Tahoe lament: ‘Can you hear me now?’
For thousands of residents and visitors to the Tahoe Basin, trying to use a cell phone can be an exercise in futility.
This technological wonder has been the subject of proposed traffic laws and environmental pollution concerns, and has even introduced a new phrase into our everyday jargon, “Can you here me now?”
Improvements in the technology of cell phone service are going on all the time, but because their performance relies on cell towers or sites, the progress is slow when it comes to an area like the environmentally sensitive basin.
The basin is serviced by several surrounding towers and cell sites around Lake Tahoe.
In the Incline Village area, there are cell towers on businesses, the Hyatt Resort being the most prominent. There is also a tower on Mount Rose, but even this coverage doesn’t assure a connection every time.
“The Tahoe Basin is an extremely challenging area when it comes to cell phone service,” Lauren Garner, public relations director for Cingular Wireless said.
“Wireless phone service is essentially a line-of-sight transmission, and if there’s something between your phone and the nearest antenna site, your call may have difficulties going through,” Garner said.
Danny Puckett, a field engineer for AT&T Wireless, agrees.
“The terrain really plays havoc with reception in the area and, until the technology improves, people will just have to learn to live with it,” Puckett said.
Besides the uneven topography of the area, Garner points to the permit process as another hurdle wireless companies must deal with.
“The coordination of permitting processes through the various local and federal agencies can be extensive,” Garner said. “The complete process can take up to a year to get through.”
Other factors Garner points to involve the elements.
“The weather can also extend the process another six months. Rain and snow may impede the ability to complete the necessary surveys, drawings and environmental studies.”
Garner added that Cingular is planning to upgrade its existing sites and add four sites in the Incline Village area in the next year or so.
Improving existing sites will have to do for now, as Washoe County has had a moratorium on the construction of new towers within the county since late October.
“We are in the process of establishing standards for any new towers that may be planned for the future in the county,” Washoe County Planner Trevor Lloyd said. “So, for now, no new towers will be built.”
“That doesn’t include improvements to existing cell sites, just new ones. And we expect to have those standards established in the very near future,” Lloyd said.
Until the moratorium is lifted and the technology catches up with the demand, Tahoe Basin cell phone customers will just have to deal with inconsistency.