​By Derek Prall

LAS VEGAS—One would think that the tech mecca of Silicon Valley would have no problem with wireless coverage, but that’s not the case. Due to numerous factors, there are still several dead zones in the San Jose, Calif., region—dead zones municipal leaders are looking to cover, according to a speaker at IWCE 2017.

David Witkowski, executive director of Joint Venture Silicon Valley, a non-profit that provides a neutral forum for collaborative thinking and leadership from both the public and private sectors, says there are a number of reasons cities haven’t yet fully embraced wireless coverage. One of the main issues is ignorance, he said.

“When I first came on to this position at Joint Venture in 2015, I was still receiving calls from cities that would ask, ‘What’s a small cell?’” says Witkowski. “They’d say ‘Someone just called me about deploying a small cell in my town. Can you explain it to me?’”

This is why it’s important to ensure that municipal stakeholders are up to date on the most current technologies and understand what this equipment can and cannot do, Witkowski said. There aren’t many individuals in local government who already have this kind of technical background, so it's important to make sure they are presented with accurate information.

“I think the challenge really is about education,” Witkowski says.

And the same is true for the general public, he adds. Given what he has experienced in Northern California, the public is still wary of wireless networks, particularly when new cell sites or technology is being installed. Misinformed locals will stymie efforts, often not understanding the science behind what they are protesting.

Witkowski offered this example: The technology for wired electricity became available in the late 1800s, but by the 1920s, less than 20 percent of households were wired. Half-truths ran rampant, with medical experts claiming electric light would cause people to go blind, and that running electricity into a home was unbelievably dangerous. For decades, people lived with the fire hazard of gas lamps because of the fear of change, he said.

Witkowski said the same culture of fear exists today. There are numerous resources cited by detractors relying on all manner of pseudo-science to paint wireless networks in a dangerous light. However, just like those using gas lamps in the 20s, what’s more dangerous is having an unreliable wireless network—for instance when a babysitter needs to reach the mother of a child when something goes wrong, he said.

With this in mind, a reliable wireless network is a “basic requirement of life in the 21st Century. Full stop,” Witkowski said.

Municipal leaders are major players in ensuring that the nation’s cities are providing their citizens with what they need to thrive. To help combat the fear and ignorance surrounding, new technologies, Joint Venture has released a short e-book, available for download here, to answer fundamental questions and dispel myths.