Wireless in Vermont, Part Five

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(Host) More Vermonters are using wireless communication than ever before for convenience, safety, business and just to stay “connected.”

The increased usage is reflected in the push for more towers, the call for town ordinances and the concern over driver distraction.

In the conclusion to our series “Wireless in Vermont,” VPR’s John Van Hoesen finds that cell phones are part of the cultural landscape.

(Sound of cell phone ringing) “Hi Joe, how are you?… Yes, yes, I’ll have to come over to get the drawings… so we can take them to city hall….”

(Van Hoesen) It’s lunchtime in downtown Burlington, and Scott Gauthier is taking a call on his cell phone. The 39-year old contractor says it’s a key part of his business and personal life. He says that having the technology once might have been trendy, but now it’s almost a necessity:

(Gauthier) “I give it out for a business phone, I also use it for family and friends…. Since I got one, it seems I can’t leave my house without it… convenience, convenience, strictly convenience. It’s just so much easier. And I feel like people can contact me, my family….”

(Van Hoesen) And it’s more than that. For Gauthier, it’s the idea that he can be in touch whenever he wants:

(Gauthier) “I love being connected….”

(Van Hoesen) So does Chris Haessly, a local graduate student. He’s experimented with Internet service on his phone, and he cites the convenience and increased business productivity. He’s just finished a call:

(Haessly) “When I’m walking around on the street I can be transacting business, talking to people, making arrangements, scheduling things.”

(Van Hoesen) At the Public Service Department in Montpelier, Chris Campbell is a telecommunications planner.

According to Campbell, studies show a dramatic increase in usage. A 1995 survey showed that 11% of the households had cellular phones in Vermont. By 1999, 27% of the households reported they used the technology:

(Campbell) Generally, the trend nationally is for wireless usage to be growing and for more and more people to be relying on wireless for their primary phone.”

(Van Hoesen) Campbell says people are using their phones for personal convenience, emergencies, business communication while traveling, virtual mobile offices and text messages. He says next-generation phones will include video.

Campbell says the concept of personal availability or when someone is “in,” will change:

(Campbell) When they’re home, they may not be ‘in’ and when they’re walking down the street they may be ‘in.'”

(Van Hoesen) At the Verizon Wireless store in South Burlington, customers are focused on serious inquiries about the technology, the rates and the plans. Ted Sigmund, who’s the communications store manager here, says sometimes it gets so busy people have to wait up to an hour.

He points out that one of the changes with wireless is its affordability:

(Sigmund) You can get a handset as little as zero [dollars] if there’s a promotion going on…. The prices have come down….”

(Van Hoesen) Yet Vermonters do express a conflict over wireless communication. Some are thrilled by the possibilities; others are annoyed by the constant tether or by rude phone conduct or by health concerns. In a random survey, you can find pros and cons:

(Montage of voices)

“I’d feel completely disconnected without it….”

“They’ve become a fashion accessory as opposed to a communications device….”

“I have one primarily for emergency reasons…. I also sometimes think about the medical hazard….”

“They click open their cell phone like a lot of people would take a cigarette from a cigarette package. It’s kind of a quick hit, feel-good. ‘I’ve got to connect with somebody right away’ and if that line is busy… they dial another number…. I think a lot of it has to do with isolation in this culture.”

“I wish I had one but I don’t…”

(Van Hoesen) Teenagers – the next generation – have grown up with cell phones. They don’t remember a time without them. At the Old Navy store, four juniors from Otter Valley Union High School in Brandon are doing a little shopping. They all own a phone and they’re unfazed by the pace of technology:

(Montage of teenage voices and laughing)

(Van Hoesen) It’s just part of their lives.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Van Hoesen.

(Host) This week’s series, “Wireless in Vermont” is a production of Vermont Public Radio. The production engineers were Sam Sanders and Chris Albertine.

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