Saturday, August 29 , 2015, 4:02 am | Fair 69.0º

Andrew Seybold: Speak Up for Cell Sites, Smart Meters

By Andrew Seybold |

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.

Smart Meters

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.

comments powered by Disqus

» on 01.02.13 @ 10:43 PM

This guy know his stuff.

» on 01.03.13 @ 12:06 AM

Nobody wants a cell site on their property, if nothing else it is ugly.
But certainly it makes sense to put it on a utility site, Montecito Water district seems like a very logical spot.

» on 01.03.13 @ 01:53 AM

One aspect of the so-called “smart” meter installation and applications that is completely missed by the author is the economic benefit to the utility provider if you the homeowner allow the installation of a smart meter on your property. And it is not just about eliminating about 1/3 of the meter readers statewide. Your “smart” meter sends its data to a network access point located in your neighborhood(the idea of some employee driving in a truck reading your personal meter by the curb isn’t happening). Fewer individual wireless meters means more access points that collect the data need be installed. Your wireless meter equates to a dollar benefit to the utility. During a deposition of a utility representative, it was acknowledged that each wireless meter represents a positive benefit to the utility of about $200. But, as the homeowner who allows a wireless meter installation, you are not informed that your action has benefited the utility to the tune of $200. In all fairness, shouldn’t you receive some part of that money, since your participation is an economic positive to the utility ?

» on 01.03.13 @ 03:46 AM

Andrew, the Luddites in Montecito have blocked all attempts to add a cell tower and improve service for years.  Their scientific ignorance is breathtaking.  There are actually not very manyof them, but they are very well connected (right, Salud?)  The rest of Montecito didn’t care enough to do anything to stop them. For them to now complain about even worse service is somewhat amusing, as in “what did ya expect when the lease ran out and the existing tower shut down”.  What they should do is go the Montecito Association and demand that they get the heck out of the way and put a cell tower in a reasonable location.  One was already selected and had passed the Planning Commission, but the Board of Supervisors let the objectionista override the Commission.  Right, Salud?

Verizon estimated 30% of the households in Montecito depend only on cell service.  If there is a fire and people without cell service cannot get help, will the County be legally liable?  Or the people that blocked construction?  Or the Board that let it happen?

» on 01.03.13 @ 06:03 AM

“federal government ... prohibit[s] health issues from being used as grounds for counties or cities to reject an application for a cell site.”

That is the problem, skipping over health issues with the multitude of various high and low frequency wave energies surrounding us.  Yes, the power from an antenna drops off by the square of the distance, but what studies have been done to insure that when waves overlap and focus the energy at various points that we are not damaging ourselves?  Watching an employee die from brain cancer, most likely associated with his portable radio use, makes me suspicious of our wireless society.

» on 01.03.13 @ 06:10 AM

Andrew, I took a look at your website and although I am not taking a position on some of the issues you raised in your article, I think it would have been a good idea to disclose in your piece that you are consultant to the wireless industry and have a financial interest in your advocacy or promotion of cell towers. I think readers would have been well-served by disclosing your professional connection to the industry.

» on 01.03.13 @ 10:44 AM

Excellent antidote to the noise being generated about phone towers and smart meters—and a good prompting to not be silent any more.

» on 01.03.13 @ 01:01 PM

I’m so sick of smart meter complaints.  It’s refreshing to hear some intelligent reporting.

» on 01.03.13 @ 01:16 PM

Disclosure would be a good idea, but being a consultant to the wireless industry would seem to indicate knowledge of the issue.  Perhaps a reveal of education (engineering?) should be disclosed also.  On the other side of the knowledge barrier we have snoozreader, who apparently missed the part where the feds disallowed protests on health grounds because there is no evidence, in hundreds of studies worldwide over the past 20 years, that indicates a problem.

Ironically, the nanosites that were so recently challenged in Montecito put out a small fraction of the power of a traditional cell site, and are therefore even safer, not to mention practically invisible.

Unfortunately, the ignorant few, with cooperation by the in-their-pocket politicians, are holding the majority hostage by preventing reliable communications in the area.

» on 01.03.13 @ 03:21 PM

To asnwer some of the comments:
I am a degreed Engineer (BSEE) and have been workiing in the wireless industry as a consultant since 1981. My clients are world-wide and also include many Public Safety agencies around the United States. HOWEVER I have NEVER been under contract to any network to assist them in cell site planning, or placement. My consulting to these companies is done at the corproate level and deals with mextgeneraiton services and offerings as well as providing educational services to them.
I do appear at hearings with Cities and Counties as an unpaid wirleess expert who understands the mis-conceptiosns that abound when it comes to issues such as cellular sites and smart meters. But I do not represent the interests of any of the various wireless network providers when I make these appreaances.
Andy Seybold

» on 01.03.13 @ 04:43 PM

@PedroNava ... I believe you are referring to the fact that smart meter communications are based on the Zigbee wifi protol and that Zigbee radios can be meshed together to form a communications network.

If a cost anlaysis determines that installation of smart meters results in a long-term reduction of costs for the power companies, I think that’s great. Why? Because you now have ammunition for the CPUC to reduce rates (or reduce future rate increases).

Regarding Seybold’s claim that meter readers are reading meters by driving down the street as opposed to having network data aggregated at an access point, I don’t have any info about which method is in actual use. However, drive-by reading, in theory, could be practical in rural or low-density areas where Zigbee radios are too far apart to talk to each other or to a repeater or access point.

I wish I had an RF meter like Seybold. That was an interesting comparison of RF output from smart meter and consumer wifi devices.

» on 01.03.13 @ 05:17 PM

You are correct that the final system will be a mesh network, with each meter contributing their information, and then being sent over a network back to the power company, but until then some of the meters are read by drive by and some are still be read by a meter reader who does come into your back yard but as more meters are deployed the mesh network will be put into place.

» on 01.03.13 @ 06:20 PM

Here is my problem with the wireless industry: it is an oligarchy, controlled by two companies that have assumed monopolistic control, making pricing decisions without the discipline of a competitive marketplace. I blame the govt and the FCC for allowing this to happen. In the 1980’s, we broke up AT&T into the baby bells and then over the years allowed them to consolidate into two monopolies. Consequently, monthly cell phone bills have become obscene. Until we have a competitive marketplace, the wireless industry and their consultants won’t have much credibility with me.

» on 01.03.13 @ 07:09 PM

@Andy, regarding that second channel for use by the consumer ... have any utilities in CA provided enough info for customers to read that channel yet? Or is this a function for future usage? I could imagine the smart meter becoming a participant in my home network, perhaps via a Zigbee to Ethernet bridge.

I know I can go to Edison’s website and monitor my usage, but it would be interesting to grab the data locally and monitor it in real-time.

» on 01.03.13 @ 09:50 PM

First to respond to the question about using the internal wireless for monitoring your useage in your house, this is coming soon, they need to get it set up and find an economic way to make it available. I am hopeful that this will be soon because I am very interested in this feature and want to be able to compare my utility usage and my solar panel output.

» on 01.03.13 @ 09:59 PM

To the comment about the Government and the FCC being responsbile for permitting two carriers to capture 80% of the wireless market. The writer is partially correct, however, in Santa Barbara we have, today, multple choices: AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Metro PCS. BUT T-Mobile and Metro PCS are about to merge so we lose one.
Interestingly enough the U.S. has some of the lowest wlreless rates in the world (Only China and India have lower rates). However, the debate is about how many networks we need to be able to be competitive. Three years ago China combined the six networks into 3 (the government has the ability to do that there), and the result is better wirleless coverage, AND lower rates.
the question about rates vs number of competitors is a hard one to answer, and when you understand that both AT&T and Verizon (so far) have spent over $30 billion each rolling out the next generation of wireless (LTE), and these costs are upfront costs, takes big companies to provide the services we want. Just another point of reference, each of the 44,000+ (each) cost on a per month basis: About 412-15,000 per site per month.
Lastly, wireless prices are coming down BUT they could come down more if the networks did not have to spend millions of dollars fighting every cell site they want to add.

» on 01.03.13 @ 11:26 PM

Sprint and T-Mobile have very spotty coverage and limited selection of phones. Sprint lacks 4G and T-Mobile doesn’t work on the iphone. In reality, the market is controlled by two carriers.

» on 01.06.13 @ 07:09 PM

If you want Edison to have the ability to instantly cut electric service to your home, let them install a smart meter

In researching the issue, I came across the following information, and thought of you: II.aspx
Experts fear hacking of new smart meters
Researchers say new energy infrastructure isn’t nearly secure enough Four Ways to Hack the Smart Grid
How to Hack the Power Grid for Fun and Profit
Comments on Toorcon presentation regarding ZigBee Security
The Changing Wireless Attack Landscape
Hacking and Defending Wireless
killerbee: Framework and tools for exploiting ZigBee and IEEE
802.15.4 networks
zigbee-security: Api-do: Tools for ZigBee and 802.15.4 Security
Sensys Attack Tool!/gridmerge
Gridmerge specializes in Smart Grid Communication and Security

Opt-out of having So. Calif. Edison installing a smart meter by phoning: 800 810 2369.  I know Obama wants to implement a smart-grid, whatever that means, but I don’t believe the current smart meter offerings are the right way to go now.  Besides that, it would seem to me, that a system of decentralized photovoltaic power generation would be less vulnerable to disruption, and wouldn’t empower utility
companies to disconnect electrical service whenever they feel like it.

Did you see this?
Southern California Edison Launches Nation’s Largest Solar Panel Installation
03.27.08, 3:02 AM ET
Southern California Edison (SCE) today launched the nation’s largest solar cell installation, a project that will place 250 megawatts of advanced photovoltaic generating technology on 65 million square feet of roofs of Southern California commercial buildings - enough power to serve approximately 162,000 homes.

  “These are the kinds of big ideas we need to meet California’s long-term energy and climate change goals,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “I urge others to follow in their footsteps. If commercial buildings statewide partnered with utilities to put this solar technology on their rooftops, it would set off a huge wave of renewable energy growth.”

  “This project will turn two square miles of unused commercial rooftops into advanced solar generating stations,” said John E. Bryson, Edison International chairman and CEO. “We hope to have the first solar rooftops in service by August. The sunlight power will be available to meet our largest challenge - peak load demands on the hottest days.”

  SCE’s renewable energy project was prompted by recent advances in solar technology that reduce the cost of installed photovoltaic gen…

  The utility plans to begin installation work immediately on commercial roofs in Southern California’s Inland Empire, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, the nation’s fastest growing urban region.

  “These new solar stations, which we will be installing at a rate of one megawatt a week, will provide a new source of clean energy, directly in the fast-growing regions where we need it most,” said Bryson.

  SCE sees numerous customer benefits from its new solar program, among them locating the new generation in areas of growing customer demand. And the clusters of solar modules SCE plans to install will be connected directly to the nearest neighborhood circuit, eliminating the need to build new transmission lines to bring the power to customers. Additionally, solar units produce the most power when customer usage is at its highest.

While smart meters may reduce meter reading costs for the utility, they will increase the rate I pay.  That hardly seems equitable.  And then there’s the issue of a 2.4GHz transmitter on every home.  Tens of millions of microwave transmitters doesn’t seem reasonable, given the communications possible via power line carrier current over the wires serving homes electrical power as is done in Italy.  It smells like yet another poorly conceived political boondoggle foisted on the American public. 

Here’s a small group that is growing:
  Residents from all over Santa Barbara County attended Tuesday’s public hearing before the Board of Supervisors to protest the installation of Southern California Edison smart meters. ...
  Assessment of Radio frequency Microwave Radiation Emissions from Smart Meters
  The smart meter microwave transmitters could be on nearly
  continuously depending on line of sight to a cell tower.
  112 smart meters on apartment house in Berkeley

Edison’s view seems to ignore the facts:
Security protocols for Edison SmartConnect™ are adapted from the banking and defense sectors in order to ensure the highest levels of security and privacy. All information transmitted between meters and the utility is encrypted using U.S. government-approved and recommended standards, and SCE works with federal and state agencies to stay ahead of cyberthreats.

» on 01.06.13 @ 10:51 PM

LDighera—And what possible motivation would Edison have for cutting your power in the middle of the day?  They can certainly do that now if they have some reason to, as can any other company you do business with.  My experience with them is that they go to great lengths to be sure my power continues to flow.  The solar panels I installed last year help to guarantee they can continue to do that, as well as keep my electric bill down to virtually zero.

Lou Segal—When I first started paying my own phone bill, there was one phone company, it was illegal for me to own a telephone and I would be charged long distance fees for calling anywhere out of the immediate area.  Today I can buy an Ooma from Costco for about $150, cut out Verizon entirely and get service with unlimited long distance minutes for about $2 per month.

As for cell phones, you cannot really compare the price of service today with the “good old days” since the only person who had a telephone he could carry around with him then was Dick Tracy.  The market will continue to adjust itself and people will pay for what they think is good value.

» on 01.07.13 @ 02:49 PM

“padrebaker on 01.06.13 @ 06:51 PM

LDighera—And what possible motivation would Edison have for cutting your power in the middle of the day?  They can certainly do that now if they have some reason to, as can any other company you do business with.  My experience with them is that they go to great lengths to be sure my power continues to flow.  The solar panels I installed last year help to guarantee they can continue to do that, as well as keep my electric bill down to virtually zero.”

As you state, the utility can cut the service of analog meter subscribers anytime, but they have dispatch service personnel to do it; they can’t do it IMMEDIATELY/remotely, nor can they load-shed individual subscribers in the event of service line stabilization issues.  (Electric vehicle charging over night comes to mind.)

If the utility senses that solar input exceeds local demand, or, if customer usage load exceeds service line capability, or if a change in cloud cover causes the utility to be unable to regulate the line, the utility may INSTANTLY and repeatedly disconnect a subscriber from the utility lines. 

It is my understanding that SmartMeters are virtually constantly transmitting, not just once a month to send subscribers’ usage information for billing calculations.  If a
SmartMeter is incapable of a good connection with a cell site, it may connect to a nearby subscriber’s SmartMeter to relay its data to the utility.  Imagine how much RF energy that would inject into the Montecito environment with its limited cellular coverage!

While SmartMeter RF power may be low, when you consider the MILLIONS of RF transmitters that will be/are installed in a metropolitan area like LA, transmitting throughout the day, the combined RF power injected into the environment is awesome!

The ability of malicious attacks to spoof erroneous subscriber usage data, record subscriber usage patterns, and generally commandeer the SmartMeter network for their own nefarious purposes is evidence of the utilitys’ and CPUC’s lack of concern for security and safeguarding the public.  (Please see my initial comment for cites.)

Consider also the fact, there there is no permanent record of a subscriber’s power usage, unlike with analog meters.  How is a subscriber to dispute what the utility asserts his/her power usage was? There is only digital data, that can be corrupted or lost as any digital computer user knows only too well.

I commend you for your photovoltaic installation, however have you noticed, that if for instance you are paying $0.25/KWH (Tier 5), and then you start selling your solar power back to the utility, they only credit you at the $0.04/KWH (Tier 1) level?  This is another inequity sanctioned by the CPUC. 

In my opinion, decentralized photovoltaic power generation (as shown in my previous comment) is the best road forward for many reasons.

» on 01.07.13 @ 06:51 PM

First I am with Andrew on the hyperbole over smart meters and cell sites with regard to RF EMI. Most of this fear is unsubstantiated and born out of ignorance, the same that killed the nuclear power industry. However, on smart meters I am not enthusiastic about the long term plans for these devices and their interconnection with smart appliances and other equipment in your home through Blue Tooth (turning off your power, no, but controlling your appliances, that is the rub). I don’t care if the government and its regulated utilities can prove it can save power by dictating when you use it, for what and how much. And they will do it if you give them the opportunity.

LDighera brings up another good point and that is the robustness of these devices to sabotage and other disasters. The last damned thing you need in an emergency is to lose power and believe me much of the grid in the states is nearing third world quality when it comes to reliability and capacity (I bought a home generator for that reason). If the power companies would focus on developing new generating capacity, increasing base load supply then augmenting that with commercial solar PV for conservation while increasing the robustness of the distribution system that would make me far happier than having the government meddling in how I use the power I buy. Get out of my house and get out of my friggen wallet!

As for solar PV I am a big advocate but mostly for commercial and only as a conservation tool since it cannot replace base load supplies. It doesn’t make as much sense for residential where the majority of home owners are at work and home usage is at its lowest when solar output is at its highest. Commercial however the exact opposite, consumption is is peaking at peak solar output, helping to balance the system load through out the day (but only when the sun is shining).

» on 02.18.13 @ 02:12 PM

Spoken like a true industry insider! Let’s see, the misleading mantra is, “RF radiation is safe, everyone is using wireless so it must be ok, industry would never do anything unsafe for trillions of dollars”. Did I get that right?  The truth is that independent researchers, by the thousands, have determined that RF radiation is unsafe, a menace to the public health, and that all the wireless craze around us is driven by marketing that brings a trillion dollars in to an industry that has not considered public health. This is with permission of a federal gov’t that is not doing its job to use the independent science (20,000 peer-reviewed studies at minimum) to protect the public. So we end up with carcinogenic, immune-circulatory-neurological system-disrupting RF radiation everywhere. How very convenient that Congress allowed the 1996 Telecom Act to include a section that doesn’t allow a local gov’t to object to cell towers on the basis of health and environment. That insertion probably cost the industry a pretty penny but oh how the dangerous cell towers have been able to spread. Is wireless dangerous? YES. Why is the gov’t allowing it? LOBBYISTS. Now we have smart utility meters that ARE making people sick (I am one of these), cell towers associated with cancer and other ailments, cell phones pressed to everyone’s head that are causing glioma cancers to bloom - and the people are being successfully marketed to. That is what this is all about. Not your health - but MONEY. Think, people, think. The proof of what I say is at, where a careful review of 1800 EMF/RF recent studies by 29 well qualified independent experts may be found. Their conclusion? That a precautionary action level of no more than 3 microwatts per meter squared should be instituted for sensitive populations, including pregnant women, children, and seniors. The average cell tower can pump out thousands of times that number.  They are a menace. So are smart meters. In CA, you can now opt-out (get the utility to take off the smart meter) for an unfair fee. I pay that fee to preserve my health, and the fees are being challenged legally, with potential for refund. Learn more at

» on 02.18.13 @ 04:59 PM

Thank you for your firsthand account and links to information on this issue.  The correct URL for the last link in your post is:

» on 02.18.13 @ 07:44 PM

Thanks for the comment correcting the website address for Center for Electrosmog Prevention -

For articles and position papers regarding scientists’ and physicians’ comments related to smart meters, including ALERT: AAEM Releases Recommendations EMF and RF Exposures (7/12/12) (7/14/2012)
Smart Meters: Correcting the Gross Misinformation (7/12/2012)
go to

This is a REAL problem that you need to avoid. Anyone advocating smart meters is either ignorant of the facts or paid to do so.

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