This morning, the college will conduct a balloon test to examine the visual impact of a proposed cellphone tower as a part of its initiative to improve cellular service to Verizon customers both around campus and in the Swarthmore Borough.
The college is currently negotiating the terms of the agreement with Verizon and an independent cell tower construction company, Network Building + Consulting. Joel Cooper, Chief Information Technology Officer at the college, explained that Verizon initially approached the college to expand coverage to an area known to have limited cellular reception.
“Verizon knows —and anyone at Swarthmore who is a Verizon customer knows— that Verizon cell service at Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore Borough, and in Nether Providence Township, is horrible,” said Cooper.
Some of the push toward implementing a new cell tower also came from RAs on the southern end of campus who in past years had trouble fulfilling responsibilities, like calling Public Safety, due to poor reception.
After the cell tower is constructed, telecommunications carriers like Verizon or AT&T can lease space on the cell towers to implement their hardware and spread coverage to surrounding areas.
In general, the strength of cellular reception depends mainly on the amount of users and tower placement. If there is not enough overlap between cell towers, coverage gaps arise, which lead to dropped calls and overall poor service. In the area immediately surrounding campus, there are currently two registered cell towers. Both are independently owned by outside companies.
Though Verizon will be the first carrier to utilize and lease the space on the tower, Cooper later noted that the college expects coverage to increase for those who use other cellular carriers since the tower will be “carrier agnostic.” That means other carriers like AT&T or T-Mobile are able to lease space on the tower from Network Building + Consulting, too. However, it is uncertain if or when those carriers will expand their coverage around the Swarthmore area.
“The construction and funding of cell phone towers is [sic] fairly straight-forward,” said Greg Brown, Vice President for Finance and Administration at the college. “The cell phone tower company enters into a lease agreement with the landowner and agrees to pay rent over a period of time. They assume all of the costs of the actual construction of the tower or of antennae.”
Because the college owns the Crum Woods, the planned site of construction, all the revenue from the Network Building + Consulting lease will go directly to college’s general budget. After construction, carriers like Verizon will then lease space on the tower itself from Network Building + Consulting. Brown later went on to say that the cell tower is unrelated to other capital projects the college has been developing like new dorms, academic buildings, and expanded keycard access.
“Our primary concerns in evaluating the proposal relate to improved cell phone coverage, the aesthetic impact of the tower, and the terms of the lease agreement,” he said.
The increased coverage from the tower will especially benefit reception on the southern end of campus, where most dorms are situated. The tower will also improve coverage in the surrounding areas. In Swarthmore Borough, reception is nearly nonexistent in some areas along S. Chester Road like Swarthmore Pizza.
“I think it’s about time that Swarthmore is finally introducing better service for Verizon customers,” said Tim D. Nguyen ’19. “There is horrendous reception which leads to the inability to make emergency phone calls and a lot of spots on campus that don’t even have reception. Improved service for Verizon customers will allow better communication and prevention of emergency situations.”
Caroline Coats ’19 also echoed those feelings.
“I think expanded coverage will be a really great thing because my cell service has been really bad especially near the field house,” she said. “It’s really frustrating since I spend so much time there as an athlete.”