The View From Faraway Farm: We don't need no stinkin' cell towers

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This is a funny state of affairs. We embrace the environment in Vermont, yet make it almost impossible to have wind power. I understand what they mean about all the land that is laid bare just to put up a wind tower, but a few dozen of these things aren't going to ruin the state. Now we hear complaining about all the solar panels in fields that lay fallow for decades. While cell towers don't have anything to do with pollution issues, they are held in contempt in Vermont where our unspoiled beauty comes before everything else. I have mixed feelings about them. The towers that look like trees don't, really. I suppose they are OK. My feeling is that all of this technology is temporary. In twenty years it will all be obsolete and something more aesthetic will probably emerge. If we're patient it will surely change.

Where I live there is no cell service. I've owned this place for 17 years and that is the one thing that seems to never change. When I had a metal roof put on my home in 2002 I decided to experiment with a magnetic car cell antenna on my roof. Back then there was a jack on your cell phone where you could plug in an antenna. I tossed the stubby little antenna up on the roof and I suddenly had cell service. I had to be tethered to the antenna to use a cell phone in my home, but at least I could get a signal by using the expanse of the metal roof as a ground plane. Not long after that, I upgraded to a smartphone and the antenna jack was gone, as well as my access to cell service at home.

Years go by, still no cell towers anywhere near my road. Big promises get made about communications progress for Vermont, and so far the only promise kept was fiber optic high speed internet that got installed on our road. We are lucky because 7 miles away folks are still stuck with really lousy internet service. We're just lucky we have Vtel for our provider, and I'm thankful for it. Any blanket promises from politicians about high-speed internet for the rest of rural Vermont seems spotty at best.

Back to cell service; or the lack thereof. Route 30 got a boost a while back with a clever network of small cell towers mounted on utility poles, but the effectiveness of those signals seems inconsistent to me. We're simply dead in the water for rural cell service here in the Green Mountain state.

My frustration with not being able to plug an antenna into my cell phone got the better of me last week, so I got on our awesome high-speed fiber optic internet and did some research. From what I could find, hooking up an effective supplemental antenna to our cell phones required taking it apart and finding some obscure little nodes in there and soldering on some wires. While I could do that I sure as heck wasn't going to, regardless of how easy the website said it would be. There were other ways to improve the signal, but most of them seemed pretty weak, except for one. A cell phone signal boosting system. Some of them were priced over $400.00, but after some searching, I found a company that made one for just under $100.00. I ordered it and it showed up three days later.

The idea of this device was to use a yagi antenna mounted outside and pointed towards the nearest cell phone tower. The nearest one to my house is about 15 miles away in New Hampshire. The yagi antenna feeds a cable that you run into your home. The cable connects to a wall mounted signal booster that runs on a plug-in power supply. The amplified signal then comes out of the amplifier via another cable that runs to a flat plastic antenna housing that also mounts to an interior wall. Without bothering to actually mount any of this stuff, I set it all up, bolted the yagi antenna to a length of PVC pipe, wedged it upright into a lawn chair outside and pointed it towards New Hampshire. I went back into the house, turned on the signal amplifier, turned on my cell phone, and called my fiancee who was at a meeting in another town. It rang. She answered. Jubilation! We now have cell service here on the sunny side of Mt. Everest, as my stepson calls our home.

While this is all marvelous and everything, I have to say that there shouldn't be the need for a cell phone signal booster in my town in 2017. We are so far behind the times in rural Vermont that it borders on criminal. I understand that cell phone towers can be unsightly, but at this point, I think that thousands of Vermonters would be happy with a few more fake tree towers out there than this abysmal technological backwater where we currently reside. But hey, we don't need no stinkin' cell towers in our back yards.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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