Truth is the first casualty of small cell deployments

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Mobile broadband companies are increasingly getting it when it comes to aesthetics, but pledges made on the front end aren’t always fulfilled by construction and operations staff or backed up by management. Wireless lobbyists and public relations people understand that they need to speak the right words to massage away concerns about how small cell installations will look as they proliferate along urban and suburban streets. But those oh-so-sincere promises, accompanied by beautifully rendered conceptual drawings, don’t always survive the descent into contract language, let alone appear on poles.

The City of Santa Rosa learned this lesson from Verizon – the hard way, according to an article by Christi Warren in the Press Democrate

The equipment — including large metal in-ground utility boxes about 5 feet tall — varies greatly in design from anything the city was previously shown by Verizon, the wireless provider installing the antennas, said Eric McHenry, director of Santa Rosa’s Information Technology Department.

While the city had no role in the equipment design, Santa Rosa officials went through a significant amount of back-and-forth with representatives of the wireless carrier on what the units would look like on city-owned streetlights, McHenry said. Officials took pains to make sure the antennas would be as unobtrusive as possible, he said.

“We frankly as a city were also surprised by what these first ones looked like,” he said, referring to the units Verizon is installing on utility poles. “They look nothing like what we had discussed with Verizon for our city streetlights or even the pictures that we shared with the council (of the installations) on wooden poles.”

The mobile companies have figured out that talking a good aesthetics game is tactically wise, but it’s a position that changes rapidly as rhetorical fights cool down. And once burned, city governments are very reluctant to make the same mistake twice.

That means there’s very little trust between cities and mobile companies, with good reason: the truth can be in short supply. The people tasked with making the case for wireless facilities might just be repeating what the boss said to say. City staff and policy makers can’t assume that companies will ultimately keep those promises because, as Santa Rosa found out, they often don’t.