During the past few months, I have received many emails and phone calls from people who are concerned about the lack of cell phone coverage in Montecito since the shared AT&T and Verizon cell site at QAD was shut down. Both AT&T and Verizon are trying to replace this key cell site with others that will provide cell phone coverage to the Montecito area, Summerland and Carpinteria. I have also received many questions about smart meters, how they work, the type of wireless connections they provide and any possible dangers they present.
So let me start with cell sites. If you want cell phone services, you have to accept cell sites. No sites means no cell phone coverage.
Reading the local papers, including Noozhawk, it is evident that a minority of people who don’t understand are making it difficult for the rest of us to have the level of cell phone coverage we want and need.
As of this month, 35 percent of all U.S. households no longer have wired phones and rely completely on cell phones; the percentage of homes for those under 25 is much higher. This sector grew up with cell phones and doesn’t understand why anyone would want a wired phone in a fixed location rather than a cell phone that is always with them. They assume they will have cell phone coverage wherever they are.
Those who show up at hearings for new cell sites and write most of the letters are part of a small minority who are afraid of what they have heard about health hazards or who don’t like the way they look. The vast majority of us understand that we need cell sites for cell phone service, and over time we will need more sites to handle the increasing demand for wireless voice, data, video and Internet services. Unless the silent majority starts showing up at these hearings, the few will put pressure on city and county officials, and cell phone companies will continue to have to battle to provide the service we want and demand.
If you don’t like the service you are getting from your cell phone operator, get involved. If you don’t, the few will win the day and we will continue to be deprived of the cell phone services we want.
Cell sites are safe. They are only dangerous if you are within 4 feet of one of the antennas and directly in line with its output. The federal government has set standards that require cell companies to provide information about cell site radiation, and prohibit health issues from being used as grounds for counties or cities to reject an application for a cell site.
If you have a problem with that, you will have to take it up with your U.S. senator or U.S. House representative since they oversee the Federal Communications Commission, which makes the laws cell phone operators, counties and cities must follow.
Cell sites are safe, and they are necessary for the cell phone coverage we need. In fact, in the coming years we will need three times the number of sites we currently have to support the demand for wireless services.
Bottom line: By letting the few who are opposed be the only ones to show up at the hearings, we are empowering them to hold up wireless progress. Those who want and need wireless coverage need to stand up and be counted as well.
I have a smart meter. I also have a lot of very expensive equipment to measure radio frequency (RF) signals. Once the new meter was in, I set about measuring the RF output from the meter.
I found two things: The meter sends out radio signals on two different portions of the radio spectrum. One signal is designed to be read by a meter reader driving down the street so he or she does not have to enter my backyard. The second is for our use. I can monitor the usage myself, and in my case, compare it with what my solar panels are generating.
I measured both signals, and I measured the RF put out by my Wi-Fi access point. The results are that my Wi-Fi access point puts out five times more RF energy in my home than either of the smart meter radio signals. The one designed to be read by the meter reader on the street was at a level, in my home, less than my microwave oven, and the one designed for my own use was 50 percent lower than what I was exposed to by my home Wi-Fi access point.
Some of those opposed to smart meters are concerned about the power company being able to monitor their exact usage at any time. I won’t get into that issue, but those who oppose the fee to opt out of the meter need to realize that the power company has determined what it costs to have someone walk into your backyard to read your meter. If you are the only one of the block who opts out of a smart meter, the meter reader still must enter your yard and read your meter manually. If you have a smart meter, it can be read from the street and no one must enter your premises. The difference is what it costs the power company.
Wireless services are all around us. We use them for our cell phones, tablets and notebook computers. Others use them to provide us with services we need, such as the smart meter. But no matter the use, wireless communications is about making our lives easier and extending communications to the person rather than to the house or office. Soon we will be using our phones instead of our ATM cards to buy groceries, do our banking, and even to adjust the seats and the temperature in our cars. Those who have a heart condition or diabetes will be monitored in real time via wireless. Our children are already growing up in a wireless world.
Wireless is about freedom. With that come some issues regarding privacy, costs and other factors, but health is not an issue with which we need to be concerned. Even so, until those who want and demand wireless services everywhere start showing up at hearings for cell sites and smart meters, the few who oppose them and won’t listen to logic will continue to have the power to slow down progress. All it takes is an email in support of a permit, attending a smart meter hearing and speaking out, and being as vocal as the few opponents.
It is time for the majority of us to be heard.
— Andrew Seybold is a Santa Barbara resident and head of Andrew Seybold Inc., which provides consulting, educational and publishing services. Click here for more information. The opinions expressed are his own.