County declines to answer six questions related to Short Hill site

Aerial shot of AT&T facility at the top of Short Hill Mountain.

AT&T Mid-Atlantic will be proposing to construct a 125-foot cell tower on Loudoun County’s Short Hill Mountain in the weeks ahead.

The tower is expected to address the need for improved wireless coverage for residents, businesses and public safety members, an effort made since 2018, according to company officials.

“As we've seen in the last couple of months, in particular, this migration from office park to home office, from school to home, from the doctor's office to telemedicine has really shown how important mobile broadband coverage is in western Loudoun County and across the country," Dan Langan, public affairs director for AT&T Mid-Atlantic, said in an interview with the Times-Mirror. “We think that this site will certainly fill those gaps and ensure that customers have access to the service they need.”

The proposed cell site addresses some concerns outlined in Loudoun County’s “Third-Gap Analysis” in 2014, according to the telecommunications company. The study was completed by Atlantic Group of Companies, Inc.

The site is located north of Hillsboro and rests between Routes 671 (Harper’s Ferry Road) and 690 (Mountain Road). The AT&T-owned land will include a 50-foot-by-50-foot compound with a 125-foot-tall monopole surrounded by a six-foot fence.

The height of the monopole was reduced from a previous proposal of 155 feet to 125 feet in response to feedback from the neighboring community.

AT&T representatives noted the new equipment would be smaller than the  transmission dishes that were at the utility substation for more than 50 years.

The proposed site will have at least two co-location opportunities, allowing other wireless carriers to add coverage to the area.

The site, according to company officials, will also enhance voice and mobile broadband coverage for customers and prepare for emerging technology such as 5G, which is “significantly faster and more capable than today’s networks.”

AT&T has yet to file its special exception application. The company has held pre-application discussions with county staff in recent weeks. After the application is filed, the item will be examined by county staff, then go to the Planning Commission and then to the Board of Supervisors for a final decision.

If approved, AT&T officials said the proposal will support first responders and small and family-owned businesses.

AT&T's Short Hill property has been the subject of heavy scrutiny and controversy in recent years.

In 2016, the company sought to build a 3.5-acre facility atop Short Hill Mountain. The 160,000-square-foot, above-ground facility was proposed to be constructed on top of AT&T’s already-existing underground facility. For months the community pressed the county and AT&T for answers about the proposal, a project many speculated to be a data center or federal facility. The community pressure led AT&T to withdraw its application, and the Board of Supervisors voted to overturn the commission permit it sought on June 23, 2016.

The company's 155-foot monopole proposal in 2018 also generated community opposition.

(24) comments

margegeneverra

The tower should be approved - only if it provides affordable broadband to western Loudoun residents.

The BOS has proven to be ineffective in getting broadband. They have a number of factors against them. Municipal broadband is out, as the large carriers have lobbied Richmond to get a bill forbidding it in Virginia. Fiber or coax will never get built, as Verizon and Comcast would not see sufficient revenue to justify investment in lower density areas. Federal regulations prevent the county from doing anything to pressure the carriers. Wireless is the only possible solution. Small providers, like AllPoints do not have sufficient capital to invest in the needed technology and thus only provide limited, expensive, coverage. Large providers like AT&T can provide it, but need towers to do so. Public NIMBY opposition from a small percentage of residents has prevented towers from being built. As a result, western Loudoun suffers. No towers – no broadband!

An interesting option is low latency satellite from StarLink. This differs from conventional satellite broadband which is expensive, capped, and limited by latency. If Starlink successful, they may have the solution and disrupt the current closed market. (Expect existing telcos to try to hinder Starlink, via the FCC and its chairman Ajit Pai, who is an ex telco lobbyist.)

Supervisors could also reach out to Microsoft, who is building an office and data-center in Leesburg. They have a wireless technology called “Airband”. If convinced, they could make Loudoun one of the pilot locations.

Maybe the county “Communications Commission” could actually do something useful, like explore broadband options. In the past 10 years, they done nothing, except to meet monthly and ask Verizon and Comcast “How’s it going?”. Loudoun government web site has video minutes posted. Watch a meeting or two to see the total lack of action.

Guest

I would like someone to define affordable? In Loudoun county that doesn't really mean anything. Because there are really few options now, the current providers can charge premium rates for substandard service. We absolutely need this tower for the Neersville side of short Hill mountain. The current solution has massive gaps in coverage for both Cell Phone and WISP providers. Also, the current Tower does not have a fiber backhaul to any service provider. This means two things, 1. We are subject to a frequent service outage, interruptions, and bandwidth throttling. There is simply not enough backhaul to accommodate all of the traffic even with the long-awaited 5-year upgrade. 2. It will never be viable to do upgrades like 5G that could possibly give us better download speeds. If the backhaul for 4G/LTE is insufficient, then a 10X explosion for 5G data will basically kill it. Think of it as detouring normal RTE 28 traffic to RTE 9 with Hillsboro shut down. Last, If our state is going to stay home for this or any new pandemic, then schools and work will all be done from home. The added daily traffic is basically already crushing the tower. I roll my own internet based on what some of the LTE vendors are doing, and to keep up with the needs of my household demand of 1 college student, HS student, 1 Elementary student and with me being a Computer Network Engineer, I currently run 3 separate LTE networks at about $225 Month. And this is by far the cheapest way we can operate.

Charles Houston

This monopole will require a Special Exception from the Board of Supervisors under section 5-618 of the zoning ordinance. Complain to them! Bitch about mountain-crest location, whether other carriers will be allowed to use it, whether it meets compatibility requirements in the zoning code, and demand to see a detailed map showing areas, in and out of Loudoun, that would be served by the tower.

Guest

Can the special exception be fast-tracked? This end of Loudoun is in a different ERA of technology. and it simply cannot continue this way. We need parity with the rest of the county and most of the country. If the major providers can afford to give discounted internet to poor areas of Loudoun County, then why can they not afford to run fiber to all? If there is no viable plan from Verizon, ATT, Comcast that fills the gap in the next 2 years, then we should pull their licenses to operate and sell them to the highest bidder who will guarantee a solution in under 24 Months.

Bud

If the tower can bring broadband availability to western Loudoun, then it needs to be built!

BobOhneiserEsq

High speed wireless can be installed across all the rural parts of Loudoun if only the BOS would spend more time negotiating with NOVEC, water storage facilities and Dominion Power for us rather than trying to remove 100 plus year old statues! The School board allows Verizon to provide wireless service out of our high schools (Tuscarora) at no charge but doesn't even have the maturity to ask for FIOS to be extended into area like Lucketts as a quid pro quo for those same students who need access from their homes too. Wake up (both boards) and serve the community - please. :-)

ace10

VZ has fiber in the ground in many places but will not serve the homes in front of which the fiber is buried. The BoS throws up their hands and says... "nothing we can do about."

So much laziness. Do your job!

Same goes for the homes that we, the taxpayers of Loudoun, are about to collectively buy north of Leesburg. More laziness. Take action against the developer and engineer who were behind this scam. No more permits. No more approvals.

Do your job!

Doug Glatt

If AT&T wants to help the great citizens of Loudoun, they need to put fiber in the ground. One tower is not going to solve the demand for service in the area.

It is also hilarious key words like '5G' are used to make it more appealing. 5G service has a range of one city block around each tower.

This installation will have a very low impact on first responders and small and family-owned businesses, as advertised.

Guest

The fiber is in the ground. ATT ran fiber in 2016 from beyond Leesburg All the way down rte 7 to MT Weather, RTE 9 to West VA, They branched off RTE 9 to Harpers Ferry Road and all the way to CBP in Harpers Ferry, WV. I was so excited when I bought in Neersville in 2016, only to find out later that it was either all for Federal Government use or the plans to light it up were scrapped when they killed the Short Hill Mountain facility upgrade.

Prophet Ignatius Blue

STOP RELYING ON TECHNOLOGY! Get outside learn the old skills. The world is in turmoil and my very well be heading toward the Rature. Prepare yourselves before it is truly too late.

Skyprince

Had AT&T been up front about this in 2016 it might be doable, but the company is not to be trusted. In 2016, as soon as I heard about their bait and switch, I cancelled all of our AT&T accounts. I want no part of an untruthful company.

Concerned

The lack of candor was driven by R Minchew and best bud G Higgins. Thankfully, the duo was rejected by voters last cycle.

Guest

This is an excuse as there is an existing tower on Long Lane that has not been activated. Per County Regulations towers of this height are not allowed along the scenic mountaintops. HEY COUNTY ENFORCE YOUR RULES!!! We bought in western Loudoun for the views, there are better and more effective options to provide internet in Western Loudoun. It's ironic that the county that advertises that 70% of the worlds Internet traffic flows through the county is having this discussion in 2020.

Guest

Please everyone have some common sense and don't try to oppose this tower this time. We need modern internet and cell so badly in this part of western Loudon for work, play and safety. Also being part of modern inventions like streaming t and cloud based security is nice too!

Guest

It would be helpful if you would please post the application number so we can read the documents on Building and Development LOLA site to stay informed. Under whose name or corporations is it being filed ?

Guest

The article says the application hasn't been submitted yet.

Guest

The article mentions they have had pre app discussions. That must have a PRAP # assigned.

ChocolateDinosaur

This will help with installing Covid-19 2.0 into everybody before Christmas.

TomPaine

I hope that's a joke. If not, you need some psychological help and a good science lesson.

RoundHillRes

Everyone knows that 5G is the true source of Covid19 duh.

Guest

You know it fer reelz! Sad lemmings jumping off the cliff looking at their phones

Guest

Yup 5G EMF’s are so incredibly strong that it negatively affects your immunity system thereby making it difficult for you to fight off disease like Covid-19. 5G causes cancer, neurological disease and death and is extremely dangerous. Everyone do your research!

Guest

That is not proven and in fact is garbage science. This is the same tactics used against every tower that is trying to be built. If you all had your way there’d have been no railroads and we’d be still riding horses everywhere.

Bud

Yup, and the world is flat...

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