LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Poor cell phone service has Lakewood Ranch residents fuming over dropped calls and spotty reception.
Residents in the Greenbrook area of the master-planned community near State Road 70 and Lorraine Road and down to University Parkway say their homes are a virtual "dead zone" for cell phone reception no matter the mobile carrier.
Some residents have threatened to leave their cell phone provider if the company won't give them a network extender at a reduced rate in exchange for their troubles. A network extender enables calls from indoor locations where outdoor cellular coverage doesn't reach.
Other residents have investigated Federal Communications Commission rules for terminating their cell phone contract to switch to a reduced-rate wireless service provider with no contract commitment.
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Staff members at W. Gilbert McNeal Elementary School near Greenbrook Park report there is no signal in the building.
Joe Sidiski, a Greenbrook resident on the Community Development District 4 Board said he sympathizes with his neighbors about poor service but putting a cell phone tower anywhere near a residential property is problematic.
"A lot does depend on the height of the tower. A lot of people want a clear look at the horizon from their home. I've heard complaints off and on. People have said, in effect, live with it."
Residents of Panther Ridge, an equestrian community east of Lakewood Ranch on State Road 70, tried to stop a 195-foot tower from being constructed last year on agricultural land near their neighborhood, but Manatee County told residents in an email dated Aug. 28 "the equipment will provide life-saving and essential mobile phone communications to residents, travelers and other people in that area."
Placing a cell phone tower in Lakewood Ranch has been controversial in the past in light of resident concerns about its effect on the environment and community aesthetics.
In 2009, a telecommunications company called Vertex proposed installation of a cell phone tower in Summerfield's Braden River Nature Park along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. Supervisors in Community Development District 1 agreed to review the proposal but it was ultimately tabled.
Another call in 2009 to place a tower in River Club, a community next to Lakewood Ranch, was denied by Manatee County.
At the time of the Summerfield cell phone proposal, the volunteer Community Emergency Response Team was in favor of it.
"If landline and cell phone service go down in Lakewood Ranch, residents have no way of requesting ambulances should an emergency arise. Our team is equipped to communicate directly with Manatee County's Emergency Management since we are licensed amateur radio operators," said Victor Kline, president of Lakewood Ranch CERT, which provides search and rescue, first aid, and radio communications support in response to disasters and emergencies when professionals can't respond in time.
If a cell phone tower were to be built in Lakewood Ranch, besides receiving approval from Manatee County, master developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc. would have to give its consent to sell the property.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter@MoschellaHerald.