Radiation Risks?

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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 17, 1999. All rights reserved.

In a Cordless World, Lots of Batteries

by Kathleen Spring

Wires form the backbone of Paul Cottingham’s company,

but in the daily course of business, he has broken free. Cottingham,

founder and owner of PHC Enterprises in Pennington, fits out homes

— and upscale boats and cars — with cutting-edge tech toys.

A custom installer who outfits houses with complete digital built-in

phone, cable, satellite, music, video, and automation systems, he

is operating in a hot economy that keeps him on the move.

As he dashes between jobs, he uses his cell phone to stay in touch

with builders and clients, and with his family. Wire free (almost

entirely) for "five or six years," Cottingham, who lives in

Titusville with his wife, Lynn, and three children, says he keeps

his home phone connected only because "so many people have my

number." But his business card is imprinted with only his cell

phone number and his beeper number.

Cell phone usage is on the rise, as anyone stopped in traffic on Route

1, riding a commuter train, or pushing a cart in Wegman’s can attest.

Everyone is talking, from everywhere. But few who work in central

New Jersey are ready to let go of their land lines. Why not? Cottingham’s

example may be instructive.

First, the good news. Cell phones bills can be less expensive than

land phone bills. "I pay about 8 cents a minute to call anywhere

in the country," Cottingham says. His plan with Comcast gives

him 3,000 minutes, the most in any plan, for a flat fee of $250 a

month. He can make calls at any hour to any number in the lower 48,

from any number in the lower 48. He incurs no roaming charges or long

distance charges. It costs him exactly the same amount to call Lawrence

or Las Vegas. On many months, all of his business calls and all of

his personal calls come in at exactly $250, and that includes all

of his conversations with clients in Arizona and Oregon and Florida,

many made during business hours.

And, of course, the fee he pays for a cell contract allows him to

call from planes, trains and automobiles, as well as from construction

sites and clients’ offices, and to retrieve messages easily on the


The pain comes when the clock runs out. Every minute after 3,000 costs

25 cents. Cottingham often puts on an extra 200 or 300 minutes, but

he doesn’t mind. "I just use the phone whenever I want," he

says, finding the extra charges a small price to pay for always being

in touch.

Using a cell phone is much more reliable now than it was when Cottingham

first went wireless. "It gets better all the time," he says.

There are fewer "dead" spots and reception is crystal clear.

"You just learn where the dead spots are," he says.

Even Cottingham has trouble sifting through all the billing possibilities.

"It’s not easy to figure out," he says as he tries to explain

how he combines a family calling plan for his wife and for Chris Damiano,

his installer/designer, with a plan that gives him the minutes he

needs. "They pay $45 for 250 minutes," he begins. "And

then they each pay $9.95 to include me. And I pay $9.95 on top of

my $250, but I’m switching to another plan. I’m going to drop to 2,000

minutes for $150 because a lot of my calls are to Chris, and he’s

on the family plan. But then extra minutes will be 35 cents."

Whoa. If Lynn Cottingham’s $45 allows her to share 250 minutes of

air time with her husband and Damiano, what is the $9.95 for? Answering

that question requires a detailed copy of his plan and punching numbers

into a calculator. Cottingham finally says he isn’t so sure that his

wife and assistant are paying the $9.95 extra, although he is quite

sure he is.

"They change the plans all the time," he says, but the real

bottom line is that explaining how his plans — current and future

— work will take more time than his cell phone battery has left

in it.

Final question: How does he keep his indispensable phone working around

the clock? "Batteries, lots and lots of batteries."

Top Of Page
Radiation Risks?

Most dedicated cell phone users by now have heard of

the recent report on 20/20, the television news magazine, suggesting

that radiation dangers from cell phones might be worse than reported

by the industry. Cottingham has heard about it. "I’m telling my

wife to save all the bills so we can sue the phone company," he

jokes. "There have been years when I’ve paid $18,000, $19,000"

in phone bills. "If anybody’s at risk, it’s me."

But the program also noted that radiation exposure was reduced to

virtually nothing by simply using a headset and microphone so that

the cell phone itself would not be planted immediately next to the

user’s head. Devices that plug into a cell phone and allow conversation

at arm’s length are available for as little as $10. A top-of-the line

Nokia headset and microphone is available at Princeton Cellular and

Paging for around $44.

And if you want to be totally hands-free, as well as cord-free, your

car can be outfitted with microphone, speakers, and a mount for the

phone. Princeton Cell’s charge for such an installation is $300 —

a small price to pay in order to be a defensive driver in the midst

of all those gabbers trying to drive with a cell phone pressed to

their ear.

— Kathleen Spring

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