails to provide a fair share of use for personal wireless facilities; is invalid and unconstitutional; that the township's height limitation of the proposed tower to not exceed 40 feet in height is exclusionary; and that the ordinance fails to adequately provide for personal wireless service facilities throughout the township.
For the last ten months, the Eco-Site application has been challenged by several residents who live on Beeson Court, Evans Drive, McCormick Drive, Nivin Lane, Quartz Mill Road, Watson Mill Road and Yeatmans Station Road. From the time the zoning application hearing process began earlier this year, those given “party status” have cross-examined Shubert's witnesses, in an attempt to prove that there is no need for a cell tower in the proposed location. One of these residents, John Kuhn, is being represented by attorney Marc D. Jonas of the law firm of Eastburn and Gray, PC.
After a short recess and a cross-examination by two members of the Zoning Hearing Board, Peterson fielded several questions from residents Teal Rickerman, Julie Rickerman, Gerry Green and Eric Baker. They focused their questions on the dimensions of the communications gap that Peterson's drive test identified, the range of its effectiveness, and how inadequate cell phone coverage is defined.
Peterson was also cross-examined by township attorney Mark Thompson.
“My question is, which came first?” Thompson asked. “Was it the existing service gap or the drive test? How did you determine where to perform the drive test?”
“When we're evaluating the radio frequency environment for a service provider, we do so knowing where the existing T-Mobile sites are established,” Peterson said. “I prescribed that we drive all of the roads in the areas between them.”
In referencing a map of the test area, Thompson questioned the roads that were driven during the test and their proximity – or lack of – to the gap-in-coverage area.
“Where does the gap end and the service begin?” he asked.
“It's not a black and white type of analysis,” Peterson said. “To say that one side of the road is inside the gap and the other side is out is a difficult thinking to do, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Geographically speaking, it's customary to define that by roadways, but once we suspect the gap in service, we're then tasked with determining the adverse calls within that gap, and that's how the courts have decided how gaps are established.”
The conditional use hearing will be continued on Nov. 7, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the New Garden Township building. Sebastian said that it is her hope that the hearing process will conclude by the end of the year.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.