An Open Letter to the Wireless Industry (Part 1)

We received a thoughtful inquiry on our contact page from someone within the wireless industry asking as to what these companies could do to foster community acceptance of wireless infrastructure (that is, cell towers).  That email prompted this open letter, which we hope the industry takes to heart.

This will be a two-part post.  At the risk of being perceived as overly negative, we’ll start with the DON’Ts and follow up with the DOs in our second post.   In our experience, the behavior of the wireless industry has been nothing short of shameful and has absolutely poisoned the relationship with residents.  No amount of good deeds will change this dynamic if the behavior listed below continues.

DON’T lie to city staff or residents

Far and away the number one item on the list is to stop saying things that aren’t true.  The level of duplicity we’ve seen from the wireless industry in our community has been a shocking eye opener.  False legal claims, misrepresentation of intentions, brazenly misleading technical statements, and deceptive site documentation appear to be the norm, at least from what we’ve seen in Palos Verdes (link).  You can’t get away with this anymore with informed citizen involvement.  One of the main reasons we put this website online was to share what we’ve learned with those in other communities.  Based on the feedback received, others are finding it helpful.

It may work to sneak through a site or two, but these tactics will be exposed in a big rollout such as Crown Castle’s 60-site cell tower network being pushed in Palos Verdes.  Once exposed, you will lose all credibility and nothing you say will be believed, not even stuff you think is true.  Not only that, you will lose what little public support you may have had at the start and greatly reduce the chances of approval for your project.  People don’t like being misled and City decision makers don’t like having their intelligence insulted.  Accept the fact that your project will never be popular and lying in an attempt to ram it through will make things much, much worse.

DON’T arrogantly demand an entitlement to Right-of-Way access

It’s pretty clear you think your “public utility” facade entitles you to place these wherever you please in the Right-of-Way (ROW).  You preach it with the evangelical zeal of a true believer but just saying it over and over doesn’t make it true.

neptune_cell_tower

Our photoshop of PVE’s famous fountain hosting a cell tower.  It’s in the ROW so they are entitled to do it right?  Actually no.  The right to occupy the ROW in California is limited and subject to city police powers.

Quoting court decision excerpts out of context doesn’t change the central fact that your right to place these sites is limited and cities retain police power to regulate them.  There’s a reason you lose lawsuits (Sprint vs. Palos Verdes Estates, Crown Castle vs. Calabasas, T-Mobile et al vs. San Francisco to name a few here in California).  The Calabasas court flat out said you were making the law up when you tried to overturn that city’s cell tower ordinance:

Petitioners (Ed: Crown Castle) concede that that the City can regulate aesthetics, but that a wholly discretionary CUP (Ed: Conditional Use Permit) blind to the existence of a vested right of access to the right-of-way is unlawful.  Petitioners suggest the ordinance could be lawful only if it provided for a ministerial review of aesthetics “that properly presumes the preexisting right of a telephone corporation to use its streets”.

Petitioners cite no authority for the proposition, and the court is aware of none.

Your legal threats can be intimidating to city staff that usually don’t live in the city and don’t want any chance of a lawsuit on their watch.  But they infuriate residents and City Councils, particularly once they are exposed as arrogant, strong-arm tactics with little actual support in law.  About the only thing worse than a liar is a bully.

DON’T try to sneak in sites behind resident’s backs

cell approved 1

These things started showing up all over town without any notice or explanation, sort of like the pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Across our community you ran underground fiber optic lines up to most of these proposed sites before telling the public about your plans.  You demanded the right to do this despite city objections and warnings that there was no guarantee your antenna sites would be approved.  You thought you could get the network backbone in place before the public realized what was going on.

In Rancho Palos Verdes, you showed up at the first residential neighborhood site and started tearing up the sidewalk and installing the foundation for a brand new streetlight topped with an 18 cubic foot antenna canister.  A 9 cubic foot cabinet was to be attached to the pole reaching twelve feet into the air.  The structure would be nearly 30 feet tall and dominate the view along this quiet underground utility cul-de-sac.  You did this work under the guise of installing a “mock-up” with no advance notice to residents.  Your subcontractor lied to nearby homeowners when asked what they were doing.  Fortunately, our City Council intervened and put a stop to this manipulative nonsense.

Your response to the City’s action was a threatening legal letter demanding the city approve all sites within 30 days.  It further infuriated residents and had the opposite effect of what you intended.

How could you possibly think this was an effective method to get your project in place?  Did you think RPV residents were that stupid that they wouldn’t notice these ugly eyesores sprouting like mushrooms on their quiet residential streets?  Your plans were exposed and your deployment ground to a halt before the very first site was in place.  The fact that you thought this would work shows us exactly how much respect you have for our community.

DON’T pit neighbor against neighbor

You offered to “work” with residents in Palos Verdes Estates who objected to having a cell tower plopped in front of their homes.  Residents, without specialized legal or technical knowledge, accepted your offer in good faith.  Your “solution” was to move the cell tower next to another neighbor’s home who wasn’t present at the meeting.  The entirely predictable result had longtime neighbors squabbling with each other, increased tension, and a loss of camaraderie on this residential street.

Residents were surprised by this turn of events but somehow we doubt you were.  The industry would much rather have neighbors fighting with each other rather than united in opposition to your self-proclaimed right to invade their quiet residential street.  Thank goodness the Planning Commission ended this charade by denying the site as incompatible with the neighborhood.

These tactics undermined our community’s trust and we don’t think you’ll get it back anytime soon.

DON’T propose cell towers in residential neighborhoods

hall of shame7

The new normal according to those who make money installing cell towers

Virtually every tactic discussed above stems from the fact you plan to muscle in these cell towers right next to our homes.  We get it; it’s cheap and easy for you.  You think the 5G future is going to normalize these eyesores on our streets, sort of like fire hydrants. No different than the 21st century equivalent of the corner mailbox, you might say.

We view them differently.  These are cash cows for you; they provide a steady stream of revenue and the cheaper you can throw them up the more money you will make.  Residents receive no financial compensation despite the fact these sites are a terrible nuisance.  Your shoddy designs are ugly and prominent with no screening whatsoever.  Your equipment contains large and noisy cooling fans that run 24/7 despite the fact most PV neighborhoods are extremely quiet.  Most important, these sites kill property values.  Would you buy a home with an obvious and highly intrusive commercial telecommunication facility a few dozen feet from the front door?  Yet residents are supposed to suck it up and accept the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in what is likely their biggest investment.  Of course these unfortunate homeowners don’t receive a dime in compensation from you.

We understand it will cause you more work to perform the honest, old-fashioned engineering needed to locate these sites away from homes.  Guess what?  We don’t care, that is your problem not ours.  No one asked you to come here; you showed up and demanded access to our Right of Way.  In public hearings we have repeatedly demonstrated that you ignored less intrusive locations that would provide suitable coverage as they were inconvenient or cost you more money.  You aren’t entitled to place these eyesores wherever you like and you aren’t entitled to perfect coverage.  If you expect to place these in our community then we expect you to do your job and design minimally intrusive sites located away from homes.

DON’T make up technical claims

You’ve probably gotten away with this for a long time as most cities don’t have the expertise to challenge your claims.  That’s one of the reasons we put this site online, we do have the experience and we wanted to document what we’ve found.  It hasn’t been pretty as we’ve shown arbitrarily changed service metrics, omitted existing sites from coverage maps, cherry-picked frequency bands, and submitted data that appears to be grossly in error.

Many of your poorly-maintained existing cell towers haven’t been upgraded to operate on available frequency bands, then you disingenuously point to this absence as justification for new sites!  Your attempts to hand-wave away these discrepancies come off as self-serving and technically shallow, and undermine any claim that you actually know what you’re talking about.  Frankly, it looks like amateur hour to those of us who are professional engineers and are accustomed to a disciplined engineering environment.

Android App

One of many great apps that easily checks claims regarding existing coverage.  It displays the info your Android phone collects and uses in making network cell connection decisions. Cost: $2.  Root the phone for even more info.

The days of needing a $50K spectrum analyzer and a highly compensated “expert” to check your claims are over.  An Android phone with a $2 app allows a tech-savvy resident access to important network parameters and the ability to document cell IDs, active frequency bands, RSRP, and RSRQ of existing coverage.  If the phone is rooted, even more info is available with other apps.  The advent of highly capable software-defined radios enables 90% of that $50K spectrum analyzer’s capability for only a few hundred dollar investment.  Checking your claims is now within the bounds of sharp residents with a technical background.  If you lie about this stuff, there is a pretty good chance it’s going to be exposed.

As to “independent experts” hired to assist cities, you better being doing this stuff yourselves as it’s your job to find these discrepancies, not that of the residents.

DON’T claim your motivation is anything other than to make you money

It’s insulting and ultimately hurts your cause when you make claims that you are motivated to “serve the community”, “improve emergency communications” or “upgrade critical infrastructure”.  Residents know you wouldn’t be giving our community a second thought except for the fact you plan on making a pile of money here.  No one believes you are motivated by any sense of public service; claiming to be so undermines your credibility.

Acknowledge that your presence in our community is first and foremost a business opportunity, nothing more, nothing less.   That business opportunity can be mutually beneficial for both you and the city’s residents if implemented in a thoughtful and coordinated manner.  To date we’ve seen nothing of the sort.

 

Along these lines, part 2 of this post will deal with the DO’s of how to implement such a deployment in a thoughtful and coordinated manner.  Unsurprisingly, it consists of early resident involvement (not just paid staff who don’t live in the city), a clear description of the goals and objectives, aesthetically-pleasing and screened tower designs, and a concerted and diligent engineering effort to locate sites away from homes and outside of neighborhoods.  In other words, common sense city planning.  We should have part 2 up soon.

 

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