Editorial: Cell towers easy, but bad, option

Several students have complained recently about the University’s cell phone plan, which is provided by Cingular. Among the most common complaints is that service is difficult to come by in buildings, including residence halls, a feature not advertised by the company.

The telecommunications office has tried to come up with a response to this problem. During major events, like last weekend’s homecoming celebration, portable service towers were set up to enhance service for the phones that were in use. But this does not help with the day-to-day service problems experienced by students on the University plan.

Telecommunications, in conjunction with Cingular, plan to set up three portable service towers for full-time use. These would be spread out across campus to maximize effectiveness. The long-term solution is somewhat grim: the installation of up to eight permanent towers across campus.

Obviously, a reliable University cell phone plan would be a boon to students and administrators fed up with the rapidly-fading voicemail system now in use. Owing to the prevalence of cell phones and e-mail, many students rarely, if ever, check their voicemail. The convenience such a plan would offer also makes it an attractive option to the University. But building permanent towers is a risky move.

The damaging effects of cell phone towers, while not conclusively proven, certainly cannot be written off as pure speculation. Reports of increased cancer rates as a result of radiation damage from the towers cannot be scientifically linked, but the belief that one causes the other is widespread enough that many prospective students would decide to attend school elsewhere for peace of mind.

Additionally, cell phone towers are hardly attractive. The attempts that wireless providers put forth to pass service towers off as trees come away like artificial Christmas trees gone awry. Towers would be hard to conceal, even at an arboretum like Villanova. The number of complaints that students made last year over the Quad’s remodeling would pale in comparison to the reaction to adding service towers.

Cleary, the poor service students complain of needs to be addressed before the University moves ahead with wireless proliferation. It seems, however, that telecommunications and Cingular are leaping to the easy solution, not necessarily the best one. Any solution that adversely affects the finances, aesthetics and possibly health of the school and the community needs to be shelved while other options are considered. It may be best to explore options that other, more reliable providers offer before planting potentially dangerous eyesores all over the campus.