Courtesy Beacon Media.
By Maggie West / Staff & D. Jefferson Bean / Staff
"Farms don't ruin the rural look of the neighborhood, subdivisions do: speed bumps, streetlights. Rural is rural. And that's what a farm is," said John Bogino, owner of one of three proposed cell tower sites in Milton. "People all want cell service -- cell phones -- but not a cell tower in their front yard."
"I have a hard time understanding some of their logic," he added.
Bogino came to city hall to plead on behalf of cell phone company T-Mobile. His income from leasing his land to T-Mobile would, he said, lighten his property tax burden.
The story is familiar to Milton residents as T-Mobile expands its North Fulton network.
t's pitting the city's self-proclaimed "rural character" against suburbanites' actual demand for cell phones.
PITCH FORKS AND TORCHES
During a heated debate over cell towers, one-third of the capacity crowd at the City Hall rose and pooled around the podium during the April 26th session as State Senate candidate John Albers addressed the city council on behalf of Milton residents.
He called for using a technology called microcells, which are small units that can increase the wireless capacity locally and added that wireless phone signals should be strengthened with simple, off-the-shelf boosters.
In fact, he then imputed financial motives to T-Mobile: "So, the question you should ask yourselves is, 'Why does T-Mobile want to build the tower?' ... In the last 12 years, the telecommunications industry has been consolidating. When T-mobile gets sold, they will be worth more money based on the number of towers they have in place."
DOING THE MATH
But John Wilkinson, Senior Systems Engineer for Polycom, a Pleasanton, CA-based manufacturer of IP and wireless voice and video conferencing equipment, said nearly the opposite.
"Towers are necessary. These things are really expensive," he said. "I'm sure they've [T-Mobile] done the math. No one builds towers unless they're absolutely necessary for coverage. They hate to invest in towers and radios. It usually means that they have incessant complaints about poor coverage if they're looking to build them."
Wilkinson also thinks differently on the technology: "You do need line-of-sight for the microcells. They cover less territory. And T-Mobile may want to be put in play. That's normal. They are the least of the wireless carriers. Their network has been assembled from a bunch of regional providers, as they were left behind from the big Verizon and Cingular mergers. They need towers for better coverage -- and sure, it increases their value by, owning their own assets versus leasing them from AT&T or others. Besides, improved wireless infrastructure is good for the customer."
And as for boosters: "Boosters don't work. They are absolute [expletive deleted]."
Aside from coverage and aesthetics concerns, residents are worried about property rights -- specifically, those of the individual landowner against his or her neighbor's right to install something that might be ugly, dangerous or otherwise reduce property values. Yet another alleged that T-Mobile's claim of coverage gaps was erroneous.
While the multiplicity of opinions voiced precludes a reductionist, Manichean summary, Monday's drama featured several recurring motifs, including the rights of the individual vs. those of the collective; free market competition vs. government-sanctioned, "mixed-economy" oligopolies; and the conflict between subjective "quality of life" and technological and economic progress.
In the end, Milton City Council, after over four hours of debate, conditionally passed one tower for New Providence Road, not on Bogino's land. Because the Council chose to cap it at 100 feet and T-Mobile wanted 150 feet, it's likely the tower won't be built. However, this property overlooks the Chadwick landfill. Rural enough?