Connect Virginia Today

AT&T Blog Team
March 31, 2021
Broadband Access and Affordability

Connect Virginia Today

We all want the same thing – connectivity that moves as fast as we do. That’s why we are proposing a new mobile broadband cell site on Short Hill to better connect our AT&T customers in the Commonwealth.

Why does it matter?
  • The proposed site will enhance voice and mobile broadband coverage for residents, businesses and visitors by filling a coverage gap identified by Loudoun County in 2014.
  • Developed to be built on AT&T-owned property, the plan for the site was made in consultation with civic, business and government leaders, as well as feedback from the community.
  • With at least two co-location opportunities, it will also allow other wireless carriers to use the same site to bring needed coverage to the area, improving service for all wireless consumers.
  • Sets a foundation to prepare for emerging technology such as 5G, which is significantly faster and more capable than today’s networks.

As we look to bring you the latest communications infrastructure, your support is vital to ensuring that residents and our customers have access to these latest wireless technologies.

Loudoun County’s motto is “where tradition meets innovation.” As a member of the Loudoun County community for more than half a century, we, too, value tradition. We want to work with you to bring residents, businesses and visitors to this area the mobile broadband services they’ve come to expect in today’s connected and competitive world.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider our application during a public hearing on September 14, 2021. Take action now to send a letter to the Board of Supervisors, so that we can improve service in Loudoun County and Connect Virginia today.

Facts about AT&T’s Proposed Site at Short Hill

AT&T has been doing business in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1897 and has operated a utility substation at Short Hill for more than 50 years.  We’ve been a part of the community for decades – and we always aspire to be good neighbors.

Now more than ever, Virginians rely on their mobile devices for work and play, to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy, for teaching and learning, and much more. That’s why we continue working to bring the latest technology to your community. A digital transformation requires reliable connectivity and continual improvements to our wireless network. 

The new mobile broadband site will provide service in the community and surrounding areas. Loudoun County residents, businesses, public safety and other government organizations — not to mention visitors to the area’s wineries and breweries — will have access to faster and more reliable mobile internet. 

We’ve worked closely with local officials not only to comply with the law, but also to address questions that emerged as our development plans have evolved. Here are answers to a few questions you may have.

Why does AT&T need this cell tower?

This site fills a coverage gap identified by Loudoun County in 2014.  The County hired Atlantic Group of Companies, Inc. to conduct a “Third-Party Gap Analysis” in the existing wireless infrastructure in the area. Atlantic Group identified a large gap in wireless coverage in northern Loudoun County, the same gap AT&T now seeks to fill. 

Specifically, this new cell site will help:

  • Provide vital connections for first responders in the community.
  • Support small, family-owned businesses – from wineries and restaurants to local farms to home-based businesses – that need mobile internet connections.
  • Enhance the quality of life in the community because of better wireless network capabilities.
  • Enable other telecommunications companies to add equipment to this new infrastructure and improve service to their customers.

Area residents think this site is important, too. Based on an AT&T survey in fall 2018:

  • 78 percent support a new cell site at Short Hill if it means better mobile broadband and cell phone coverage for them, local first responders, their family, and/or their business. 
  • Nearly 84 percent of respondents consider mobile broadband and cellular coverage to be a very important service
  • Nearly 83 percent want faster download speeds and the ability to use more devices — tablets, smart watches, home assistants, etc. — where they live.

In short, anyone who lives in, works in, or visits the area will benefit from better voice and broadband coverage.

What’s the size of this proposed tower?

The proposed cell site will be located on a portion of the AT&T-owned property and will include a 50’ x 50’ compound with a 125’ tall monopole (single pole), surrounded by a 6’ tall fence.  We reduced the height of the proposed monopole to 125’ to respond to feedback from area stakeholders, and to minimize, and perhaps even eliminate, the visual impact to the surrounding community. Our goal is to improve and expand wireless services in the area and accommodate antennas and equipment from at least 2 other wireless carriers.

The footprint of the new site will be much smaller than the large transmission dishes and towers that were on the property for decades and were in use until recently. The large transmission dishes were affixed to two large steel and concrete towers with lighted beacons and other markings. The towers were removed several years ago, and we recycled more than 890,000 pounds of steel and the large concrete pads, grinding the concrete into gravel that was used for other landscaping projects on the property.

Why is a tower this size necessary at this location?

This new site is technically known as a “macro” cell site. Macro sites are the foundation of the capacity and wide-ranging coverage networks required by modern technology. They are the most fundamental building blocks needed to enable text, voice and high-speed mobile internet.

Macro sites are constructed in many different sizes, configurations and heights. They are effective for covering large geographic areas, especially in rural situations, with relatively high capacity. This is because they tend to use lower-range spectrum frequencies, which travel further than the high frequency spectrum typically used by smaller cell technologies.

Based on their reach, macros provide the largest area of wireless network coverage with the fewest number of sites. 

What has AT&T done so far?

As with every proposed cell site, we are following the approval process set up by Loudoun County’s leaders. So far we:

  • Provided a general overview of the proposed site and answered questions during an April 2018 “pre application” meeting with Loudoun County officials. Similarly, there also have been subsequent one-on-one meetings with former and current elected officials and county staff as well.  
  • Conducted a visual impact survey and “balloon test” in May 2018 to determine any visual impact from various vantage points and create photo simulations of the proposed monopole.
  • Held a community meeting in Lovettsville on May 10, 2018, where we shared proposal details, visual impact survey results, and answered attendees’ questions and concerns. A second online community meeting was held in January 2021 to discuss updates and answer additional questions. 
  • Reduced the monopole from 155’ to 125’ based on community input and then conducted a second visual impact survey. Balloons were attached to the boom of a crane, which was raised to a height of 125’ above ground level.
  • Arranged several individual outreach meetings with local residents, business owners, environmental groups, first responders, community groups and others to discuss our plans and solicit feedback.

Throughout this process, our team has also participated in several individual meetings with local residents, business owners, community groups and others to discuss our plans and solicit feedback.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider our application during a public hearing in September.

Will you be clearing land?

No. The new site will be constructed on an open portion of AT&T’s property and no additional clearing or grading is expected. Furthermore, development will not encroach into the sensitive mountain soil areas. The remaining acreage will remain wooded and in its natural state. We will add additional trees and shrubs to fill in gaps where existing vegetation will not screen the site.

During the past few years, we’ve worked with the Loudoun County Arborist/Urban Forester on our landscaping plans for the property. We’ve invested in outdoor projects, including:

  • Hiring a Loudoun-based contractor to improve water runoff/drainage throughout the property.
  • Removing several dead, damaged, diseased, and/or invasive trees, in consultation with the Loudoun County Arborist/Urban Forester and professional landscape architects.
  • Planting new native trees and plants in spring 2018. We continue monitoring the vegetation in the area and plant new trees and shrubs as necessary. 

When will service on the new tower be available?

We anticipate a timeline of approximately one year from the application submission to service availability.

The availability of service on the new tower depends, in part, on how quickly the plans are approved by the appropriate government agencies. In addition to local zoning and permitting review from Loudoun County, sites often require review by other agencies at the local, state and federal level, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Communications Commission and the State and Tribal Historical Preservation Offices.

End-to-end cycle times vary greatly and are heavily influenced by the planning and permitting process of the local jurisdiction. Once the plan is approved, AT&T can build the site and commission it for service.

How will AT&T reduce the visual impact of the tower?

The tower will be colored to blend into the horizon. Through past experiences, we have learned that a gray finish is the best method to minimize any visual impact. However, we will discuss options with Loudoun County officials as the process evolves. Additionally, we will use existing mature trees to screen the facility and will plant new native trees and shrubs, as necessary, to maximize screening and minimize the visual impact.

Will there be public meetings?

We continue to have an open dialogue with local officials to create a project that works for Loudoun County and us. There will be public meetings and hearings before County decision makers. The board of supervisors has scheduled a hearing for September 14, 2021.  We will post the County’s hearing schedule as soon as we have it.