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Industry Myths

Information - The Real Revolution

There is a true revolution underway in the information industry. More and more people are accessing the internet. The amount of information, and misinformation, available is almost incomprehensible. Due to the amount of interest, traditional information service providers are entering a field once occupied solely by "geeks". AT&T has purchased TCI Cablevision. It is my understanding that AT&T is not particularly interested in providing cable television services. It has spent a small fortune in order to have a line into many of our residences whereby it can provide high speed internet access and, potentially, other information services.

In an upscale local neighborhood where they are fighting an ugly wireless monopole, about half of the homes are using Digital Subscriber Line technology which is supplied through the regular telephone line. They are all using this to access the internet. The Digital Subscriber Lines are capable of handling information at speeds greater than currently available modems can handle. Many of the residents of this neighborhood telecommute. One of them, a Microsoft employee, tells me that he can access the internet more quickly from home than from the Microsoft campus, because he does not have to share access with his fellow employees.

Soon new hardwired services will be introduced. This technology will further increase the speed at which the internet can be accessed and the speed with which satellite or home computers can access central computers any place.

The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) did more than unleash a bevy of tower hungry wireless providers on the nation. TCA promoted competition among information providers. For example, the local telephone company will be required to provide access to competing telephone companies, giving us all a greater selection of service providers.

Wireless - The Pseudo Revolution

Wireless telephones are great. They are convenient and fun. With the new digital technology, the quality is comparable to any hardwired telephone. For just a few dollars more, you can receive faxes and text messages. If you are associated with a business that avails itself of such services, you can call your fellow employees at the touch of a button. Your wireless telephone would be invaluable if you broke down on a lonely stretch of road.

What wireless is not, is revolutionary. The process of "educating" lawmakers at all levels, the wireless industry has done a tremendous job of convincing them that it is the cure for most modern day plagues. In response, some jurisdictions, such as King County, Washington are allowing the erection of towers in pristine, rural environments without so much as the opportunity to explore mitigation measures previously available through the Conditional Use Permit process. Unfortunately, what the wireless industry will provide, in return for dominating our landscape with towers, is mere convenience.

Myth #1 - Reduction of the Federal Deficit.
On the Federal level, our lawmakers were sold on the idea that through auctioning slices of the radio frequency spectrum, they would raise billions of dollars to reduce the federal deficit. Although billions of dollars were bid, only a small percentage of the amounts bid have actually been paid in. The providers appear to have now convinced at least the administrators of the program that their services are so essential to a strong economy the government is better off letting them use their limited funds for deployment.

Myth #2 - Telecommuting.
Somehow the wireless providers have convinced lawmakers on all levels that wireless telephones promote telecommuting, thereby decreasing congestion and wear and tear on roadways. To suggest that wireless telephones promote telecommuting and the utilization of home offices, however, flies in the face of logic. Cellular phones have as their primary purpose allowing people to use their vehicles while still being able to carry on voice communications. All of the new PCS providers are concentrating their initial deployment antennas on major transportation corridors. Providers are flocking to Medina, Hunts Point and Clyde Hill in order to serve the 520 traffic. They know they will get more usage by the people who are trapped on the 520 Bridge calling home to delay dinner than by the people who stayed home and worked in their office all day.

Hardly anyone in a home or home office uses their wireless phone instead of a regular phone. It is just too expensive. Ask me. I have been there. At one time I had an entirely wireless home office. My PC had (and still does have) a wireless modem. I relied entirely on a Sprint PCS phone that I had purchased originally to prove that Sprint had coverage throughout Medina without the need for a 100 foot tower. I broke down and bought a hardwired phone when my monthly payments to Sprint started to exceed the amount of rent that I was paying.

Myth #3 - Seamless Coverage.
The industry providers all speak of their federal mandate to provide seamless coverage. How else can they justify wanting to raise a 150 foot, industrial appearing, monopole with a ring of panel antennas in the middle of a rural residential neighborhood? In fact, the licenses which they have obtained set coverage goals that are much more realistic and much less burdensome than the industry would have you believe. Although there are some variations, a typical license requires a provider to supply one-third of the population in a major trading with coverage within five years, another one-third within ten years and most of the population within fifteen years. Based on recent history, even these objectives are unlikely to be enforced by the FCC. What federal agency would dare to revoke a PCS providers license when it is providing an essential service to the residents of the Greater Seattle Area merely a few hundred homes in the Cascade foothills do not have the same service.

Myth #4 - Tall Towers.
Many local jurisdictions, i.e. King County, assume that if a provider says it needs a 150 foot tower and submits coverage maps in support of its contention, this is the truth. For some reason they continue to believe this despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Two examples should suffice. On Vashon Island, Sprint Spectrum said it had to have a 150 foot tower with a ring of panel antennas at the top in order to provide services to the people in south Vashon. In order to "soften" the industrial appearance of this tower in a neighborhood where no other industrial uses had been or would be allowed, the county required Sprint to relocate the tower closer to the center of the property where it would be further from the neighbors and sheltered by additional trees. Since this would put the tower near the co-applicant landowner's residence where he would have to suffer from its effects, he refused to agree. Neighborhood residents appealed the decision to allow the 152 foot tower anywhere on the property. Sprint appealed the requirement to move the tower to the interior. On the day that the appeals were scheduled to be heard by a hearing examiner, Sprint came in and said that it could create the same "softening" by reducing the height of the tower from 152 to 120 feet. No one from the County had the temerity to ask whether, since they had apparently not needed all 152 feet they originally said was essential, some adequate level of service could be provided at 100, 80 or even 50 feet. Sprint now has a 120 foot tower which dominates the landscape.

In Medina, sprint stated that it needed a 100 foot lattice work tower in the midst of a densely developed residential neighborhood. Its stated objective was to serve the residents of the City. When the Medina Planning Commission said no, Sprint submitted a request for reconsideration. Suddenly, it could provide adequate service at a 70 foot level. We demanded testing at the 50 and 60 foot level. Lo and behold, adequate service could be provided as low as 50 feet but Sprint would not modify its application to this level. When the Planning Commission again said no, Sprint appealed the denial to the City Council. As part of its appeal documents, it stated that it was now back to demanding the 100 foot level. While the appeal to the Council was awaiting its hearing, Sprint also filed an action in Federal Court stating that the City's failure to allow it a 100 foot lattice work tower was delaying completion of its seamless web of coverage and its ability to launch services at all in the Seattle major trading area. The court file is loaded with declarations from Sprint property managers, engineers and others that this site was absolutely essential and that Sprint was losing millions of dollars per month by not being able to launch its service. Fortunately, before the matter went to court, Sprint did launch its service. I bought my first cell phone the next day and took it to Medina and then spent several hours driving from one end of the City to the other calling all my friends and telling them what a wonderful service Sprint had and how nice it was that there was coverage everywhere in the City of Medina. A few weeks after I filed a declaration to this effect, Sprint withdrew its lawsuit.

Providers like tall towers for initial deployment. At high power levels, they cover a lot of territory. They are referred to as "coverage" towers. Eventually, however, new "capacity" towers will need to be added because the tall, high power towers will try to communicate with two or more towers at one time, causing dropped calls. To avoid this, the providers must either lower the antennas or reduce the power. Why not demand that they put in more shorter towers now, rather than later?

Myth #5 - We Can't Collocate.
In most situations, collocation would seem to make sense for everyone concerned. Adding antennas to an existing monopole must surely be less expensive than erecting your own monopole. The permitting process ought to be easier. Even though adding additional antennas to an existing monopole increases its visual impact, it is still of less impact than having two towers side by side or in the same neighborhood. For some reason however, the amount of collocation applications is exceedingly small. It is becoming common to see in an application for a new tower a statement to the effect that we tried to collocate but we could not. We could not because the existing tower owner did not want us. We could not because the existing tower is not tall enough. We could not because the existing tower is a half-mile away from our ideal site, etc. In fact, all of the major wireless providers have collocation agreements with all the other major providers. The essence of these agreements is if we collocate at one of your sites, we will let you collocate at one of our sites. When a wireless provider seeks to develop its system, it generates search rings up to one or two miles in diameter. It is only after it finds a willing landowner somewhere within the search ring that this becomes the only site that will work.

Myth #6 - No Negative Affect On Property Values.
Representatives of the industry generally come to public hearings with reports, from bona fide appraisal firms, to substantiate their claim that cell towers have no negative affect on property values. They have won many cases in Federal court because they have submitted reports from experts while opponents to the site have testified, as individuals, that they are afraid that the towers will bring down their property values. The attorneys for the industry have had little difficulty in convincing most courts that the opponents' testimony is pure speculation and does not provide the evidence necessary to support a decision denying the tower. In Medina, when we were opposing the 100 foot Sprint tower, we retained a local appraisal firm to conduct a study to show that property values were adversely affected. At the last moment, the company backed out of the contract due to conflict of interest. They told us that one of their appraisers was doing a study for the industry. It turned out to be a study commissioned by Sprint Spectrum to be submitted in the record before Medina's Planning Commission. Sure enough -- it showed no decrease in property values. Since it involved a currently existing lattice tower in Medina used for a microwave dish, we were able to send one of concerned citizens to all of the homes used as comparables and she testified at the hearing that you could not even see the tower from any of these homes. Because it was too late to commission another study, we brought in all of the real estate agents and brokers who were active in the community to testify that a 100 foot lattice tower would have a negative affect on surrounding property values. In addition, the Planning Commission made a finding that just common sense dictated that a home with a beautiful view of Mt. Rainier and Lake Washington would be adversely affected by imposing any significant portion of a lattice tower on this view. Hopefully, non-industry appraisals will be available in the near future showing that tall towers have a negative affect on property values. In the meantime, until you have clients with sufficient resources, you may have to go to extra lengths to qualify local home owners as experts to as to the value of their property and you may have to call real estate agents whose testimony will largely be based on their experience in trying to sell homes located next to other objectionable facilities, such as high voltage power lines.

Myth #7 - We All Need Our Own Towers.
Cellular providers are more than capable today of moving traffic along each other's traffic. Cellular phones work not suprisingly based upon a system of cells. They hand the traffic from one cell to the next as your car moves in and out of the cell's range. Existing wireless phone companies already have agreements amongst each other to cover the other's traffic. In other words, if you move out of one carrier's area but into an area where another carrier has coverage, your call can be handed off and carried by the other carrier until you move back into the initial carrier's range. Why not seek to meet growth and future services demand without having to build unnecessary towers by fostering a dialog among the cellular providers and encouraging, or requiring, them to share in these handoffs. This will probably happen at some time in the future. Why not make it happen now before every residence has a cell tower in its back yard.

The Law Offices of Kirk R. Wines
210 Crockett Street, Seattle WA 98109 | ph: 206/301-9558 | fax: 206/213-0021