Two new cellular communication towers proposed for Bartholomew County are a signal that more could be dotting the landscape as local data usage increases.
A South Bend firm plans to erect the 199-foot towers in lowly populated areas south of Columbus.
The towers are the first to be proposed in the county for several years, said Jeff Bergman, City of Columbus-Bartholomew County planning director.
One would be between Interstate 65 and Inwood Drive near Walesboro. Geographic information system and county tax records indicate it would be in the Woodside Industrial Park. The park is zoned industrial, and the tower’s approval would be up to Bergman, according to county ordinances.
The second would be near county roads 60E and 1000S, near Jonesville, which GIS and property tax records show is on land parcel owned by Harold and Marcia Middendorf Farms Inc. That tower is proposed for a rural area with only a few homes on large parcels nearby. That tower would be subject to zoning board approval and will require a public hearing, Bergman said.
Thomas Pevlor, who lives on County Road 1000S, said he is not thrilled to have a tower so close to his home, but he said there isn’t much he can do about it.
“I guess someone can do whatever they want on their own property, as long as it’s legal,” Peylor said. “The only time it creates a problem is if it intrudes on health or safety of neighbors. It also depends on where it’s located because we like the fact that it’s pretty rural out here.”
Concerns have been raised about potential health hazards associated with cell towers. The American Cancer Society provides a link regarding potential health issues on its website, but it indicates there is no evidence to suggest a link between proximity to telecommunications towers and specific health risks.
Bergman could recall three towers being added in Bartholomew County in the past eight years. They were built southeast of City Hall, on Middle Road near the Columbus Municipal Airport and on McClure Road near the Columbus City Utilities offices, he said.
Population density, public safety and aesthetics are factors that determine where and under what conditions new communications towers are permitted in the county. For example, some of the downtown zoning districts prohibit towers because city officials believe they would mar the landscape.
The Bartholomew County GIS system shows four cell towers in the county, but there are more than 20 operating now, said Ken Schmidt, president of Steel in the Air, a company that provides advice to landowners negotiating lease contracts for cell towers.
The perception that most regions in Indiana don’t have enough cellphone coverage is actually reality — most regions are underserved, Schmidt said. A combination of more cellphones and residents using tablets, iPads, and devices for video games and streaming audio are stretching coverage capabilities, he said.
“The pending data surge, or tsunami if you will, is overwhelming carriers,” Schmidt said. “They (companies) can buy more spectrum, they can put up more towers, and they can augment their equipment. They are actually going to have to do all of that to handle the data needs for the number of devices that are coming online and the amount of data they are using,” he said.
Wireless-only households in Indiana increased dramatically from 2007 to 2012, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC decided to research who was dropping landlines for cellphones because it was affecting the number of people the agency could reach during its telephone surveys.
In 2007, 14.1 percent of Indiana households were wireless only, according to the CDC’s research. By 2012, that number had jumped to 36.1 percent.
Over the same period, the number of households that used only landlines decreased from 22.5 percent to 9.5 percent, according to the CDC.
Bill Soards, president of AT&T Indiana, said the need for additional telecommunications capability is twofold.
“In more metropolitan areas, you will see the industry investing to keep up with capacity and in more rural areas to increase coverage,” he said.
Soards said the need for increased capacity is the result of consumers dropping landlines and connecting more devices to wireless networks.
New technology on the horizon is creating even more demand for wireless capacity.
Still relatively new to the market but expected to achieve widespread integration soon are wireless innovations in home security and the automobile industry, Soards said.
By 2015, every new General Motors vehicle will have AT&T LTE technology built in, and the company also has contracts with other automakers, Soards said.
The GM vehicles will be able to use wireless technology for everything from diagnostics, software updates and navigation to television services and Wi-Fi hotspots.
Wireless networks also are expected to redefine the home-security market, providing capability to lock doors and turn off appliances remotely, in addition to traditional home-monitoring services.
Additional capacity also will be required to provide service for each or all of those products in every equipped vehicle and home.
“All of these factors — the connected home, the connected car — are driving a surge in the broadband and wireless industries,” Soards said. “A&T over the last three years has invested over $1.75 billion in Indiana alone in wired and wireless business.”
As part of its Project Velocity IP, AT&T also is deploying small-cell technology and macro cells to help support the growth in mobile data traffic, as are other providers.
Small cells, which are just a few cubic feet in diameter, are designed to boost cell signals in high-traffic areas and can be deployed on lampposts, utility poles and building walls.
Both of the proposed new towers in Bartholomew County would be constructed by Horvath Towers III of South Bend. Company representatives declined to answer questions about plans for the towers.
Horvath Towers III is a division of Horvath Communications, which provides services to a wide range of telecommunications carriers, including AT&T and Verizon.
Companies such as Horvath Communications often enter into long-term lease agreements with property owners and then lease space on the towers to telecommunications providers.
Schmidt said the towers can be a lucrative proposition for landowners.
“Typically it is a 25-year lease, which is broken down into five-year terms, and the rights are only vested in the company,” Schmidt said. “You will see contracts in the area of a couple hundred dollars a month on the low end to as much as a few thousand dollars a month.”
Schmidt said the range of payment amounts are due to several factors, including the desirability of a location, the availability of alternate sites and the amount of industry knowledge of a property owner.