In the News  Archive

The calls in the wilds

January 27, 2014

Times Union -  Editorial Board

Our opinion: The federal government — with the involvement of entities like the Adirondack Council — must keep the wireless industry in check while clearing a path to a nationwide broadband public safety network.

New rules governing the siting of wireless equipment for providers like Verizon could have a profound effect on rural areas, such as the Adirondacks. Whether that effect is good or bad will be up to the Federal Communications Commission.

The rules are meant to provide clarity to the broad congressional mandate in the 2012 Spectrum Act that a nationwide broadband network for public safety must be established.

Underscoring the need for such a network is the 2007 tragedy of a 63-year-old Brooklyn man who crashed on the Northway, couldn’t place a call due to a lack of wireless service and died of hypothermia while his wife’s feet froze.

But the FCC will have to balance the desirable outcome of ubiquitous service against the wireless industry’s apparent intention to run roughshod over state and local governments, who should still have a role in protecting local interests, such as the Adirondacks viewshed.

In 80-plus pages of rules and questions from the FCC, wireless providers have suggested that they be allowed to tack new equipment onto existing cell towers without having to go through the standard approval process. The FCC seems to agree this piggybacking should be exempt.

The FCC is clearly more skeptical of the industry’s exemption request for newer, smaller equipment that can be deployed on utility poles, rooftops and the like. The industry has been steering away from the big “Frankenpine” towers that captured attention in the Lake George area nearly a decade ago.

According to the FCC, providers are meeting demand with “large numbers” of smaller antennas at lower heights with more compact radio equipment in what are called distributed antenna systems, or small cells. They can even be used inside buildings to fill coverage gaps or enhance capacity.

The FCC acknowledges such systems may be desirable in areas that, like the Adirondacks, need stringent siting regulations. The agency stops short of embracing the industry’s blanket exemption request, but the Adirondack Council and nine other environmental and historic preservation groups still say the proposed loosening of the rules would go too far.

“Communications continue to improve in the park, and the Adirondack Park Agency has done an outstanding job of ensuring that new towers fit into the surrounding landscape,” Adirondack Council Executive Director William Janeway told the Times Union’s Brian Nearing.

Allowing providers to piggyback on existing towers is logical. But it would be unwise to give them a free pass to put up small cells wherever they can. The FCC needs to find sensible middle ground, and ensure that entities like the APA can continue to effectively manage the needed expansion of broadband in such sensitive areas as the Adirondack Park.


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