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Backlash is music to an operator's ears

Wed, 04/30/1997 - 8:00pm
Roger Brown
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Take a look at the nascent personal communications services industry. Remember how excited everyone got when this new service was proposed?

It seemingly had something for everyone — smaller cellular telephones with longer battery life, digital modulation, and cheaper prices, to boot. Along with the service came the vision of one person/one phone number and a host of other intriguing possibilities.

Everyone bought in. Major telecommunications companies (including several of the nation's largest MSOs) spent billions of dollars to garner licenses in the major trading areas around the country. The high-profile and lengthy spectrum auction was covered by virtually every media outlet. Everyone, it seemed, was happy.

Until the networks started to be constructed, that is. The problem is, a conventional PCS system requires large, unsightly towers for the transmit and receive electronics. Lots of them. And people don't like them.

Already, a groundswell of opposition is being felt across the country. According to recent press reports, no fewer than 170 communities have instituted moratoria on new cell tower construction, including 26 in the lucrative California market alone. Court challenges are underway almost everywhere.

Make no mistake: the opposition isn't just about aesthetics. More and more people are increasingly concerned about the health risks posed by cell tower radiation. In fact, a group of residents in south Florida became so upset about an agreement between their local school district and a PCS provider that they lobbied the local government to place a 90-day moratorium on tower construction.

Predictably, some wireless operators are fighting back in an effort to carry out the very thing they bought the rights to do — build a network. They're being perceived as bullies and "arrogant," according to one story I read.

With opposition mounting, some companies are having a hard time getting the financing they need to finish construction. In response, the FCC recently decided to relax its March 31 deadline for license fee payments.

But maybe there is a solution: PCS over cable TV lines. An upgraded hybrid fiber/coax network can be used to transport wireless voice services as well as the video signals everyone is familiar with. As you can read in our cable PCS story this month (see page 40), such systems have already been deployed, and more will be soon.

The wary cable system designer and operator would be smart to investigate the possibility of offering PCS services, either as a carrier or as a full-fledged operator. This time, you might actually have the strength of public opinion on your side.

Contact Roger Brown at: RBrowner@aol.com

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