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McCain gets pair of personal cellphone towers

AT&T and Verizon very obliging

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USA '08 Verizon and AT&T have both located temporary cell sites near presidential-candidate John McCain's Arizona ranch, to better connect the good Senator, his supporters and security staff.

The news comes from the Washington Post, which established that Cindy McCain, the senator's wife, offered some land on the ranch to Verizon early last year in the hope that it would put a cell there. Verizon got pretty far with that request, but ended up deciding the planning requirements were too onerous, and the return on investment too nebulous.

But come June the operator was wheeling in a temporary base station to provide coverage, apparently responding to a request from the security services.

In July AT&T noticed, and figured it'd better get in there too, so brought in its own temporary base station. So both networks now provide superb coverage to the McCain ranch.

These base stations are essentially towers on trailers, powered by a generator and connected to the rest of the world via microwave link. Where household mains electricity is available the generator isn't necessary, but the company will normally sling a fence around the trailer once it's deployed to stop children climbing the antenna to fit pirate radio transmitters.

Mike Pratt has a nice photograph of a mobile base station, for anyone having trouble visualising it.

None of this would matter if McCain wasn't so closely involved with both Verizon, AT&T, and US regulator the FCC. Five of his campaign officials have worked as lobbyists for Verizon, and Verizon employees have stumped up $155K to help fund the campaign as well as $1.3m raised by the chief executive and company lobbyists. AT&T is even more McCain-centric, with the executive vice president raising $2.3m with the help of AT&T lobbyists, and staff chucking $325K of their own money into the pot.

McCain himself is member of the Senate commerce committee, which oversees the FCC.

But despite all this a campaign spokesman told the Post "Mrs McCain's staff went through the website as any member of the general public would - no string-pulling, no phone calls, no involvement of Senate staff ... Just because she is married to a senator doesn't mean she forfeits her right to ask for cell service as any other Verizon customer can." Apparently he said all this with a straight face.

AT&T was less obtuse: "You can't have a presidential nominee in an area where there is no cell coverage." Which makes more sense to us.

We're just grateful that both companies decided to go for temporary stations, rather than anything permanent that might be indicative of their confidence in the result of the upcoming election. ®

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