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October 12th, 2011 WW Editorial Staff | Rogue of the Week
 

Rogue of the Week: T-Mobile

The cell-phone giant blames others for its own problems with a proposed antenna site in Northeast Portland.

rogue.tmobile_3749PLAYING BY THE RULES? - ILLUSTRATION: Adam Krueger
     
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It’s nice that the giant corporations that provide our cell-phone service say they’re dedicated to giving us the best possible coverage. T-Mobile, for example. It says it wants to provide the very best coverage.

That’s why the Bellevue, Wash.-based communications company says it’s been fighting to build a cell site at the corner of Northeast 31st Avenue and Prescott Street.

If it weren’t for a few naysayers pressuring city officials to block the site, the good people of the Alameda and Concordia neighborhoods might have better coverage than ever.

If only it were that simple.

It seems that all most neighbors have asked is that T-Mobile play by the same rules as everyone else, and that the City of Portland hold the company accountable. Some want the project stopped. 

T-Mobile finds itself in this spot not because of the neighbors but because of its own error. And blaming the locals is Roguish behavior on T-Mobile’s part.

It all started in 2008, when T-Mobile set its plans to put antennas on an existing utility pole at Prescott and 31st, and then install radio equipment on the private property of an adjacent homeowner.

T-Mobile got all the necessary permits but, the city says, didn’t start the work. The permit for the cell site was good for only six months. When it got around to starting work this summer, T-Mobile didn’t apply for a new one.

The old permit wasn’t just expired, says David Olson, director of the city’s Office for Community Technology. “It was epically expired.”

This wasn’t some bureaucratic glitch. The city’s rules for putting up cell sites had changed dramatically in the meantime, and by trying to install without a new permit, T-Mobile was ignoring a new requirement that it meet with neighbors about the site. (Not to mention it didn’t pay $5,000 for a new permit.)

The city, once alerted, issued a stop-work order. T-Mobile now says it’s following the rules (without acknowledging it wasn’t before).

The company, however, has chosen to blame neighbors for the holdup.

“A handful of Portland-area residents are pressuring city officials to block approval of this site,” T-Mobile said in a direct-mail notice sent to nearby customers. The mailer also said, “You pay for good cell service in Portland and shouldn’t tolerate poor coverage, especially in your home and neighborhood.” 

(Does this mean T-Mobile’s coverage is poor at the moment? Hmm.)

Well, when you are required to ask members of  the public for their opinions, sometimes you don’t get the responses you’re looking for. Some Alameda residents object to putting a tower in a “historic” neighborhood. Others say the location is among the lowest priority areas for putting in a new cell site and wonder why T-Mobile can’t put it somewhere else—like, say, on a nearby water tower that already has other antennas.

“T-Mobile has designed the best site for our customers’ needs taking into account the local ordinance and permitting requirements, landlord interest and design team considerations,” company spokesman Rod De La Rosa says in a written answer to WW’s questions.

Others just want T-Mobile to do what’s required—and not blame neighbors for having to do so.

“We’re not against the tower,” says Jeff Hilber, editor of the Concordia News, the neighborhood’s monthly newsletter. “There’s a process in place that everyone should follow that will bring out better information.” 

 
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