This exclusive RCR five-part series highlights the results of the 1997 National Wireless Opinion Poll conducted by TynanGroup, Inc., of Santa Barbara, Calif., in December. Six hundred households were surveyed. The margin of error associated with the results is 4 percent.

The Wireless Paradox

Love me, hate me. The wireless phenomena is indeed puzzling. While consumer demand is unprecedented, citizens are still skeptical. It’s not unusual that an angry neighbor’s handheld phone will ring during his persuasive speech at the podium against a new wireless site. It’s equally plausible that the call is from a customer care center responding to his incensed complaints about poor coverage.

People love the technology, but aren’t quite sure about its delivery system or its infrastructure. They enjoy and demand the benefits of wireless, but fight it all at the same time. Indeed, what people don’t understand, they often fear.

The issues are complex at a time when the pace of the industry is at its peak to fill the demand-continuing cellular in-fill and capacity sites, entire personal communications services networks for as many as five carriers, paging expansion and the list goes on. Local community officials and active residents are feeling the heat and the pressure is on.

This is classic NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) at its best. However, the traditional NIMBY battles are over a real estate development or a nuclear power plant where the benefits to the community are indirect or the project could be placed in someone else’s backyard … far away.

Wireless is different. Its infrastructure must be close to its customers. The benefits are universal-benefiting everyone-even those who aren’t users. NIMBY, this time, is especially hypocritical.

So why do people fight something that they love? What are these people thinking about? Well, we just asked the United States that question and we would like to share our insights.

The Survey

In December, we conducted a survey of 600 households across the country. Their opinions were fascinating. We recorded more than 200 pages of specific data and critical findings that could effect the way the future of wireless is envisioned. In this five-part series, we’ll outline the survey conclusions and explain how America views wireless technology and what they think about antennas.

The Six Fundamental Opinion Poll Discoveries

1. The public doesn’t view wireless technology as a high priority.

2. Personal safety and use by emergency professionals are by far the greatest perceived benefits of wireless technology.

3. The greatest perceived disadvantages are cost, driver safety, privacy and fraud.

4. Most people react negatively to the possibility of locating antennas in their neighborhood.

5. Attitudes toward permitting antennas can be changed with education.

6. The most effective methods of changing people’s attitudes are to assure them that antennas won’t spoil their community’s aesthetics and to remind them of the benefits of emergency protection.

General Attitudes

With the exception of wireless users, most people perceive wireless technology as not particularly significant. The public isn’t thoroughly informed about wireless and therefore doesn’t feel especially strong about it. Intuitively, many people oppose the technology by saying, “I am against this until I know more about it.” Therefore, as wireless customers increase, so will its importance to the public.

Benefits and concerns

Emergency protection has consistently been the principle perceived benefit of wireless technology in this survey as well as in our past ones. This fact makes sense when you realize one of the country’s top three concerns is crime (the other two are education and taxes). In fact, in our survey, 38 percent of the respondents mentioned crime as their top or secondary priority (the majority of these individuals were residents in the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states, minority and low-income voters and city residents).

Many people seemed genuinely concerned about the disruption of their neighborhood’s character although community planning was not listed as one of their top interests. Even wireless customers are divided on the issue of locating antennas in their neighborhood. Suburbanites, high income voters and people who pay a lot of attention to local issues are the most likely to oppose. Interestingly, health concerns are secondary.

Planning and zoning

People are vaguely happy with their planning and zoning officials and feel that the approval process isn’t too restrictive or too permissive, but works about right. Only small portions of the public feel that developers/industry/business get their way or that neighbors are able to stop things they don’t want. Most people feel the two are balanced.

Opinions on planning and zoning are very malleable. While 60 percent of those surveyed approved of decisions made by zoning officials, 25 percent disapproved. A closer look shows that only 12 percent strongly approve and 10 percent strongly disapprove. As carriers, it’s important to understand that these findings reveal how quickly attitudes can change for or against the decision makers.

Good news

Wireless communications is a wonderful technology with great benefits. The fact that the public doesn’t view it as a high priority, is poorly educated about the infrastructure and maintains attitudes toward planning and zoning that can change quickly, makes for a good time Tuesday night at the Planning Commission. As we have found in our strategies, early education is the key to your success.

Public awareness

Currently, personal communications services technology is largely an unknown entity. Only 15 percent of individuals surveyed said they had heard of PCS. This percentage was consistent even with wireless users. In our survey, we asked a series of questions to find out to what extent people understand wireless technology. Again, the results were intriguing … and telling. The bottom line is simply that people are confused about, and often fear, what is unfamiliar to them.

The Top Five Misunderstood Areas of Wireless Technology

1. Most people don’t understand how wireless technology works.

2. The majority of people guessed the strength of the wireless signal is greater than 50,000 watts.

3. Most people have never seen a wireless broadcast antenna.

4. An overwhelming percentage of the public insist that there are no wireless antennas located anywhere near their neighborhood.

5. Most people don’t fully comprehend the universal benefits of wireless technology.

The delivery system

Most people don’t realize that wireless uses radio waves. When asked how it works, the top answer is that wireless works by satellite. The majority of people had no idea of the strength of the signal. When they guess, only 12 percent assumed it used low power. Interestingly, these percentages didn’t significantly change among users. In other words, users are just as ignorant as non-users.

Broadcast antennas

We also asked people to guess how tall wireless antennas were and discovered their answers varied widely. While most people were literally guessing, the average response of 135 feet was approximately correct. Nearly half the sample responded with an “I don’t know.”

Those surveyed who have actually seen an antenna fell into specific groups. Men were much more likely to say they’d seen a wireless broadcast antenna than women, as were high income people and residents of rural areas. Also, individuals who are generally more involved in politics-those who vote more often, or speak out at hearings on local issues-were more likely to have observed one.

Finally, we asked people whether they were aware of the presence of a wireless a
ntenna in their neighborhood. Forty-six percent said they did not know and only 14 percent believed there was one in their neighborhood. Forty percent said no wir
eless antenna was located in their neighborhood.

Education is key

Most people, users included, are ignorant of wireless technology. They don’t understand its universal benefits-especially emergency protection. A detrimental result of this confusion is the low priority wireless has with the general public. And although the number of users will increase, the understanding of its technology may not. That’s why education is critical to site development. And in teaching the public, your mantra should be “benefits, benefits, benefits.” We cannot assume that the public understands this technology. And we must remember that what they don’t understand, they will fear.

The next issue in this series will explore in detail the public attitudes about wireless technology including both phones and towers. For a copy of the complete 200 page opinion poll including all questions, results and cross-tabs or to receive a company profile, call TynanGroup, Inc., 2927 De La Vina St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105, (805) 898-0567, fax (805) 898-9897.


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