Isla Vista residents who are angry over dropped calls should see their cell phone service picking up once construction is finished on a new cell phone tower located next to the Korean Methodist Church in I.V.
The new tower should be up and running in June, and it will carry service for T-Mobile and Cingular Wireless customers, an employee of AIS Construction Company said. The Rev. Chi-Young Jeong, who preaches at the Korean Methodist Church, said the church is collecting rent for the use of the land, but would not disclose the rental cost. T-Mobile and Cingular Wireless, which now owns AT&T Wireless, are paying for the tower’s construction and for the cost of renting the church’s land.
The AIS Construction Company employee, who declined to give his name, said the company took over construction of the tower on May 1. He said he thinks cell phone reception in I.V. will become much better thanks to the new tower.
“Most cell phones here don’t work right, but now they will,” he said.
Jeong said he looks forward to the construction being completed because he thinks it will benefit all of I.V.
“I think it’s not only for us, but for the community,” Jeong said. “I’ve had a lot of dropped calls myself … so this will be good for everybody. It’s not just the income, it’s for the community.”
The AIS Construction Company employee said the frame of the tower would be covered and made to look like a steeple.
“It should be done in the next five weeks and be on air,” the employee said.
Art Navarro, a spokesman for Cingular, said the tower is designed to look more like part of the church’s architecture than like a cell phone tower.
“It’s what we call a ‘stealth site,'” Navarro said. “It’s a fabricated steeple to compliment the location. … Our goal is to be a good neighbor and be sensitive to the fact that people don’t always like the look of a tower.”
Jeong said the cell companies would install two antennas inside the steeple. He said the tower will be about 50 feet high in its final state and will be a permanent I.V. structure.
“I have no mind to ever demolish it,” Jeong said.
Megan Lowery, a planner for the County of Santa Barbara Planning and Development Energy Division, said T-Mobile and Cingular would have to submit radio frequency system reports to the Federal Communications Commission periodically to make sure the cell tower is not harmful to people’s health. The reports will tell the commission whether the tower is staying within the agency’s limits on the amount of radiation cell phone antennas are allowed to emit.
“They’re only [at] 2.1 percent of the actual limit,” Lowery said. “100 percent would be the maximum limit [allowed to be] exposed to the public. Your microwave puts out more radiation.”
Jeong said he researched the effects of cell phone towers on the health of the people living around them, and while the tower will emit some radiation, he does not think it is enough to cause health problems.
“I checked with specialists and outside people,” Jeong said. “We get more impact from exposed electric wires.”
Lowery said the company had to obtain three permits from the county for each antenna being installed.
“They had to get a discretionary, land use and building permit,” Lowery said. “But there’s actually two antennas going up, so they needed six permits.”
Navarro said he thinks I.V. is a prime location for a cell tower because the area already has many students and the local population continues to grow.
Lowery said various companies have been trying to build a new cell tower in I.V. for several years. She said AT&T originally applied to build a tower in December 2003, before the company merged with Cingular. Lowery said T-Mobile then collaborated with Cingular and was granted permission to begin construction in 2005.
“This project has been going on for years,” Lowery said. “It’s an indefinite amount, but it’s cost a lot – thousands.”
“We monitor the growth of communities,” Navarro said. “Our concern is to provide added service to customers. There is a need for greater capacity. … This tower is designed to support additional traffic at and around the university.”
New cell phone towers are continuously being built to provide better service and more capacity per line in the area, Lowery said. She said I.V. already has several cell phone towers.
“They’re actually all over the county,” Lowery said. “There’s a number of [them] in I.V., some [by] Francisco Torres, some by Silvergreens and I.V. Market.”
Holly Echterling, a senior English major, said she has cell service with T-Mobile and she already gets good service. She said she does not think the new tower will change that.
“I’m indifferent,” Echterling said. “I have fine service as it is.”