[Disclaimer: I don’t work for NextG or Verizon, but I am a consultant in the wireless industry and have been for more than 30 years.]
Montecito, I keep hearing from the residents I know there that you all want reliable and good wireless coverage for your cell phones. Yet every day I read that you are fighting the placement of cell sites from the latest Verizon site, to the NextG pole-mounted sites, and others. You cannot have it both ways. If you want cell phone coverage, you have to accept cell sites within Montecito. There is no other way.
Some of you still believe that a cell site near your home will have adverse health effects for you and your family. This has proven to be untrue over and over again. If you are farther than 3 feet from a cell site, you are not in any danger. You are exposed to more radio radiation from your microwave oven and your WiFi access point in your home than from a cell site located 20 feet or more from you.
OK, cell sites may not be pretty, but neither are telephone poles with wires hanging on them or signs at road intersections. If you want to be able to use your cell phone anywhere and everywhere, you have to accept the fact that without cell sites you will not have the coverage you want. When the network operators face a capacity issue within a given site, the only way they can add capacity is to add small pico cell sites mounted on telephone poles, standard sites, or larger sites such as the one proposed by Verizon.
There are trade-offs for everything. If you want to drive, you have to pay for gas, even for hybrids. If you want electricity, or wired telephone or cable TV service, you have to put up with telephone poles on your street. If you want wireless coverage for voice, data and access to the Internet, you have to put up with cell sites. Without cell sites, there is no cell service.
If you believe cell sites pose a health hazard, go to Cottage Hospital and look at the roof. There are three cell sites just a floor above the patio used by doctors and nurses every day to relax and unwind. Go to Macy’s in La Cumbre Plaza and look up at the tower there. Go to the marina and look at the chimney near the Maritime Museum, or stop at the Boy Scouts office on Modoc Road and check out the pine trees just a few feet from the building.
These cell sites have been operating for years with thousands upon thousands of people within a couple hundred feet of them every day. Guess what? They are at less risk than when they cross a street in a crosswalk. You are exposed to more radiation at home than you are near a cell site. You are exposed to more radiation in a Starbucks or other location with a WiFi access point than you are within 20 feet of a cell site.
I have worked around radio sites all my life, including cell sites, public safety radio sites, broadcast sites and more. I have climbed towers and been within a few feet of antennas, and I work with radio equipment in my radio room all of the time. I am in perfect health. One more thing about the supposed health issues: The Federal Communications Commission has strict guidelines regarding the amount of RF radiation permissible from each cell site. Each network must test and certify that these limits are not exceeded. More to the point, the FCC does not permit county or city governments to use health concerns as a reason to deny an application for a cell site.
Cell phones are changing the way we communicate, and since radio spectrum is a finite resource, we cannot make any more, therefore we must use what we have in the most efficient way possible. Demand for voice and data services is growing each year, and the only way to increase capacity for these networks is to add more cell sites, closer together.
Today, more than 30 percent of the population relies solely on wireless phones, and the number of those who don’t use wired phones continues to grow. Mobile or cellular phones are about personal communications. The phone and the person are one and the same, but in order to ensure coverage for your phone regardless of where you are, you have to accept the fact that there will be more cell sites today and into the future.
Dropped calls, poor voice quality and low data rates are symptoms of cell sites that are being overloaded by customers. When this happens, network operators must add more cell sites closer together to provide relief for these overcrowded sites. If new sites are not permitted, the reliability of the cellular networks will worsen.
During the Tea Fire, I heard many stories about families who could not communicate with each other, with friends or local officials. Why? Because the network operators that want to provide coverage in your area have been stymied at every turn. If you want access to wireless connectivity, cell sites must be added.
That does not mean they have to be ugly towers. Cell sites are being hidden everywhere — in church steeples, in gas station signs, on fake pine and palm trees, in flag poles, behind wooden copulas on roofs, and in any number of places. Landowners receive monthly compensation from the network operator or tower owner. This applies equally to cell sites located on city- or county-owned property.
In one city I have worked with, the city provides its buildings and other land for cell phone companies to use. Each site must be built to provide room for at least three operators, thus providing the city with up to $10,000 per month in income. This particular city is adding more than $1 million a year to its income from cell site leases.
Cell sites are specific to a network operator. Some sites are shared and serve more than one network operator, but in this area we have five cellular companies: AT&T, Metro PCS, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. Each of these network operators competes with the others and needs cell sites. The future will bring many more — not fewer — and we have to deal with and live with this fact.
The bottom line is that you have a choice. You can have coverage for your cell phone wherever you go, or you can have spotty or no coverage because you are opposed to cell sites for whatever reason. The decision is up to you. But if you decide you don’t want cell sites near you, you forfeit the right to complain about the lack of service.