Letter: Thinking outside the cell phone box

Some folks in Rappahannock County may need mobile communications for various reasons, personal or business. The default solution isn’t the construction of more cell phone towers, which bring with them many undesirable consequences.

Here are some alternatives that fill three basic needs:

1. Safety on the road or at home: Satellite phones have been available for more than a decade. These phones, which look no different than regular cell phones, operate via the GSM world phone system, relaying their signals via space satellites in fixed orbits. Just like a cell phone, the user has a designated phone number that can be called by anyone else. Unlike cell phones, the signal reaches almost everywhere on the planet, including the hollows of Rappahannock County, with no dark zones. Added benefits are plans with no monthly or minimum charges. You pay as you go. The per-minute charge is higher than most cell phone plans, but if the primary use for the phone is for safety and essential communications only, the overall charges will be significantly less over a year’s time.

I purchased my satellite phone from mobal.com five years ago for about $100. I keep it on a charger in my car. It will work anywhere in the county so if my vehicle breaks down, if I am so careless as to run out of gas or if I need to call for first responders, I’ll be good to go. And if I don’t use the phone for a year — no charge. Zip, zero, no bill to pay.

2. Safety on large rural properties: Walkie-talkies aren’t just toys. The U.S. military employs walkie-talkies that are battle-tested in the most demanding conditions. The lives of our troops depend upon them. If they’re good enough for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, they’re good enough for Rappahannock. In a situation where a property owner has turned an ankle or been bitten by a snake and needs to communicate back to the home base or with another hiker, walkie-talkies do the job. Each family member can have their own unit. Like cell phones they need to be charged overnight, but unlike cell phones there are no usage charges, no yearly contracts, no monthly fees.

3. Back-up communications: There’s always the decades-proven citizens’ band radios. These units are quite reasonably priced. Keep one in your truck and one at home. You can talk not only with your base, but with other vehicles or directly to first responders. Added benefit, no yearly contracts, monthly fees or usage charges.

In summation, the benefit of these mobile systems is that they are best suited for essential communications, not for the kinds of extended, rambling conversations and distracted behavior that cell phones encourage and which make our roads more dangerous.
The Internet offers yet another solution for fixed, non-mobile voice communications. Broadband doesn’t yet reach into every corner of the county, but that’s changing month to month. Internet radio transmitters do not require tall towers with flashing lights and are installed in treetops in such a way that they are nearly entirely camouflaged. Once a property has broadband access, Skype, Vonage, Callcentric and other phone plans are readily available, with prices ranging from free to cheap. This is not a solution for mobile communications, but does solve the problem for homeowners in remote areas away from main roads and difficult or costly to access by hard-wired phone systems.

James M. Young
Flint Hill

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