George Boardman: Business as usual makes Nevada County economic development a tough sell | TheUnion.com

George Boardman: Business as usual makes Nevada County economic development a tough sell

George Boardman
Columnist

It was the best of times in Sacramento, but it was business as usual in western Nevada County.

It was the best of times in Sacramento recently when Verizon announced the River City will become the first in the nation to get 5G wireless network technology in the second half of 2018, offering speeds up to 40 times faster than 4G — quick enough to download a full-length movie in 15 seconds.

Maria MacGunigal, the city's chief information officer, called the decision a "game changer" in drawing more tech startups to Sacramento, "… a partnership that enables the city to demonstrate innovation in the real world and allows us to lean forward so that we can leverage technology … for the benefit of our community."

Sacramento got the upper hand in the race to get the latest and fastest Wi-Fi last summer when it became the first of 11 cities to sample the technology. Officials made it clear then that they wanted more. Verizon was permitted to place small cell towers on 101 utility poles, expand their fiber optic capacity, and move quickly through the city's permit process.

Verizon's decision will bring the city more benefits than just the bragging rights of having the first 5G service in the country. The company committed to establishing 5G infrastructure throughout the city — not just the business areas and wealthier neighborhoods — and installing free Wi-Fi at 27 parks.

Sacramento also signed a deal with Verizon that allows the city to use its telemetric technology — in this case, sensor technology embedded in the asphalt — and the 5G network to support traffic and pollution control.

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Meanwhile, back in western Nevada County, the tinfoil hat brigade showed up at a county zoning administrator hearing to block the construction of three new cell towers in rural parts of the county, citing health and other concerns.

These people managed to convince the Nevada City Planning Commission and then the city council in 2016 to reject Verizon's request to install eight cellular antennas atop a building on North Pine Street. Again, dubious health claims were made.

Of course, the council that turned away Verizon included Councilmember Reinette Senum, who was present in spirit if not in person at the zoning administrator hearing via a letter read by Jacqueline Janssen.

The letter claimed that some insurers now refuse to cover claims of injury from radio frequency emissions, and that any money gained from the project would be lost in future lawsuits. "By consenting to these cell towers, you consent to massive liability," Janssen read from the letter. As is typical with these broad-brush claims, Senum didn't identify anybody who has actually been sued, or any insurance claims that were rejected.

It is probable no insurance claims were paid because nobody has yet proved a link between cell phones and brain cancer or other maladies. Cell phones have been in general use since the early '80s, but there has been no significant increase in brain cancer deaths.

The only measurable increase is among people over 75, but that's because people are living longer and cancer has always largely been a disease of the elderly. Improved imaging technology also makes it easier for doctors to diagnose the disease. But where's the increase in younger people who have been using cell phones most of their lives? It doesn't exist.

But that doesn't mean people will desist from promoting these bogus claims — after all, every American has the right to live his or her own fantasy. The tinfoil hat contingent had the opportunity to further indulge their fantasy last Friday at a local screening of "Generation Zapped," a crowd-sourced documentary on the "high cost of addiction" to digital devices and the health risks from wireless radiation. Senum promoted that too.

Nevada County residents are building a reputation for ignoring science and inventing their own facts. Thanks to the anti-vaccine movement, we still have the lowest school age vaccination rate in the state, several citizens are on constant lookout for the latest chem. trail, and we support a community of voodoo medical practitioners, alternatives to western medicine that has enabled us to lead longer, more vigorous lives.

The resistance to wireless technology is an impediment to Nevada County's professed goal of attracting high-tech entrepreneurs to our sylvan setting. Those companies want high-speed communications, something we're not likely to get anytime soon from Verizon or AT&T — the big money is in metropolitan areas.

The three cell towers currently being proposed for rural Nevada County are not much, but they're being offered here only because Congress authorized $360 million to encourage AT&T and other telecom companies to improve communications in the rural parts of this country.

AT&T is required by the federal funding to improve broadband access to 145,000 homes.

"If we can't build in Nevada County, then we will build somewhere else," a company spokeswoman told The Union.

The Nevada City and county scuffles over cell towers are just a warm-up for the war that will take place when 5G technology tries to cross the Bear River. Instead of relying on copper or fiber-optic cables, 5G connects radio signals from small towers. That ought to make for some contentious public hearings.

This technology is expected to be mainstream throughout the country by 2020, but probably not in the Queen of the Northern Mines.

George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at ag101board@aol.com.

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