[Disclaimer: Andrew Seybold, a full-time Santa Barbara resident, has been involved in wireless communications since 1971 in many different capacities. He has headed a consulting, education and publishing firm for the wireless industry. His consulting practice is worldwide, but he does not provide consulting services concerning cell site placement or design. He has provided his services freely to the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta.]
Many of the reactions to proposed cell phone sites are based on misunderstandings about health issues, and emotions tend to run high as the usual articles are passed around to “prove” to everyone that cell sites are hazardous to our health. To put this in perspective, did you know that using a typical wireless phone set in your house generates more radio energy closer to you than a cell site 10 feet or more away? Or that the spectrum (frequency) used by these phones and by Wi-Fi access points is the same frequency as your microwave oven?
The Federal Communications Commission does prohibit local jurisdictions from using health issues as a way to deny cell site construction; however, it publishes strict standards that cell phone companies must adhere to as well as safety-standard specifications for those who work around cell sites. In the case of a telephone pole-mounted cell site (pico cell), workers are told they need to stay 2 feet away from the antenna to be safe. At a distance of 30 feet, the radio energy is not a health issue.
Articles attempting to correlate cell site locations and human health issues have been published for many years in many parts of the world. These articles are not based on scientific facts. On the other hand, governments and medical agencies have spent millions of dollars to assess the impact of cell sites and all of the resultant reports state that there is no correlation.
One would think that the recent wildfires and lack of wireless coverage in Montecito and other areas would have produced a groundswell demanding coverage where it is lacking. Instead, many people are more concerned about the aesthetics of cell sites or the misconception that they somehow damage human tissue. If you are concerned about aesthetics, drive by the harbor to see if you can find the cell sites located there, or drive up Highway 101 and locate the cell site next to the freeway on the left just before the Highway 154 exit. Drive to Macy’s at La Cumbre Plaza and find the cell sites on top of the store. If you are worried about your health, drive to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and observe that there are three cell sites on the roof less than 100 feet away from the staff patio, or check out any government or public safety building.
More than 25 percent of the U.S. population has only a wireless cell phone. Of the 303 million people in the United States, more than 287 million use wireless phones, and most of us will soon be using two or more wireless devices such as the Kindle, which uses the Sprint network to download books magically, kid finders, dog collars, and wireless access to our music and video. Wireless is the future of our communications services. The iPhone has created a huge demand for wireless access to the Internet and we think nothing of using our wireless devices to chat with friends (averaging more than 800 minutes a month in the United States, more than double any other country). Wireless services are expected and demanded almost wherever we are.
But you cannot have wireless coverage without cell sites: big sites, small sites, and even sites in our homes (a technology being deployed by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile). Many people complained that they could not talk to their loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, during the Tea Fire because their cell phones were dead. Guess what? These have been dead areas for many years! Wireless network operators have been rebuffed every time they have tried to find ways to bring coverage into these areas — not for logical reasons, but because of misinformation that is passed on by misinformed people who don’t take the time and effort to become educated about radio systems.
I have been a licensed radio operator since I was 10 years old. I have worked on installing and maintaining radio systems for more than 40 years, I have been on top of tall towers and within a few feet of antennas, and I have operated radio systems that generate 100 times more wireless energy than commercial wireless. I have had no adverse effects from the radio energy I have absorbed over 50+ years.
If you want to be able to make wireless phone calls, wirelessly surf the Internet, and send text messages, pictures and videos wirelessly, you must accept the fact that there have to be wireless cell sites. It’s that simple. Suppose, for a moment, you are driving past a school at 2 a.m. and get a flat tire. You reach for your phone and you cannot call anyone. Wouldn’t you rather have access to your wireless services and be able to call the police, your spouse or AAA?
If I had school-age children, I would not hesitate to send them to the school, knowing full well that they were in more danger from a mishap on the playground than from the cell site 30 feet over their heads.