Readers Write: Why wireless is an essential utility

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It’s no secret that Long Island has deficient cell phone service.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York has even urged carriers to improve coverage on the island, where more than 200 cell phone dead zones were identified in late 2016 as well as poor quality network speed, reliability and performance.

As a longtime resident of Shoreham and as someone who served for several years as the First District’s assemblyman, I know the vital importance of seamless wireless connectivity for our personal lives and for businesses.

My interest in improving the quality of mobile networks has grown even stronger since serving as executive director of the state’s Business Incubator Association, which helps develop and grow startups throughout the state. I’ve witnessed first-hand the impact that quality cell phone service can have on keeping the businesses within our local entrepreneur ecosystem running smoothly.

I also know that if we do not keep pace as smartphone usage and data demands continue to increase, Long Island’s inadequate cell phone service will be further magnified. Today, if deployed efficiently, 4G LTE can meet most of the wireless connectivity needs for communities. But to enable new technologies in the future, like autonomous vehicles and smart cities, 5G (the fifth-generation of wireless broadband technology that the carriers will start rolling out this year) will be required for cities and communities around the country – including Long Island.

We’re using our smartphones more than ever – to chat, stream content, read the news, shop and more. By 2020, global mobile data traffic worldwide will be four times what the overall internet traffic was in 2005. All that data is putting a strain on wireless networks built before our “phones” became more than phones.

The demands placed on wireless networks aren’t merely manifestations of trivial aspects of our lifestyle. Wireless bandwidth is important for individuals, communities, businesses and the wider economy.

Less known, but increasingly important is the demand for public safety. FirstNet (First Responder Network Authority) was created in 2012 by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act to provide first responders with the first nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety.

The rollout begins across the country this year to install the appropriate network infrastructure that will be critical in ensuring the FirstNet network runs smoothly and keeps communities safer in life-threatening situations.

Furthermore, it is estimated that about 70 percent of 911 calls are placed from wireless phones.

In other words, wireless is not just for smartphones, but for serving the public good as an actual utility.

We all have a critical stake in assuring our communities have quality network coverage. The villages of Kings Point, Lake Success, Flower Hill, Plandome, Plandome Manor and Williston Park are among the areas with inadequate coverage and more data demand than the current network infrastructure can accommodate.

Addressing network infrastructure challenges requires collaboration between the carriers, neutral host providers (the companies that build the network infrastructure and lease it to the carriers) as well as residents and local leaders.

In fact, those aforementioned areas are currently debating the path forward after reviewing a proposal from the carrier providing service to customers and ExteNet Systems (an Illinois-based neutral host provider) to improve network coverage and performance.

New network infrastructure doesn’t mean unsightly cell towers, which is a common concern as it relates to aesthetics.

Neutral host providers like ExteNet install “small cell” antennas, which can be as small as a lunchbox and are placed near the top of utility poles, much like electrical transformers.

When citizens, community leaders and organizations can work together with the carriers and neutral host providers, the potential is there to install unobtrusive wireless sites that support today’s data demands, and the future.

I have attended meetings during which questions on health concerns related to radio emissions were raised. It is understandable, given how much we all use our smartphones. And, as a parent, I also want to ensure no health impact for my two children. Fortunately, several U.S. government agencies and international organizations are working together to monitor research on the health effects of radio frequency exposure.

To date, the FDA and the World Health Organization, among others, have concluded that scientific evidence doesn’t effectively link radio frequency exposure with any known health problems. In addition, small cell networks with small antennas help limit radiated power. The deployment of faster 4G and 5G networks also will contribute to reducing the energy radiated by cell phones significantly.

I hope that Long Island, and the residents and businesses which stand to benefit from the improved cell phone service can work together with the carriers and neutral host providers to ensure that our wireless network capabilities are the best they can be.

Because if enhanced wireless service becomes a reality, our communities will be better off.

Marc Alessi

Attorney of counsel with the Long Island law firm of Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, 

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