‘Co-location’ the new key for cell towers

Back in the 1960s, the hero of archetypal spy spoof “In Like Flint” wielded a hi-tech lighter with no few than 82 distinct functions – “83, if you wish to light a cigar.”

One can only wonder what the film’s eponymous character, played to suave perfection by James Coburn, would make of the gadgetry embedded in today’s cellular phones – email and instant messaging, digital cameras and music players, streaming video and animation, Ms. Pac-Man games. What once was fantastic, the stuff of science fiction, is now de riguer even for teenagers.

We thought of our man Flint this week while at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, during a presentation on technology upgrades under way around the island. Various service providers touted their new and faster internet access; the Kitsap Public Utility District discussed the super-high-capacity fiber-optic “backbone” being strung along island roadways (although connection to the rest of the system is still hung up by state permitting issues at the bridge).

Folks also got a preview of some pending land-use issues that may follow – specifically, the desire by cellular phone outfits to find new locations for towers. A spokeswoman for Cingular Wireless said her company would like to find four more sites for cellular facilities in the near future, to improve coverage.

While the FCC has gone out of its way to strip localities of their power to curb the proliferation of cellular towers,

companies still must contend with local ordinances governing aesthetics and the height of freestanding structures. On Bainbridge, that height limit is 60 feet – insufficient, the

spokeswoman said, to get a clear signal over the tops of trees.

One notion thrown out was “co-location,” cellular-speak for putting the antennas of more than one service provider atop the same pole. This strikes us as progress; co-location used to be a bad word in the still-nascent cellular industry, as companies tried to shoulder each other out of the way to stake out exclusive service areas. We recall a decade ago, when a tower went up just off Phelps Road to the chagrin of neighbors who had forgotten its approval by the county a few years earlier. Perceiving that other Bainbridge neighborhoods would be equally unreceptive to what are often perceived as eyesores, we rang up a representative for the cellular company to ask if they would ever consider leasing antenna space on the pole to rival outfits.

“That,” she told us with a certain incredulity, “would be like asking a car dealership to share their lot with another dealer.”

But times have changed. The genius of co-location may soon be illustrated by the Battle Point Park water tower, space atop which park district officials may make available to companies besides Cingular, which recently placed an antenna there.

As cellular technology forges into once unimaginable directions – gadgetry Derek Flint could only dream of – demand for improved service will grow.

That doesn’t mean we should let providers turn the island into a pincushion of cell towers. But we suspect both city and

citizenry alike would be more receptive to such facilities,

including those put up by private providers, if they were shared. If the Chamber or other interests can work to promote that end, good for all of us.

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