News

Opinion: Robust connectivity is critical to Palo Alto's future

Russell Hancock. Courtesy photo.

The global pandemic has taught us hard lessons about our strengths and shortcomings as a society. It has also transformed our basic patterns: we moved to remote work, distance learning and distributed workforces — trends which most likely won't be reversed. One very important lesson, therefore, has been the critical the importance of connectivity.

Cellular broadband was a lifeline during quarantine, preserving our connections with loved ones, enabling commerce and, perhaps most importantly, allowing learning to continue. Students abruptly shifted to distance-learning in March 2020, but without adequate coverage in residential neighborhoods this would not have been possible. For students whose wired broadband was either inadequate, expensive or nonexistent, school districts provided 4G hot spots. Of the 16,000 connections created by the Santa Clara County Office of Education, 14,200 came with via 4G hot spots. But these hot spots are useless if there's no wireless coverage.

Our state and national leaders understand robust connectivity is critical to our country's future growth and that connectivity will enable and improve countless new technologies and services — spurring economic growth and prosperity. The infrastructure plan from President Joe Biden's administration is proposing $65 billion for broadband, and Gov. Gavin Newsom included $9 billion for broadband in his proposed budget.

Unfortunately, Palo Alto has adopted fairly onerous standards for small wireless facilities — also known as small cells — effectively halting the expansion of modern communications infrastructure in our city.

Current city rules have the effect of prohibiting wireless infrastructure along 73% of the city's streets. Rather than encouraging improved infrastructure, the city's rules seem designed to make building it as difficult as possible. In fact, not a single small wireless facility was approved in Palo Alto during the pandemic.

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Cellular communication is increasingly the technology of choice for connectivity. Over 60% of households in the western United States are wireless-only, as people increasingly shift from wired to mobile telephones. Eighty percent of calls to emergency 911 services are made from cellular phones. Clearly, robust in-home cellular coverage is critical for economic equality and public safety.

Next-generation wireless supports more than just faster smartphones. It will enable Palo Alto homes and small businesses access to gigabit-class internet access — delivering an affordable alternative to cable, DSL and fiber optic broadband.

Understandably, many objections to small wireless facilities center on fears over electromagnetic health effects, adverse impacts to residential property valuations, or aesthetics. But in truth those concerns have been systematically addressed: thousands of peer-reviewed studies on EMF (electromagnetic fields) health effects found no evidence of harm when wireless facilities operate within Federal Communications Commission guidelines — as they must do by law. Objective studies on property valuations have found no economic impacts.

As a Palo Alto homeowner I share peoples' legitimate concerns about aesthetics. Fortunately, (and by law), local governments are responsible for defining reasonable aesthetic requirements. I'm satisfied that Palo Alto is applying shrouding principles in a manner that still allows for strong signals. In this, it's good to see us learn from cities like San Diego, San Jose and Fremont, all of whom maintain helpful (and detailed) facilities guidelines for small cell infrastructure.

Palo Alto's policies need to reflect current realities and set reasonable siting standards that contribute to, not impede, our access to information. Our city — the birthplace of so many notable technology ventures — may be ceding an outsized voice to a vociferous minority, at the expense of progress.

In actuality we're not looking at a Solomonic choice here. Palo Alto can deploy the best technology, allow science to play its central role, all while honoring the importance of aesthetics. I hope we'll keep sight of the big picture and craft policies enabling this critical infrastructure.

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Russell Hancock lives in the Saint Claire Gardens neighborhood of Palo Alto. He is the president and chief executive officer of Joint Venture Silicon Valley and a member of the Public Policy faculty at Stanford University.

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Opinion: Robust connectivity is critical to Palo Alto's future

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Sat, Jun 19, 2021, 8:54 am

The global pandemic has taught us hard lessons about our strengths and shortcomings as a society. It has also transformed our basic patterns: we moved to remote work, distance learning and distributed workforces — trends which most likely won't be reversed. One very important lesson, therefore, has been the critical the importance of connectivity.

Cellular broadband was a lifeline during quarantine, preserving our connections with loved ones, enabling commerce and, perhaps most importantly, allowing learning to continue. Students abruptly shifted to distance-learning in March 2020, but without adequate coverage in residential neighborhoods this would not have been possible. For students whose wired broadband was either inadequate, expensive or nonexistent, school districts provided 4G hot spots. Of the 16,000 connections created by the Santa Clara County Office of Education, 14,200 came with via 4G hot spots. But these hot spots are useless if there's no wireless coverage.

Our state and national leaders understand robust connectivity is critical to our country's future growth and that connectivity will enable and improve countless new technologies and services — spurring economic growth and prosperity. The infrastructure plan from President Joe Biden's administration is proposing $65 billion for broadband, and Gov. Gavin Newsom included $9 billion for broadband in his proposed budget.

Unfortunately, Palo Alto has adopted fairly onerous standards for small wireless facilities — also known as small cells — effectively halting the expansion of modern communications infrastructure in our city.

Current city rules have the effect of prohibiting wireless infrastructure along 73% of the city's streets. Rather than encouraging improved infrastructure, the city's rules seem designed to make building it as difficult as possible. In fact, not a single small wireless facility was approved in Palo Alto during the pandemic.

Cellular communication is increasingly the technology of choice for connectivity. Over 60% of households in the western United States are wireless-only, as people increasingly shift from wired to mobile telephones. Eighty percent of calls to emergency 911 services are made from cellular phones. Clearly, robust in-home cellular coverage is critical for economic equality and public safety.

Next-generation wireless supports more than just faster smartphones. It will enable Palo Alto homes and small businesses access to gigabit-class internet access — delivering an affordable alternative to cable, DSL and fiber optic broadband.

Understandably, many objections to small wireless facilities center on fears over electromagnetic health effects, adverse impacts to residential property valuations, or aesthetics. But in truth those concerns have been systematically addressed: thousands of peer-reviewed studies on EMF (electromagnetic fields) health effects found no evidence of harm when wireless facilities operate within Federal Communications Commission guidelines — as they must do by law. Objective studies on property valuations have found no economic impacts.

As a Palo Alto homeowner I share peoples' legitimate concerns about aesthetics. Fortunately, (and by law), local governments are responsible for defining reasonable aesthetic requirements. I'm satisfied that Palo Alto is applying shrouding principles in a manner that still allows for strong signals. In this, it's good to see us learn from cities like San Diego, San Jose and Fremont, all of whom maintain helpful (and detailed) facilities guidelines for small cell infrastructure.

Palo Alto's policies need to reflect current realities and set reasonable siting standards that contribute to, not impede, our access to information. Our city — the birthplace of so many notable technology ventures — may be ceding an outsized voice to a vociferous minority, at the expense of progress.

In actuality we're not looking at a Solomonic choice here. Palo Alto can deploy the best technology, allow science to play its central role, all while honoring the importance of aesthetics. I hope we'll keep sight of the big picture and craft policies enabling this critical infrastructure.

Russell Hancock lives in the Saint Claire Gardens neighborhood of Palo Alto. He is the president and chief executive officer of Joint Venture Silicon Valley and a member of the Public Policy faculty at Stanford University.

Comments

Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2021 at 10:43 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 10:43 am

This is timely and well thought through. I am not technical enough to understand all the issues, but if nothing else, we have all had to depend on our internet connected devices so much more over the past 15 months.

Even the least technical of us have had very little choice but to learn how to deal with things in ways we had not done so before. From ordering food where there are no longer paper menus, to signing up for vaccine appointments, anyone without a smart phone let alone internet connection have been at a distinct disadvantage. Without libraries being open, those who were library dependent for checking email, or even signing up to reserve a book for curbside pickup, were in an impossible situation.

It is so easy for us to forget what life is like for those who for one reason or another do not "do" technology. There are many of those living like that in Palo Alto.


AM
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2021 at 1:38 pm
AM, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 1:38 pm

Joint Venture Silicon Valley receives extensive funding from the telecom industry and has consistently advocated for the diminishing local authority in favor of advancing the telecom industry’s goals.

The bias of the writer comes without a “Disclosure“ and his bottom of the page associations do not mention the financial associations.

From Regional Alignment of Wireless Communications Prepared for City Managers Conference, February 2020 you will see this PDF: Web Link which has a section about the anti-5g protest.


Anne
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 19, 2021 at 1:51 pm
Anne, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 1:51 pm



Mr. Hancock fails to mention the noise pollution these cell sites produce. There is one right in front of my house, which contributes to the general increase in noise pollution we're experiencing all over Palo Alto.

Let's just increase wired Internet, which is what Palo Alto wants to do anyway.


Laurian Decker
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 19, 2021 at 3:10 pm
Laurian Decker, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 3:10 pm

Though 5G coverage has yet to be fully expanded (with the possible exception of the T-Mobile network), it is the wave of the future and Palo Alto should allow as many 5G cell towers as it can reasonably accommodate.

The tin hat carcinogenic theorists and cell tower noise sensitive can either go back to using a landline or a payphone (if one is even accessible).

Just don't hold up technological progress.


Curmudgeon
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2021 at 5:33 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 5:33 pm

"Though 5G coverage has yet to be fully expanded (...), it is the wave of the future and Palo Alto should allow as many 5G cell towers as it can reasonably accommodate."

4G was the "wave of the future" only a few years ago. 6G is already being designed, so get ready to dump your newly obsolete 5G gear. Nobody will die if we don't have all the newest shiniest toys the kids in the next town have. Will they?


Wesley James
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2021 at 7:30 pm
Wesley James, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 7:30 pm

5G is somewhat overhyped and will eventually be superceded during the next decade (2030s).

That said, smartphones should be replaced every 4-7 years due to operating system revisions and security patches.

An Apple iPhone is good for about 6 years and an Android (i.e. Samsung, Google etc.) around 3 years at best.

4G is more than adequate for most people and far more advanced than the soon-to-be phased out 3G network and the antiquated flip phones you see older people using.


Seer
Registered user
Green Acres
on Jun 19, 2021 at 10:12 pm
Seer, Green Acres
Registered user
on Jun 19, 2021 at 10:12 pm
Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2021 at 1:44 am
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 1:44 am

Mr. Hancock's editorial ignores a few basic facts.

Any wireless transmission medium is vulnerable to interference. This is as true today as it was in Marconi's day. With little effort a miscreant could equip a vehicle with equipment to jam a 5G signal. By periodically relocating the vehicle, the source of the interference would be impossible to detect. You then have zero connectivity to anything.

That scenario may seem implausible at first blush, but who ever thought a miscreant could remotely shut down an oil pipeline? Well, it happened.

Wireless technology is inherently not secure. It would be foolish to hitch your wagon to a wireless solution.


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2021 at 10:50 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 10:50 am

A large and growing number of people want to access the internet through their cell phones. Apps are now proliferating for a variety of purposes, and people like the freedom of being able to do their work on the cell phone. This is especially true of younger folks.

I don't fully understand this myself but it is certainly a trend.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 11:10 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 11:10 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Beppo Becera
Registered user
Los Altos
on Jun 20, 2021 at 11:36 am
Beppo Becera, Los Altos
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 11:36 am

"...people like the freedom of being able to do their work on the cell phone. This is especially true of younger folks.

I don't fully understand this myself but it is certainly a trend."

° This is why smartphones have gotten larger and with minimal bezels surrounding the screen.

We have evolved from desktop > laptop > tablet and now > smartphones to conduct most of our online priorities and why not?

Vision issues and preferences for a conventional keyboard aside, there is absolutely no reason to lug around a cumbersome laptop.

We are now in an era of techno-downsizing with added mobility options and cellular data (whether it's 4G or 5G) is preferable to conventional internet access (DSL & fiber optics etc.) as wi-fi is readily available at many fixed locations.

And as far as wi-fi security is involved, just use a VPN for added protection and privacy.

It's no big deal and it is amazing how so many of the older folks with their desktop computers and soon to be obsolete 3G fliphones just don't get it.

Travel light.


David Morrison
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 20, 2021 at 12:40 pm
David Morrison, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Russell Hancock's infommercial for 5G is full of misinformation and disinformation. Fiber optic is far more reliable, faster and safer than having an antenna on every utility pole. It has already been paid for through taxes collected by the telecoms but was diverted into wireless or stolen from taxpayers under false pretenses. The "thousands of studies" he mentions that show no harm were mostly industry funded as 70% of industry funded studies show no harm while the reverse is true for independently funded studies. There are many thousands of studies dating back over 60 years from all branches of the military and nasa showing hundreds of pathways to harm. Why has this been studied so much by the military? Because it is the perfect weapon as has been shown and admitted recently by our government in the cases of diplomats in china and cuba that were targeted with microwave weapons. Millions of people internationally are forced from their homes due to microwave sickness. For a perfect example of the reach of industry into our regulatory agencies and media can be found in this recent article in the Washington Spectator ( Web Link ) revealing corruption in the Oregon Health Authority in their recent mandate to review science of harm in wireless technology used in schools. I would like to see another article by Palo Alto online that takes the view of someone that is unbiased and not attached to industry.


David Morrison
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 20, 2021 at 12:49 pm
David Morrison, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 12:49 pm

This issue is central to the lawsuit that Environmental Health Trust, Children's Health Defense and others have filed against the FCC:
EHT et al. v. FCC (Case Number: 20-1025 in Appellate - DC Circuit).

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link


Lucien Zabriski
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2021 at 1:09 pm
Lucien Zabriski, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2021 at 1:09 pm

@David Morrison/a resident of Stanford

Duly noted but can we actually & realistically go back to payphones and landlines in order to conduct personal business? Add to that social networking and entertainment.

Microwave-generated radiation is now a part of everyday life and perhaps this is yet another form of modern day Darwinism.

In other words, those impervious to the inherent dangers of cellphone generated radiation might survive while others may perish.

Tell Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T as they most certainly will take these concerns under advisement.

Meanwhile, back to the coronavirus and the Delta variant...


Local Resident
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 21, 2021 at 11:04 am
Local Resident, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 21, 2021 at 11:04 am

This editorial is a joke. First the weekly failed to mention that this guy receives and supports the teleco industry. It's basically an informercial. Secondly, 5G for residential homes and small businesses is foolish. Fiber is so much more reliable and faster. Fiber not 5G is the choice for fixed wireless. Putting a cell tower/site 20 feet from a childs bedroom is an unnecessary and unneeded risk. Also, the telecos routinely violate their permits and put stronger transmitters than they are permitted for (including in Palo Alto). Let's keep the 5G cell towers/sites away from residential homes and schools.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Jun 21, 2021 at 11:38 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Jun 21, 2021 at 11:38 am

"This editorial is a joke."

It's an opinion piece. Written by a contributor. The weekly didn't fail to mention anything. Opinion pieces are written by the contributor, and PA Weekly doesn't owe anyone any explanation. They do decide what gets posted, and you don't have to agree with the opinion.

I thought this was an educated, knowledgeable crowd. This is comical.


Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2021 at 12:43 pm
Palo Alto Resident, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 21, 2021 at 12:43 pm

As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” The person who wrote this runs a non-profit that gets meaningful backing from the telecoms like Verizon, and then obligingly publishes studies and pieces like this one supporting more wireless infrastructure. So, yes, his salary literally depends on believing that wireless is safe and good - not surprisingly, he does!

He's entitled to his opinion, and everyone needs a job, so I don't blame him for shilling for the telecoms. I'm disappointed that the Weekly made readers dig to figure out the connection between his salary and his opinion - the relationship should have been disclosed in the piece itself, or in the description of the author.


Byron Whitaker
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 21, 2021 at 2:22 pm
Byron Whitaker, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 21, 2021 at 2:22 pm

I just spent $1K on a new 5G smartphone and haven't noticed any major difference in cellular speed from my 2020 4G LTE cellphone.

Is 5G hype? The salesman said that as soon as more 5G towers are built there will be improvements in overall speed and that health concerns over microwaves are little more than figments of tin hat imagination.

5G is no different than microwaving popcorn according to him.


Cameron Rivers
Registered user
another community
on Jun 22, 2021 at 10:11 am
Cameron Rivers, another community
Registered user
on Jun 22, 2021 at 10:11 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 22, 2021 at 10:38 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 22, 2021 at 10:38 am

"As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” The person who wrote this runs a non-profit that gets meaningful backing from the telecoms like Verizon, and then obligingly publishes studies and pieces like this one supporting more wireless infrastructure. So, yes, his salary literally depends on believing that wireless is safe and good - not surprisingly, he does!"

Absolutely! And he conveniently ignores Palo Alto's ability to run and service it and whether PA can afford it and its whole new army of consultants. Just ignore all the other budget cuts and growing unfunded pension liabilities.


Monica Preston
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 23, 2021 at 7:20 am
Monica Preston, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 23, 2021 at 7:20 am

Couldn't Palo Alto simply lease 5G access from a major company (e.g. Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T) like many of the smaller cellphone service providers do?


rsmithjr
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 23, 2021 at 9:25 am
rsmithjr, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 23, 2021 at 9:25 am

@Monica Preston,

The cell companies are trying to get the city to let them install the necessary towers and other infrastructure. They will do this at no cost to the city.

The problem is that the city won't let them.


Francisco Alacante
Registered user
Stanford
on Jun 23, 2021 at 10:08 am
Francisco Alacante, Stanford
Registered user
on Jun 23, 2021 at 10:08 am

"The cell companies are trying to get the city to let them install the necessary towers and other infrastructure. They will do this at no cost to the city.

The problem is that the city won't let them."


And why is that?

Is it based on restrictive access to public and private property or tin hat mentalities?

It seems a deal could be struck...mount towers all over town in exchange for free or highly-discounted 5G access to PA residents.


StarSpring
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 23, 2021 at 5:23 pm
StarSpring, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 23, 2021 at 5:23 pm

Isn't fiber and (n)G going to be replaced shortly with bazillions of satellites in low earth orbit? I guess that won't help mobile devices though.


Jim Davis
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 23, 2021 at 5:53 pm
Jim Davis, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 23, 2021 at 5:53 pm

Modern everyday life has gotten way too complex and we allowed to happen for the sake of various perceived conveniences and entertainment.

How in the world did people get by before microwave ovens, smartphones, cable TV, laptop computers and social networking?

Quite well.


Jacqueline Marchant
Registered user
another community
on Jun 24, 2021 at 8:00 am
Jacqueline Marchant, another community
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 8:00 am

I currently own a beautiful Samsung Galaxy 21 5G folding smartphone in metallic pink and receive many compliments and inquires from others because it is not only expensive (around $2K) but also leading-edge in the smartphone arena.

While it is used primarily for business, the phone also fits nicely in a small clutch purse when dining out.

I used to own Apple iPhones but nearly everyone has one nowadays and they have become too commonplace for my personal tastes.

5G should be expanded everywhere to ensure faster data speed for those who truly need it.


StarSpring
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2021 at 10:19 am
StarSpring, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 10:19 am

Hmmm. A crew is pulling AT&T fiber behind our house at this very moment. Voice over IP will be sweet.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2021 at 10:45 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 10:45 am

How special that Palo Alto just authorized almost $3,000,000 in spending for this without much discussion. So glad we don't have a budget crunch, unfunded pension liabilities or much of a track record in delivering cost-effective, customer-responsive service.

Onward.


Jack Whitaker
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jun 24, 2021 at 11:33 am
Jack Whitaker, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 11:33 am

>>>I currently own a beautiful Samsung Galaxy 21 5G folding smartphone in metallic pink and receive many compliments and inquires from others...

° To be dependent on superficial compliments from others in order to validate one's existence raises a few eyebrows and perhaps why we have those designer handbags thefts being discussed in a previous post.


Leslie York
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2021 at 12:07 pm
Leslie York, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 12:07 pm

"the phone also fits nicely in a small clutch purse when dining out."

Heaven forbid you should miss an important text while enjoying your sushi.

I think I could spend a half hour enjoying a meal out without attending to email/text messages. I'm old fashioned that way.

Citywide wireless is a great idea until it doesn't work for whatever reason. See my previous post.


StarSpring
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2021 at 4:19 pm
StarSpring, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 4:19 pm

Satire wielded well is a delight to read. :)


Malcom Welby
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 24, 2021 at 4:52 pm
Malcom Welby, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Jun 24, 2021 at 4:52 pm

Whatever develops from all of this, Palo Alto residents should have an active voice in the final decision-making process & it boils down to one of two preferences/choices...fixed or mobile data options.

Personally speaking, I prefer a mobile network as you have the option to use your smartphone data plan anywhere and 5G is expanding nationwide.


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