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Kincaid Park could get better cellphone service

Nathaniel Herz
Bob Hallinen

Ordering takeout on the way home from skiing at Anchorage's Kincaid Park is about to get easier.

AT&T is planning to install a temporary 65-foot cellphone tower on the west side of the park, which should boost reception for the many soccer players, cross-country skiers, mountain bikers, runners, and frisbee golfers who have long been bedeviled by spotty service.

Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration is proposing that AT&T pay a $1,800 monthly fee for a permit to install the wireless equipment, which would be located close to the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage's bunker near the western end of Raspberry Road.

The proposal will be introduced at the Anchorage Assembly's meeting Tuesday. If it's approved, AT&T's equipment would ultimately improve cellphone service along the beach at the park, as well as in other low-lying areas, according to documents submitted to the Assembly.

The city's police and fire departments, as well as park users, say that the new tower will make the park safer for people who suffer occasional injuries on trails, as well as for users who have run-ins with aggressive moose.

"The courses are technically challenging, so we've got a lot of sweet crashes that occur," said Megan Piersma, the race director for the Arctic Bike Club's mountain biking division. "Not being able to call for help if someone's stuck out in the middle of nowhere can be kind of scary."

The Anchorage Fire Department, which responds to medical emergencies, often struggles when callers are stuck in the lower areas of the park, said Al Tamagni, the department's spokesman.

He and police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro could not immediately say how often their departments respond to calls at Kincaid Park, but Tamagni added: "There are times when we have people running up and down the trails to get to a cell point where they can call 911 and get through."

It's unclear exactly how much the new equipment will boost service at Kincaid Park, and how many people will be able to use it. An AT&T spokeswoman did not respond to questions submitted to the company on Monday.

But Dan Boyette, vice president for wireless services at GCI, another wireless company, said that AT&T controls about 60 percent of the statewide market.

Cellphone service has long been a challenge at Kincaid Park, Boyette added. First, he said, the topography makes it difficult for users to get a signal.

"It's all line-of-site, and terrain blocks it," he said. "So those dips and valleys out there that everybody loves are a problem for cell coverage, if you can't get high enough."

Second, Kincaid Park is public land, which means that the wireless companies can't just put up a 100-foot tower wherever they want.

"Nobody likes the way towers look, and everybody likes the way Kincaid Park looks," Boyette said. "And we completely understand."

Both AT&T and GCI -- which along with ACS is now part of the Alaska Wireless Network -- have long been pushing the city to allow the installation of bigger equipment, Boyette said.

His company has an existing temporary tower at Kincaid that's shorter -- no more than 40 feet tall, Boyette said -- and tied back into central infrastructure with copper, rather than higher capacity fiber.

He said GCI had pushed the city to allow one of the wireless companies operating in Alaska to install better equipment, and then require that the rest of the companies be allowed to lease space.

That does not appear to be the case with AT&T's new tower, according to the documents submitted to the Assembly by the Sullivan administration.

If the city's proposal does not include such a provision, Boyette said that his company would ask to lease power and space from AT&T, or ask the city for equal access.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at nherz@adn.com or 257-4311.

 


By NATHANIEL HERZ
nherz@adn.com