Permit for McCain Cell Tower Still Active
By James V. Grimaldi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Verizon Wireless's permit to build a permanent cellular telephone tower on John and Cindy McCain's Arizona ranch is still in effect, Yavapai County officials said today, as the wireless company keeps its options open for the previously shelved plans for the site.
In a statement, Verizon's spokesman Jeffrey Nelson labeled as "wrong" a story about the cell phone coverage at the ranch in Thursday's Post. McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers told the Associated Press, "This story is a disgrace. The McCains went through the process that is available to anybody who subscribes to one of these cell phone companies to inquire about getting service."
The Verizon statement said, "Verizon received a request [for cell service on the ranch] from Mrs. McCain, but declined. Subsequent to that, the Secret Service made a legitimate request for a temporary tower for its work and Verizon complied as is required by our contract with the agency."
But interviews and public records filed in the Yavapai development services offices indicate a different timeline. In early 2007, Cindy McCain's staff first requested coverage, according to the McCain campaign. Over the course of the year, Mrs. McCain offered land for a permanent cell tower and gave Verizon authorization to act on her behalf to seek permits from the county. In late 2007, a firm was hired by Verizon to produce an environmental impact assessment, that eventually ran to 200 pages. Verizon also hired contractors to prepare blueprints for a cell tower. Cindy McCain signed a contract with Verizon in early May.
After a regulatory hurdle delayed the permanent tower, Verizon received e-mails in late May from a Secret Service technology manager imploring Verizon to rush cell coverage for the area. Verizon's contractor then petitioned the county to permit a portable "cell site on wheels," known as a COW.
The wireless company began the county permitting process last year after Mrs. McCain filed an online request to Verizon Wireless for cell coverage on her ranch, located in a canyon southwest of Sedona. The permit, issued May 29, expires in December. "If someone hasn't contacted us to ask us to withdraw it [the permit], then we leave it in effect until it expires," said Kathy Houchin, customer-service manager for the development department.
But Verizon spokesman Nelson said it has no plans to build the permanent cell site and instead has installed a temporary cell site on wheels following a request in May from the Secret Service.
"We have no plans to build a permanent cell site on this property, but are keeping the permit active as a prudent business planning measure, in the event the Secret Service's needs change over time," Nelson said.
AT&T also installed a portable tower in July, but had not received any request from the federal agency assigned to protect presidential candidates.
Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said the agency has had nothing to do with Verizon's process for seeking a permanent tower. "It would be premature for us to look at long-term solutions down there," Zahren said last week.
The COW was installed in June. Two months later, Verizon abandoned its effort to install a permanent tower, Nelson said, because it would be "an inappropriate way" to build out its network. "It doesn't make business sense for us to do that," Nelson said.
Records filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Verizon and AT&T are the top wireless services used by McCain campaign workers. McCain and his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have used the ranch to practice for the debates and strategy sessions have been held there.
Jim Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president, external affairs, said in a statement that the company would have done the same for Obama. "We made a temporary accommodation to Senator McCain, who is a presidential nominee," Cicconi said. "Should a similar need arise, we would make the same accommodation for Senator Obama."
AT&T's Cicconi noted in his statement that portable towers were provided at the Democratic National Convention. "In Denver when the venue of the democratic nomination acceptance speech was moved to Invesco Field we rapidly enhanced our wireless coverage in that area by using temporary cell towers."
But telecommunications experts told the Post that installing portable towers for major events with thousands of people is a money-maker for wireless companies because the heavy traffic would generate income.
By The Editors |
October 16, 2008; 5:28 PM ET
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