As the rains start to come I know there are a few things that folks, especially in the Mountains, immediately worry about: when will the power go out, and not having cellphone service. There's no doubt people not having cell service is a huge concern, especially with the natural disasters and storms that can happen up here. While large swaths of Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz typically have consistent coverage, those residing in San Lorenzo Valley and other more rural locations suffer greatly.
So many of our neighbors work from home and when the power goes out and they lose WiFi it leaves them stranded and unable to work effectively. When storms hit and disasters strike it makes getting critical in the moment safety information impossible. Families can't reach other to communicate. The implications are wide spread and effect everybody.
This is a safety issue that I take very seriously. Spotty cellphone coverage has long plagued residents and visitors alike and we need to do something about it. For far too long a few people that didn’t want “ugly” towers have dictated the conversation, in opposition to the needs of the entire community. The time to act is now.
As your supervisor I will work aggressively on this issue, and here are a few paths forward.
1. Encourage New Infrastructure Investment: The county needs to motivate cell carriers to build more towers, equipment and infrastructure locally. Streamlining permitting for new sites while providing tax incentives can help overcome barriers to expanded coverage. Requirements to fill gaps along highways when doing other upgrades can also help connect major transportation routes.
2. Partner with Carriers on Creative Solutions: Specialized pilot programs, public-private partnerships and creative financing options with carriers can help bring connectivity to hard-to-cover rural zones. The county can even invest in its own infrastructure to lease to providers.
3. Update Local Rules and Regulations: Outdated zoning rules often hinder adding more modern cellular infrastructure. Updating policies to allow smaller, less intrusive equipment while speeding approvals can make it more feasible to improve coverage.
4. Leverage State and Federal Funding: Grant funding earmarked for rural connectivity should be utilized. Santa Cruz County needs advocacy at the state and national level to prioritize local access in new legislation.
5.Collaborate with Community Stakeholders: Working with local organizations to pinpoint key locations lacking public cellular access can allow for targeted solutions. Areas needed for emergency services should also be prioritized.
6.Apply Accountability Measures: Verifying that existing coverage requirements and permits are being met can uncover gaps that carriers must address. Providers should be held accountable when they don’t provide the 72 hours of service after the power goes out, which never happens.
With a combination of creative approaches, partnerships and advocacy, its possible to build the modern cellular infrastructure needed to support our residents, small businesses and local economy. Concerted effort is required to bring connectivity up to par with the rest of the Bay Area and beyond, but it is absolutely possible. So lets make it happen!