In wireless world, hearing is believing

Fri, 02/28/1997 - 7:00pm
Tom Robinson

Boldly, I've even scheduled participation in conference calls, knowing I was going to have to take them on the car phone. Such an arrangement, though, has sometimes, put me in significant distress, for just as I'm about to make the critical point that I hope will win the group over to my side, suddenly, the connection gets filled with static, cross-talk, or worse yet, silence (silence is not golden in this situation).

Thinking this through, though, it's the things that we can see that also create the consternation. For instance, maybe a few more cell sites would help alleviate my car phone drop-out. Then again, that may require a few more towers or, in the case of PCS, numerous antennas which may enhance my service but which have already created significant consternation for local governments and their citizens. The January exchange of correspondence between the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Wireless Telecommunications Bureau further illustrates the contention between wireless service providers and local and state governments on a wide range of issues, including application of federal electromagnetic radiation emission standards, local fee structures and antenna siting moratoria. At this writing, the Bureau had scheduled a public forum involving the industry and government representatives to discuss these topics.

With all this, one would think that the advancement of wireless communications services was in a national state of disarray. Contrary to this notion, however, in many communities, local governments are working with providers of site transmission and reception facilities so that both the public and the provider benefits. For example, in Akron, Ohio, city officials have been working with service providers to place new antenna facilities on existing structures and utilize city property wherever feasible. In each case where a new tower is needed, the city's policy is to encourage co-location, and therefore, the city pursues with providers the construction of lattice towers instead of monopoles in order to promote multiple providers on a single structure. This has resulted, for instance, in AT&T signing a lease for use of city property where AT&T will build a tower that is sized to also support two other provider platforms. In another instance, the city and Ameritech Wireless are working on a lease to utilize one of the city's current communications towers. Further, both Ameritech and AT&T are reviewing with the city the possibility of utilizing two of the city's water towers. The city is also currently engaged in discussions with Next Wave, the holder of the "C" Block PCS license for Akron.

The city also recently changed its zoning ordinance to facilitate the placement of new towers when needed in industrial and commercial areas and placement of single antennas on private property for PCS applications. At the same time, the ordinance requires significant scrutiny of the placement of towers in residential and retail areas because of the stated concerns of residents and retailers. City officials report that these efforts have currently led to satisfactory placement of facilities and rollout of wireless services in the eyes of both residents and providers.

Since the first monopole...

Fairfax County, Va. has been involved with wireless communications issues since the first monopole arrived in the county in early 1984. Located just outside of Washington, D.C., the county's population utilizing wireless services has grown from 2 percent in 1989 to an estimated 95 percent by the year 2005. Like Akron, the county has looked for ways to work with providers to bring needed services to county residents, while also addressing the residents' concerns about the visual impact of tower and antenna structures, negative impacts on real estate values and health issues.

The county also encourages location of antenna facilities on public use sites, on existing structures and on sites amenable to co-location. In implementing this policy, the county has found that 70 to 80 percent of new facilities can use existing structures, and this, in turn, lessens the potential for any kind of negative visual impact. Additionally, through radiation studies, the county has found that current wireless implementations are well within federal standards for radiation emissions.

The county has also found that utility pole and street light owners are working well with wireless providers on location of PCS antenna facilities. School facilities are also reaching agreement with PCS providers for antenna placement. In recent cases, two high schools reached agreement with providers on the lease of space on light standards adjacent to the football fields for antenna placement. The Fairfax County Water Authority has, for years, worked with providers to place facilities on top of water towers. Overall, between 1984 and 1995, the county reports more than two-thirds of all wireless facilities were able to be placed on rooftops and shared structures, as opposed to monopoles and dedicated towers.

The upshot is, in many places, the wireless evolution/revolution is moving forward with the concerted efforts of both local governments and providers for the benefit of their mutual constituents — and is not, as some in the industry have maintained, bogged down in an endless review and lengthy moratoria cycle. Consequently, I am confident, as my wireless provider has assured me, that someday soon, I'll actually be on a wireless conference call for the duration. After all, in the wireless phone world, hearing is believing.

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