Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Noise of Clearwire's Wireless-Internet

Clearwire promises to blanket our city in wireless internet connectivity. They appear to be blanketing our city in noise.

In October of 2008, Clearwire installed a wireless internet device about the size of a refrigerator on a telephone pole on a quiet residential street in the Mt. Tabor neighborhood. (The telephone pole's address is 44 SE 50th Ave.) The residents on this street no longer live in quiet. The Clearwire device has a noisy cooling fan, that cycles on and off 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It clicks on and off, day and night. While it is on it produces noise audible within the homes nearby. In hot weather, it turns on more often and stays on longer -- which means neighbors have to live with this noise in their bedrooms all summer, or they have to close their windows and live without Portland's wonderfully cool night air.

Not long after this device was first installed, KATU did a short story about it, which you can see here:

The amount of noise this device makes has fluctuated throughout the past year as neighbors, MTNA, and Paul Van Orden with the city's noise office have harangued Clearwire officials for improvements. Every request was met with a slow response from Clearwire, and on at least one occasion their efforts made the noise get louder and stay that way for months. The first technical readings of the noise produced by this box revealed this device was violating noise codes. When the city's noise officer investigated the technical specs of the device (as supplied by the manufacturer) we discovered it was designed to make more noise than Portland's noise codes would allow.

After more than a year of communication between Clearwire, the City, the neighbors and MTNA, Clearwire finally produced a fix in early January 2010 that makes this one box meet Portland noise codes. I have not seen Clearwire offer to bring the other 50+ boxes located around this city into compliance, and I have not seen them offer to make this "fix" a part of every new box that gets installed.

But, the problem is not gone. I am sad to report that the neighbors closest to this device can still hear the noise it makes, and all of its cycles, inside their homes. It is quieter than it was, but not quiet enough to return the neighborhood to what it was before this box was installed. I draw two conclusions at this point:

1) The noise codes as written are not adequate for items being installed in residential Right-Of-Ways (ROWs). A device on a telephone pole is in a unique position to project noise in all directions and effect many neighbors. The allowed decibel level should be reduced to something that is effectively inaudible to residents sleeping with their windows open in nearby homes.

2) Seemingly, Clearwire is sourcing cheap, noisy fans for their wireless internet products. Portlanders should insist on better, quieter fans, or this city will be blanketed in noise. This box just might appear on a pole outside your bedroom.