Northwest NEWS

April 19, 1999


For the common good, citizens must give something

   As a longtime ATT Wireless Services (AWS) customer and a communications engineer who designs and implements public safety radio systems, I read with interest the two letters regarding cellular service, or lack thereof, in the Cottage Lake area.

   First of all, I am surprised the two writers didn't use 6-1-1 on their cellular phones. It doesn't cost any airtime and provides you with access to a person, albeit through a voice prompting service. I have often used this access to report coverage problems with great success.

   Anyway, back to the coverage issue. Wireless communications devices require antennas and towers for them to operate. The signals used by traditional cellular and the new PCS type services can be blocked by trees and terrain.

   Here in the Seattle area, we have one of the most difficult areas to provide good radio signals because of the many hills. In addition, there have been many sites blocked because people don't want to see those "ugly" towers and antennas in their backyards or actually anyplace they can see them.

   Unfortunately, cell phones won't work without antennas. In the Cottage Lake area, there are several towers, but not all of those are AWS. For example, the tower right at the end of Avondale Road provides coverage right in that area. However, because it is not very tall and there are many trees and higher terrain all around, it does not cover much beyond Avondale.

   If people want improved wireless communications, towers are an unavoidable necessity. Since a cell site can cost $500,000 to $1,000,000 to build, the cellular carriers are reluctant to build many smaller ones when a few taller ones would work better.

   A recent case is a tower that is going to be built on the old Duvall landfill site. This site was primarily designed to provide improved police and fire communications in the area. In order to reduce the number of towers in the area, King County was proposing to lease space on the tower to commercial carriers. This would also lower the cost of maintaining the site because the commercial carriers would pay rent to be on the site. A win-win situation for the taxpayers and cellular carriers.

   However, a few people living in a nearby expensive area didn't want it there. They didn't care where else it went, only that they didn't want it there. Being in the middle of a 76-acre parcel that would never be open to the public was the best all-around choice. However, this group of people took the county all the way to Superior Court, losing each appeal, before they dropped it. This cost the taxpayers of King County not only a lot of dollars, but has delayed much-needed public safety and potential cellular coverage in this area of the county.

   As citizens, we all have to give something for the common good. We can't have better roads, electrical power, water tanks, sewers, and wireless telecommunications unless we build the infrastructure to support those services.

   Just remember that when you are using your cell phone and see one of those towers.

Joe Blaschka, Jr., P.E., Woodinville