Myrtle Beach looking for ways to improve coverage, capacity of cell phone signals

Myrtle Beach City Council is considering ways to improve cell phone service specifically during busy weekends, but also year-round.

A proposed ordinance would loosen the regulations on where cell phone towers can be constructed, which city staff says will provide better “coverage and capacity” for Myrtle Beach residents and tourists.

Council unanimously approved first reading of the ordinance.

“I don’t like it though,” Councilwoman Susan Grissom Means said.

Mayor John Rhodes was traveling back from a speaking engagement in China and not at the meeting Tuesday.

“With the proliferation of wireless divides – laptops, tablets, and smart phones with dual-mode communications – users now expect to be both fully mobile and constantly connected,” planning department director Jack Walker said during a Tuesday council workshop. “In addition, an increasing amount of data traffic non consists of high-resolution graphics and full motion video, further burdening the wireless network.”

City law only allows cell phone towers in two commercial districts – C-9 and C-11. While the proposed ordinance would allow them in residential areas, it is written so that wireless companies must prove that the towers cannot be built a nearby commercial area.

The ordinance also requires wireless companies to prove that they are unable to build to a concealed tower – one that is connected to or sits atop a building – before building a freestanding tower. The towers could stand as high as 199 feet in some areas.

Means said she didn’t like the idea of tall towers being seen in residential neighborhoods. But city attorney Tom Ellenburg said residents would be deprived by having poor mobile service in their homes.

“Why not eliminate residential [allowances] now?” she said. “If we see a need for it in three or four or five years, if we get to a point where we have people complaining about not having service, we’ll just go back and change it.”

City staff has been asked to provide a list of information at the next council meeting in two weeks before second reading of the ordinance.