An AT&T presentation intended to inform Palo Alto residents about plans to shore up spotty phone reception by installing distributed-antenna systems on existing Old Palo Alto utility poles met with a stormy reception Tuesday night.
Resident Bill Moore told AT&T officials that unless the company were to use existing residential and business Wi-Fi systems to augment coverage, he personally "will fight this ugly, ridiculous-looking tower like crazy."
His statement was met with applause by many of 50 to 60 attendees at the open house held at the Cubberley Community Center Theatre.
AT&T plans to improve its coverage in areas where there are topographical and structural impediments by replacing nine traditional "macrocell" structures with shorter and smaller distributed-antenna systems fed by fiber cable from its existing central office in Mountain View.
The telecommunications company currently has similar installations in Chicago and the Noe Valley and Presidio areas of San Francisco; other proposals are in motion across the Bay Area.
"These technologies are being used to experiment with us," Moore said. In addition to possible health effects, he cited concerns about aesthetics, dropping real-estate values, and the potentially noisy hum of cooling fans in the proposed installations.
Several residents cited a National Institutes of Health study, published Feb. 22 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showing that cell phone usage changes glucose levels in the brain.
"This is a game-changer," Moore said.
But the antennas themselves emit radiation at least 100 times below Federal Communications Commission safety limits, according to William Hammett, a consulting engineer for AT&T. In most places, emissions are more than 1,000 times below the limits that were last updated in 2006 in response to medical research.
One supporter of the plan, who identified himself as a "frustrated AT&T customer," said the proposed antennas would reduce customers' exposure to power radiated from individual cell phones, which run at higher power when coverage is less accessible.
While health risks were a popular concern at Tuesday's meeting, in keeping with federal legislation, the City of Palo Alto cannot deny a company's application based on concerns about the effects of radio-frequency exposure on human health.
Among other concerns voiced by the audience were the possible implementation of city plans to put utilities underground (currently on hold) and the rationale behind moving forward with the controversial 8-foot antenna tower planned to be installed above St. Albert the Great Church in Palo Alto.
The installations might theoretically obviate the need for the tower, but AT&T continues to seek separate and simultaneous permit application for each proposal, AT&T officials responded.
"Wireless coverage isn't magic: It's infrastructure," AT&T Strategic Affairs Adviser Lane Kasselman told reporters following the meeting.
Permit applications for nine of around 80 sites were filed Feb. 7 with the city. Residents have 15 days, after being notified via mail of the city staff's decision, to request a hearing before the Planning and Transportation Commission before a final decision is made by the City Council.