(May 22, 2015) Astute residents may have noticed what are now three total devices, set up in parking lots on the south end of town, that at first glance look like R2-D2 on a growth spurt.
The apparati are, in fact, temporary short-range cell towers being used by Sprint to provide better service to wireless customers during the busy summer months.
“That area [Ocean City] has had a lot of complaints over the past couple years from Sprint users about the quality of service during the summer, when demand is the highest,” said Claudine Vipperman of VCI Towers, the contractor that provides Sprint with the cellular-on-wheels (COW) devices.
“With Memorial Day a few days away, we’re interested to see how this improves the service. It’ll help Sprint gauge where to put permanent locations later on.”
The city has issued permits for three total COW sites. One is on city property itself, in the public parking lot on First Street and St. Louis Avenue, across from De Lazy Lizard.
The second is on Dolphin Street and Philadelphia Avenue, in the Phillip’s Seafood parking lot. The third is a grassy area on the northwest corner of the Guido’s Burritos parking lot between 33rd and 34th Streets.
The First Street site is where the city plans to erect a new water tower next year. Most of the cellular service in the resort is, in fact, dependent on signal equipment located on city water towers.
“We have a long-term lease agreement with Sprint for several sites on our property, actually to the tune of about $3,000 per month in rent,” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “First Street is where the new water tower is going, so they’ll probably end up with an antenna there anyway.”
Each COW site is surrounded by a fence, which carries a warning that electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation from the site “may exceed the FCC general public exposure limit” inside the fenced area.
This does not pose a threat to passers-by, Vipperman said.
“We’re required by the FCC to have those on all our devices as a precaution,” Vipperman said. “You will see them at the bases of buildings and water towers as well.”
Short-term exposure to EMF – which comes from any electronic device, including computers, power transformers, and cell phones themselves – does not pose a health risk.
Long-term effects have not been conclusively studied. The FCC does, however, limit public proximity to EMF-producing devices to an intensity of less than 580 microwatts per square centimeter.
The FCC’s individual exposure limit is currently 1.6 watts per kilogram of body mass. According to FCC publications, a person would have to stand directly next to a transmitter for several minutes on end to absorb this much EMF radiation, thus making the public risk “extremely remote.”