http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2013/12/20/cellular-at-its-best-in-pleasanton


Pleasanton Weekly

Column - December 20, 2013

Cellular at its best in Pleasanton

by Jeb Bing

It's not often that I'd support federal or state actions that usurp the rules of Pleasanton, but the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and subsequent Federal Communications Commission actions since then are forcing changes in the city's cell tower regulations that deserve praise. For years, wireless service providers have complained about over-reaching restrictions that keep much of the city off-limits for needed cell transmitting towers. The rules date back to a time when people listened "too intently" to concerns that cellular waves could cause brain damage. To protect its citizens, the council developed rules to keep cellular transmission at least 300 feet away from public parks, schools, hospitals and heath care facilities and more. That pretty much eliminated most of the sites where towers could be built. Those that were built had to be camouflaged as fake trees, steeples, even fake upper floors.

Tuesday night, thanks to Assistant City Attorney Julie Harryman and a more cellular-friendly council, those rules are being changed. The "300 feet" restriction will now become "200 feet," but even that restriction was debunked by Mayor Jerry Thorne, who said the "wives' tales" of electric and cellular waves harming humans had long been disproved. He's not sure what "standards" city laws were based on in restricting cellular transmissions, but they're off track and should be scrapped. Other council members agreed, including Councilman Jerry Pentin who was calling in to the meeting from out-of-town on a cell phone whose signal kept breaking up.

AT&T government affairs representative Johanna Yoder told the council that Pleasanton lacks adequate coverage because of the regulations. She said more cell towers are needed just to catch up with current usage, and advanced wireless communications will require many more. Some 91% of Americans now have cell phones and 69% have wireless laptops. A total of 85% of small businesses use smart phones in their transactions. Another 70% of all emergency 911 calls are now made using wireless technology.

At the meeting, businessman Brad Hirst urged the council to go a step further and not just focus on today's shortage of cellular service in Pleasanton, but to focus on what local government can do to serve the growing digital generation. Medical records, for one, are being transmitted doctor to hospital to patient to records center wirelessly. With this service in place, an emergency room anywhere in the country can obtain the medical history of a heart attack victim whose home is Pleasanton. Cellular is an expanding business, Hirst noted, who praised Harryman and others on the city staff for recommending updates to an archaic "yesteryear" ordinance.

The changes could not come fast enough. As it is, Harryman's recommendations to open the city to more cell towers with multiple users stem from a survey of local businesses made by city staff last year. The business community was not alone in its requests for better cellular service. Many have found that their cell phone service is erratic or not available in many parts of Pleasanton depending on the service they have. Also, a growing number of residents no longer have a "land line" in their homes and rely solely on the cell phones for calls, including access to 911.

Harryman said people have told her when they're hiking on the Pleasanton Ridge or walking in places where they want the security of being able to call someone for help if needed. Many parents now give their children cell phones so that they can call when their soccer game is over. Realtors use cell phones regularly when showing a home, sometimes even calling from your driveway when they have a prospective buyer ready to visit.

Because cities around the country were placing obstructions on cell towers as a means of gaining higher revenue or favoring one provider over another, the FCC's Telecommunications Act of 1996 overruled those municipal barriers, granting cell phone companies the right to build towers and serve their growing customer base.

Most recently, the federal government adopted the "Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creations Act of 2012," which provides that a state or local government "may not deny, and shall approve" any request for collocation, removal or replacement of a wireless facility that does not change the base station already in place. Last September, the FCC issued a rule to reshape the national landscape for the processing of wireless site applications at the state and local levels with the goal of reducing the costs and delays of deploying these structures. All of this, despite the federal meddling, is good news for Pleasanton.

Comments

Posted by 20-year resident, a resident of Grey Eagle Estates
on Jan 11, 2014 at 2:34 am

(Post removed by Pleasanton Weekly Online staff for containing unverified or personal information.)