© 2004 Updated: 9/24/04


Will Jefferson County Fully Participate in 21st Century Technology?

In 1987 a typical personal computer had a processor speed of 8 MHz and a hard drive with 40 Megabytes of storage capacity. In 2002, a typical personal computer may have a processor speed of 2 GHz and a hard drive with 100 Gigabytes of storage capacity. We are truly entering the “information age.” A digital camera could completely fill the hard drive of the 1987 computer downloading its first “roll” of pictures.

The amount of digital information that is transmitted, stored, manipulated and accessed, both for business and personal use, has increased at an exponential rate, and there appears to be no end in sight to this rate of increase. Scientists and engineers are scrambling to find ways to pack ever more information into smaller volumes, and to provide faster and more convenient means of transferring this information from one platform to another.

No matter how information is stored, whether it is in magnetic media, solid state memory, optical holograms, or in the “spin” of electrons,1 these storage techniques have one thing in common: In order to store and retrieve the information, they must first change the state of matter in some way, and then later detect the state of the matter in order to retrieve the stored information. The detection process converts the stored information into an electrical signal. As more information is packed into a smaller volume, the amount of matter used to store the information gets smaller, and the electrical signal that comes out of the detector also gets smaller. In a noisy electrical environment, errors can be induced on the small detected signal.

High speed data transfer techniques are being developed in order to allow the transmission of large amounts of information between devices. This high speed data transfer is not “pie-in-the-sky.” The FCC has just approved the use of Ultrawideband (UWB) wireless technology that will allow short-range transfer of data between the internet and computers and other items such as digital cameras, camcorders and personal digital assistants.

UWB technology uses very narrow low power pulses to send information over short ranges, typically around 30 feet. An excellent description of UWB technology is contained in an article in SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.2 Regarding the importance of this technology, the article states,

UWB wireless devices use a “wide-open” ultrawideband receiver that is susceptible to interference caused by nearby high power transmitters. This interference problem cannot be solved, even with the help promised by broadcasters if interference occurs.

Signals from the high power transmitters cannot be filtered out because the UWB transmitters use the same spectrum. The transmitted power of UWB devices is 200 microwatts (total, not per square centimeter), and the UWB signal at the receiver is thousands of times smaller than the transmitted power. RF signals that are much less than 1% of the federal safety standard will completely swamp the receivers of UWB devices, making them unusable in areas near high power transmitters. This area may extend several miles from the high power transmitters.

UWB is only one of many new technologies, some of which we have not yet imagined, that will be affected by the placement of high power transmitter sites. These high power transmitter sites have the potential to create electronic “dead zones” where “electrically” high RF levels cause interference that denies businesses and residents use of new technologies that most others take for granted.

So far, we have discussed the interference risk associated with high power transmitter placement, but not the reward. The reward, as stated by new tower applicants, is tower consolidation and more DTV viewers. Towers that would be removed only when analog television becomes obsolete would be removed sooner under the present proposals. Two to three percent more viewers would be able to watch digital TV from these sites than from a currently zoned site on Squaw Mountain.

Jefferson County will shortly be making zoning decisions regarding placement of high power transmitter sites on Lookout Mountain and Mt. Morrison. Both of these sites overlook areas that Jefferson County regards as prime areas for commercial development. The decision will essentially be irrevocable.

If interference is found to be a problem, the desired commercial development will not occur. Will the businesses and residents of Jefferson County be able to participate fully in the technology of the twenty-first century? Jefferson County will soon have to decide whether the risk of placing these high power transmitters near commercial and residential areas is worth the potential reward.

For more information from Al Hislop, see DTV reception study.