The Ocean City Mayor and Council’s majority opposition to cell towers in residential areas was most likely worthless this week. That’s why Ocean City Councilman Dennis Dare’s approach would have been a good idea.
During the discussion of Crown Castle planning to place Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) in dense residential areas, such as Montego Bay, there was some heated conversation among council members. These towers have been a troubling topic for several years, especially last year when dozens of new towers were added along the Boardwalk. There is no question they provided visual blight, but when balanced against poor cell service the appearance is typically accepted as a necessary evil. It’s a subject that brings up a lot of passion from many, including Councilman Matt James.
“Somebody who wants to install these towers in residential neighborhoods has told you that cell service will be dead if we don’t do this,” James said. “That’s BS. Cell service isn’t going to be dead. You might not be able to watch videos as fast as you like, or your pictures on Facebook might not be as clear, but you’re going to be able to get service and you’re going to be able to call 911.”
Rather than simply oppose the installation outright, Dare instead sought a compromise of sorts. “I make a motion to table this and allow Crown Castle and staff to drill down more on the specific locations,” he said. “That needs to be done. It needs to be vetted a little bit more in a timely manner. They need to have this done before the season because otherwise there will be lapses in service in some of those areas.”
What makes all this discussion moot is the FCC has granted Crown Castle, which is essentially a government utility at this point, the ability to place these towers in residential areas without requiring the blessing of local governments.
According to the FCC, “Section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act preserves state and local authority over zoning and land use decisions for personal wireless service facilities, but sets forth specific limitations on that authority. Specifically, a state or local government may not unreasonably discriminate among providers of functionally equivalent services, may not regulate in a manner that prohibits or has the effect of prohibiting the provision of personal wireless services, must act on applications within a reasonable period of time, and must make any denial of an application in writing supported by substantial evidence in a written record. The statute also preempts local decisions premised directly or indirectly on the environmental effects of radio frequency (RF) emissions, assuming that the provider is in compliance with the Commission’s RF rules.”
My interpretation of that is the council can talk tough all its wants on not wanting these towers near homes, but the opposition does not matter. The company can place them where they like. The better approach will be to continue a polite and reasonable dialogue with Crown Castle to steer their locations to less obtrusive sites rather than openly criticizing and only bruising the relationship.
A story in The Baltimore Sun yesterday caught my attention. The headline read, “Four years in, Baltimore County schools’ $147M laptop program has produced little change in student achievement.”
The article details how Baltimore County elementary school students who have been given new laptops – part of a $147 million program – have not registered significant gains in standardized test scores. Therefore, absent documented improvements, education officials and general government representatives are questioning whether the funding should continue in future years. The article even compares Baltimore County student test scores against those of pupils from Baltimore City, where there is no laptop program and much reduced access to technology. It was found Baltimore City schools are improving at a higher rate compared to the neighboring county schools. Quotes from school system officials indicated test scores must improve or this laptop program will be abandoned in the near future.
This line of thinking makes no sense. It further confirms testing results are weighted too heavily and steer some education decision makers. When this company donates annually to the Worcester County Education Foundation to expand the technology available to students in the local school system, I am not gauging further decisions on whether new laptops for high school students or iPads for elementary school students are resulting in better standardized test scores. That’s not important to me all. It’s about these kids gaining access to the technology they will need to function highly in their current and future lives. It’s an unfortunate reality that many households in this area can not afford computers, resulting in vast learning differences for many children and teens who are not privy to the same advantages as their middle- and upper-class peers. That’s not fair. That must be addressed singularly without a contingency on test scores going up.