Leveling the Field, Holding the Cell Tower Installers Accountable

This blog has had a huge increase in web traffic over the last month and thanks to all who took a look.  Based on metrics we receive, most of the traffic came from outside Palos Verdes likely from civic groups and even municipalities themselves.  It’s clear there is a real demand for knowledge and it’s no surprise to us.  Knowledge is the key to fighting intrusive cell tower installations.

To be blunt, the wireless industry’s business model counts on uniformed residents and intimidated municipal staff.  Few people want a commercial telecommunications facility near their home, let alone in their front yard.  The industry and its sympathizers count on opposition ignorance to maintain the false impression that there is nothing they can do.  Our first-hand experience has been with Crown Castle, a multi-billion dollar cell tower corporation headquartered out of Texas.  By most accounts it is representative of industry behavior.

The key to protecting your city and your neighborhoods is knowledge.  You fight these tactics by exposing and documenting every discrepancy, every false claim, every exaggeration, and every deception.  Trust us, there is no shortage and this is the stuff that influences municipal decision makers and makes or breaks lawsuits.  We’ve included a sampling of our findings in Palos Verdes below and we really doubt things are any different in other communities.

The long list of “discrepancies”

With that preamble, let’s get to the list.  This isn’t meant to be exhaustive but to give those interested a taste of what we’ve found digging into Crown Castle’s submissions, installations, and tactics on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.  They can’t demand everyone else follow the rules then completely blow them off themselves.

All of this has been meticulously documented; much of it has been submitted to the corresponding municipality.  The rest is available as needed if things get ugly in the future.  Some of it has been discussed on this blog previously and we’ve provided links in places.  Some we are holding close to the chest.  Whether these discrepancies were intentional is really irrelevant, this stuff is damning even if its cause is just plain old incompetence and carelessness.

Site Drawings and Documentation

  • False photo simulations that show proposed installed equipment much smaller than actuality (link)
  • Prominent equipment and cables missing from photo simulations
  • Distorted, not to scale drawings showing proposed equipment too small (link)
  • Distorted drawings that show the existing infrastructure (e.g streetlights) out of proportion thus making the proposed equipment look smaller by comparison (link)
  • Prominent equipment and cables missing from drawings (link)
  • Contradictory drawings, discrepancies between equipment sizes shown on different pages of submitted plans
  • Site plans missing key required elements such as existing and proposed utility routing and adjacent land use

Site Technical Documentation

  • Changing service metrics resulting in a 20 dB drop in “existing” coverage map levels without a corresponding shift in service target levels (RSSI to RSRP) (link)
  • Different “required” service levels in Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes, PVE is 10 dB higher than RPV without rationale (link)
  • Wildly inconsistent “existing” service coverage maps submitted between Palos Verdes Estates and Rancho Palos Verdes despite both showing the same geographic area (link)
  • Missing known AT&T-owned sites in submitted “existing” network facility maps (link)
  • Missing known AT&T-owned site coverage in “existing” service coverage maps
  • An “existing” coverage map submitted as 1900 MHz service that actually depicts 2100 MHz
  • Cherry-picked worst-case coverage maps from a single frequency band (out of four active bands) misleadingly portrayed as representing “existing” coverage
  • Incorrect antenna orientation shown on proposed facility maps
  • Service coverage maps alleged to depict “proposed” coverage modeled with only one of the two site antennas active (link)
  • Wrong antennas used in RF Emission reports thus reporting inaccurate values

Questionable Legal Claims and Behavior

  • False legal claims that new sites fall under “Section 6409” and thus can’t be denied by the city (link)
  • False claims that a 90 day shot clock applies to brand new sites
  • Misleading statements regarding a municipality’s right to regulate these sites under PUC Section 7901
  • Misleading claims regarding the existence of a “significant gap” based on cherry-picked frequency bands and incomplete coverage maps (link)
  • Underground installation mock-ups using unnecessary intrusive ventilation stacks to make the city-preferred option look unappealing (link) (link)
  • Excessively large and 75% empty ground-mounted cabinets claimed as required after Rancho Palos Verdes rejected pole-mounted equipment (link)
  • Excessively large antennas claimed as required in Rancho Palos Verdes despite using antennas one-third the size in Palos Verdes Estates (link)

Site Approval and Community Engagement Tactics

  • Repeatedly failing to provide residents timely notification for public hearings
  • Construction crews misleading residents when queried as to what they were doing (link)
  • Installations and work performed beyond that authorized by the city
  • Permanent installations constructed as the “mock-up”, then leaving it in place for months longer then required when not immediately approved (link)
  • Underground fiber installed throughout the city before a single antenna installation was approved despite city objections and concerns (link)
  • Failure to provide alleged analysis for alternate locations despite promises to do so (link)
  • Failure to involve AT&T in public hearings or resident meetings despite requests to do so

Issues with Existing Installations

  • Installations on utility poles in violation of CPUC General Order 95 Section 94.4 (safety and reliability regulations) (link)
  • Highly intrusive cable routing and extremely poor workmanship on existing sites (link) (link)
  • Amateurish paint jobs using hardware store spray cans resulting in fading, streaks, uneven coverage, and overspray (link)
  • Existing installations that are far more intrusive than depicted in submitted photo simulations (link) (link)
  • Existing installations that don’t match submitted drawings

Why all this matters

Pretty interesting list, huh?  For those of you still wondering why all this matters we recommend you spend a little time reviewing Verizon vs. Fairfax County (E.D. Virginia, 2015) (available here).  Verizon sued the County after it rejected a cell tower installation under its wireless facility ordinance.  It’s a recent case that’s highly relevant as it discusses LTE technology, a cell tower installer middleman, lousy documentation, and unsubstantiated technical claims.  The court found for Fairfax County on all counts and absolutely shredded Verizon on multiple fronts.  Similar to T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco, it was a total wipeout.

The court had some really interesting things to say.  First off, the court openly rejected Verizon’s standing in the case as a cell tower installer middleman was the applicant.  The court also questioned the depth of Verizon’s involvement as virtually all the work was done by the middleman with Verizon seemingly out of the loop.  Does this sound familiar?  It sure ought to.  AT&T has been completely absent from the Palos Verdes cell tower project.

Crown Castle repeatedly makes claims allegedly on AT&T’s behalf, yet AT&T itself has been nowhere to be found in this whole fiasco.  This despite the fact the PVE Planning Commission has now twice requested greater AT&T involvement.  The Commission has requested both an AT&T presence at the hearings and in meetings with residents.  Neither has happened.  We don’t blame AT&T as we wouldn’t want to be directly involved with this debacle either.  Unfortunately for them, the Fairfax County decision shows Crown Castle’s failure to engage AT&T could be really problematic.

Next, the court took Verizon to the woodshed for poor documentation, conflicting claims, and a general making-it-up-as-they-went-along approach.  The court outright rejected Verizon’s “expert” claims regarding location requirements and lack of feasible alternatives as lacking substance.  The court praised the citizen group for their detailed records and documentation, and painted a sharp contrast to Verizon’s behavior.   Déjà vu, anyone?

The court also tackled the issue of minimum LTE signal levels.  Verizon’s expert stated under oath that the required LTE signal level for indoor coverage was -95 dBm RSRP, 20 dB (100 times) lower that Crown Castle’s current claim in Palos Verdes Estates.  Despite this, the court still found there wasn’t a significant gap even at these low levels.  (Side note: We now have an AT&T engineering report from another jurisdiction where AT&T states the minimum LTE signal level is -96 dBm RSRP directly contradicting Crown Castle’s “required” signal claims in Palos Verdes on their behalf.  Stay tuned.)

In short, Verizon went in unprepared with sloppy documentation, arbitrary technical claims, and an argument from authority.  They lost because the County and residents had done their homework.

 

Knowledge is power as they say, and in this case it’s certainly true.  The wireless industry counts on you being uninformed and intimidated.  It doesn’t take much digging to bring down the whole house of cards.

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