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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Residents Want Cell Service Without The Eyesore

(Kenneth Ho / The Statesman)

After his Toyota died on the curvy and rural North Country Road, Jay Holtzman eyeballed the dead signal on his cell phone. With his phone in a reception coma, he trudged for miles through the wooded suburbia of Wading River, N.Y. Since Verizon proposed a cell tower at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Wading River residents’ cellular needs struck a nerve — not in my backyard.

“The tower would really help me out,” said Holtzman about Verizon’s proposal. “I drive through here to Rocky Point all the time and get one bar if I’m lucky.”

Neighbors nearest to the church picketed their lawns with construction-paper signs that read, “Would you want a 100 -foot cell tower in your backyard?” Nationwide, 74 percent of American adults oppose landfills, malls and power plants in their communities, according to a survey conducted by experts in land-use politics. Americans, while wanting the best coverage, are also reluctant to tolerate cell towers anywhere in plain sight.

Nearly 300 Americans aggregated more than a trillion minutes of use from January to June last year, tallied by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, or CTIA. The Cisco Visual Networking Index presaged mobile data traffic to increase 66 times every year from 2008 to 2013. The iPhone and Blackberry smartphones each generate more data traffic, from users playing video and browsing the Internet, than 30 basic-feature cell phones.

As growing use of cell phones and smartphones congest networks, cellular companies push to build more towers in anti-development communities. By fighting development of cell towers, the cell quality of every cell phone and smartphone is at stake.

“In general, we fail to connect our land-use with our consumption,” said Carissa Schively Slotterback,  who holds a doctorate in urban and regional planning. “I think communities have successfully integrated commercial structures before. They would be able to disguise the cell tower in Wading River like a tree.”

“We want our cell phones, we want our coverage and we want to keep our home values,” said Millie Thomas, a realtor in Wading River for 17 years. From her experience, she knows homeb4uyers turn down homes close to power lines and TV towers. “St. John’s cell tower would give and take from our community.”

David Sandberg, a Verizon spokesman, pointed out that companies explore cellular antenna on church steeples and water towers as cheaper alternatives instead of building a whole tower. A cell tower is the last resort to plug Verizon dead zones. He stressed that Verizon and towns must be willing to compromise and work together on cell tower issues.

“No matter where you put it, no matter what you say, people will fight a cell tower all the way,” Sandberg said in a telephone interview. He also noted the “huge surge” in data traffic coming from Verizon smartphones. “We try to stay ahead of the curve and cell towers can help us do that.”

Cell towers and landfills, along with other nationwide developments, divvy up America’s not-in-my-backyard response.

Landfills rank as the most hated community development in the United States, according to the nationwide 2009 Saint Index conducted by The Saint Consulting Group—experts in land-use politics. 78 percent of Americans never want a reeking mountain of trash as a neighbor.

Everybody’s garbage needs to go somewhere, but people want their trash nowhere near their homes.

Cell phones highlight the same Not-In-My-Backyard thinking. These phones, in order to function well, need to connect with an antenna or tower. The 2009 Saint Index showed 74 percent of urban, suburban and rural Americans oppose development in the community. Cell phones and smartphones lose the lifeblood of convenience without support from more broadcasting structures, like cell towers.

Near the cliffs over Long Island Sound, Beacon Wireless proposed a cell tower monopole on the Wading River campus of Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York. “After Beacon approached us, we thought we could get some better reception around Little Flower and for our neighbors,” said Alyson Gladle, a spokeswoman for Little Flower. “Wading River does a lot to protect its community and manage any kind of development.”

Linda Jones, a neighbor to Little Flower in Wading River, joined her neighborhood to challenge the Beacon Wireless cell tower at Riverhead town meetings. “I do keep a cell phone in my glove compartment for emergencies, but I don’t believe in cell phones. I believe that the tower had been turned down thanks to what we did.”

In case of emergencies, Wading River’s reception worried Jones, “I’m thinking about dropping my cell phone for good and just getting OnStar.”

Residents near Little Flower and St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, two Wading River places affected by cell site proposals, urge health concern as a heavier talking point. The 1996 Telecommunications Act denied “public safety and welfare” as grounds against cell site placement. These residents, the most resistant to the cell site proposal, believe a cell tower’s effect on town appearance does not pack as much of a punch.

Neighbors of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church such as Kevin McKernan, Gloria Hutinkoff, Linda and Richard McKenna stake much of their resistance on health concerns.

About 20 miles south of Wading River, Mastic Beach residents shrugged at Verizon building a 150-foot cell tower in their community. With little to no neighborhood resistance, the cell tower soon jutted the sky view above the St. Jude Catholic Church. “People complain about their cell service and then they complain about the cell towers,” said William, a neighbor to the tower whom denied to give his last name.

While William whipped out a cell phone to check his service bars, he recalled bad and good service before and after Verizon hoisted the tower. The Verizon tower helped the community, lauded William, because the town’s frazzled telephone wires “crap out” frequently. “The wires are so old that they have to be spliced like every month,” William laughed, “that cell tower has been real useful.”

At St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Wading River, Verizon’s cell tower proposal kindled America’s temperament to separate the inseparable. “We think coverage can still be good for Wading River, if you keep the tower in a commercial area like 25A,” said Linda McKenna, a key organizer of the Wading River resistance to Verizon’s cell tower plan. Good quality cell phone and smartphone coverage can be attained when taken with a silo of salt, an unpleasant cell tower embedded in a town.

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