In the past year, at least four new 200-foot-tall towers have gone up in Johnson County with the goal of providing better reception for calls and faster internet service to residents, businesses and motorists.

Across Johnson County, about 60 cellphone towers have been built in farm fields, along highways and interstates and next to neighborhoods, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Each time, the company that wants to construct a new tower has to prove the signal service is lacking in the area.

In the past six months, AT&T has installed new cellphone towers throughout central Indiana, including one near Franklin, spokeswoman Tammy Rader said. Last year, Crown Castle and AT&T built three towers in the Greenwood area, near Interstate 65, U.S. 31 and off of Harvey Road in Clark Township.

In Johnson County, the focus of AT&T, along with other cellphone companies, has been near Franklin, Greenwood and unincorporated areas, local officials said. Added cell towers strengthen phone signals meaning fewer dropped calls and faster internet service, which is in demand from business owners, Rader said.

New towers in other areas, such as Edinburgh and Trafalgar, are not as much in demand because the area has not had a boom in new businesses or population that would stress the current structures enough to need another tower.

The majority of towers in Johnson County were built decades ago and are spread as far as Edinburgh and Greenwood, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which tracks what type of structures are built. While local governments have to approve the towers, the Federal Communications Commission also requires companies to ensure the signals do not interfere with local emergency radios. If a tower is built in Greenwood, the Federal Communications Commission would also check how close the structure is to the Greenwood Municipal Airport, so an airplane could not hit it or lose radio signal with the airport.

In the past five years, five new towers were built in the unincorporated areas of Johnson County, mainly in White River Township and Clark Township, Johnson County Planning and Zoning Director David Hittle said.

Before building a new tower, cellphone companies have to prove the service is lacking and it won’t disturb neighbors or existing buildings. And with the most recent towers, they were able to show that those areas were in need of faster internet service, Johnson County senior planner Desiree Calderella said. For example, if existing cell towers are in densely-populated areas, the structures could be overworked and lead to dropped calls or slower internet service, she said.

The towers also are not often popular with residents, who have argued against them because they were in their backyards and too close to busy streets.

A new AT&T tower installed off of U.S. 31 is the first to be installed near Franklin since 2007, said Franklin city engineer Travis Underhill. Since 2010, six permits have been issued for either replacing equipment or toward co-location spots, meaning a business wants to add their cellphone service to one of their competitor’s towers, Underhill said. Every cellphone tower that is installed has to allow enough room for their competitors to also share their services, officials said.

Within the past two years, Greenwood officials have been fielding requests for a different type of utility pole that would strengthen phone and internet service, known as repeaters, planning director Bill Peeples said.

The smaller poles, usually about 30 feet tall, repeat the signals from cellphone towers in the area to make the signal stronger. So, without building another tower, the company can still improve phone and internet service for their customers, Peeples said. The shorter poles also are only required to get the same type of approval as telephone or utility poles, he said.

Last year, more than 15 of the 30-foot-tall poles were installed near Valle Vista, along Emerson Avenue, County Line Road and Main Street, Peeples said.

Building the repeater poles will most likely continue to be popular with internet or phone companies since they can be installed in residential areas without needing a variance or a permit from the city, town or county, he said.

“Instead of putting the real tall towers up, a lot of people have gone to these smaller towers that are repeaters around the areas of low or limited service,” Peeples said.

The rules and regulations

Cellphone companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Sprint continue installing towers in the area, and have about 60 scattered throughout Johnson County. County or city board of zoning appeals boards ask companies to prove the following before approving new towers:

  • Cell phone companies need to show a lack of service in the area
  • The company needs to exhaust all alternative means, which could include adding an antenna to an existing tower
  • The new structure has to be constructed in the least intrusive spot possible
  • In unincorporated Johnson County, towers have to be more than 1,000 feet away from homes
  • Towers need to be a certain distance off of roads, typically as tall as the structure is, it has to be that many feet away from the street. For example, if a 150-foot tower is installed, it has to be 150 feet off the road