Our View: Communication broken in Nevada County
Nevada County is the land that time forgot.
This isn’t necessarily bad. We enjoy pristine hiking and biking trails, beautiful rivers and vistas others must get on a plane to view. They’re in our backyard, a scenic getaway we call home.
In other respects our seclusion hampers our prospects for jobs, travel and public safety. Our homes sit in the midst of fire fuels with few roads providing an escape. A medical concern can soon turn into an emergency as an ambulance tries to navigate tiny, winding streets.
You’d think the Nevada County Board of Supervisors would welcome a fix, no matter how small, that could improve safety.
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A cell phone tower, disguised to appear as a tree, would have provided broadband service to about 70 homes near Wildlife Lane. Its presence would have added redundancy — a positive when the possibility of an inoperative network during wildfire is considered.
And, best of all, it was free. AT&T has money through a government contract to place towers in rural areas. Offered to supervisors on a platter, the tower met all county staff requirements. Staff recommended approval.
But something’s always in someone’s backyard. Residents opposed the tower, appealed county staff’s approval of it and prevailed. Supervisor Dan Miller was alone in his support for the tower.
A final vote by the supervisors is expected soon.
The residents already have good cell service. They argued it wasn’t a good fit. It would only serve 70 homes. It’s not needed.
It’s easy to forget how fragile our community is, surrounded by trees and separated from major highways. This cell tower could have helped connect a rural area, filling a patchwork network that can be spotty at best.
Instead supervisors have made a precedent about the placement of cell towers. Get enough people at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, say you don’t want something and supervisors will fall in line.
We’re not going to get more landlines installed. In fact, our most rural areas aren’t going to get cell towers providing broadband service without government-subsidized programs like the one AT&T is using.
Broadband should be considered a utility, as important as water and electricity. Government provides utilities regardless of any person’s opinion because it understands, or at least should, the bigger picture. It doesn’t kowtow to arguments of aesthetics or radio frequency when forbidding increased internet access.
AT&T planned to bring the equivalent of a free meal here, and supervisors turned it down. They didn’t examine a detailed map of the county’s weak spots in its network. They failed to discuss the intricacies of a long-term goal to improve communication across the county.
Instead supervisors listened to folks who don’t want something in their backyard.
Our leaders must approach issues of connectivity and public safety with care. Plans and goals should be in place and followed, not the whims of a few who can attend weekday government meetings.
An AT&T representative said her company must place towers in rural areas under its contract. It has no requirement to place them in Nevada County.
We are foolish to push away an investment in our community and infrastructure. If they refuse to allow the tower on Wildlife Lane, supervisors should work with AT&T and find another spot in this county.
Supervisors should look at their own objectives, created at the start of each year, for guidance.
In 2018 supervisors stated they should explore methods to reduce the threat and damage from wildfires. They also made seeking state and federal funding to support economic development a goal. Both were top objectives.
In 2019 supervisors reiterated their goal of exploring other ways to reduce wildfire threats.
A cell tower providing broadband access would strengthen this county’s spotty network, enabling more people to work from home. It would bolster our ability to communicate and possibly provide a few more minutes of notice when wildfire threatens.
Maybe supervisors forgot that.
Our View is the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.
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