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Mailbag: Good cell service is vital to our city

January 13, 2011

As a 20-year telecommunications veteran, I wanted to address the ongoing protests against cell tower construction in Laguna Beach. The concern over cell tower radiation led residents to block the construction of a planned T-Mobile tower in the Top of the World neighborhood, and efforts are underway to prevent another planned tower in Arch Beach Heights. While nobody wants to be reckless when health issues are concerned, we should also be concerned that Laguna Beach residents will be denied state-of-the-art telecommunication services if carriers grow weary of having their networks blocked. As more carriers upgrade to faster 4G network services, we do not want to be left off the Information Superhighway.

There's no debate that blanket cell coverage is a necessity — it can be critical for emergency responders. Whether we have an accident on one of our biking or hiking trails, or an emergency such as the recent canyon and downtown flooding, it's imperative that people be able to call for help. Emergency notification services such as Amber alerts and road closures will be increasingly sent to cell phones. Blanket coverage also helps the town economically, as more and more commercial services are being delivered over the Internet, and smarter and faster phones that are more like PCs. Good coverage gives residents and businesses a choice when deciding where to live and work, and which calling plans to purchase.

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Laguna Beach is a challenging market for telecommunications providers. One reason is the unique topography, with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other; we've long noticed the poor FM reception in town. This is why cellular service is also spotty. With tough zoning and open space environmental restrictions, it's inevitable that in order to have blanket coverage some towers will have to be placed closer to residential areas.

Protesters have cited studies pointing to harmful effects of cell signals, but a careful reading of the current body of work will show that there is no clear definitive evidence that cell phones or towers cause cancer at all. The scientists who are still skeptical are only calling for more research and caution. To balance the debate, key findings from a 20-year study done in Denmark, which has long had much higher cell phone usage rates than the U.S., show no correlation between cancer and cell phone towers or cell phone usage.

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