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Southold officials look to boost cell phone coverage through new technology

With spotty cell phone service across Southold Town, officials are hoping that a new technology can begin to address connectivity issues.

The technology, which places receiving cells on street light fixtures and not traditional cell phone towers, could be the solution to the frustration of no bars and dropped calls, said Town Supervisor Scott Russell.

“Southold has areas of terrible cell phone coverage,” he said during a Tuesday morning work session, where he proposed issuing a Request for Proposals to solicit ideas for better reception townwide. “We need to figure out how we can incorporate new technology to improve cell coverage throughout the entire community.”

The cells are often a most cost-effective alternative to leasing tower space or building new infrastructure.

Mr. Russell said there are approximately 1,200 town-owned street lights in town, not including Fishers Island, that could be eligible.

He said he’s heard several pitches from different companies appearing before the county’s Supervisor’s Association that range from single carrier service that would require the town purchase the devices, to a more appealing multi-host setup that would be installed at no cost to the town. 

“Not everyone has the same cell carrier,” Mr. Russell said, noting that the proposal could bring 5G and even WiFi coverage to the entire community.

Mr. Russell also said Wednesday that visual and other impacts, including health concerns, would be considered as part of any evaluation.

The idea was met with support from board members who agreed cell coverage is a widespread issue. Several areas in town are  notorious for having poor cell reception, including the downtown area in Southold, Bayview and Soundview communities.

“It’s almost impossible to find areas of coverage because of the topography,” Mr. Russell said of areas along the Long Island Sound.

Councilman Jim Dinizio said the new technology is worth looking into. 

“Let’s listen to what they have to say. Let’s start looking at the new stuff,” Mr. Dinizio said.

The town may partner with the Village of Greenport, which faces similar coverage issues, to publish the RFP and consider formal proposals.

“The interest is really out there,” the supervisor said. “We should be casting a wide net.”

Editor’s Note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story suggested the antennas might be placed on top of poles. That is not necessarily the case.