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I.C. MURRELL — Tech matters; Port Arthur needs to embrace it

Ongoing technology development in the past two decades has, to one degree or another, entered the subconscious of human life.

The more that is developed, the more we react to it and make it a regular part of our lives. For example, home hardline phone service began to give way to flip phones in the 2000s.

Then came the BlackBerry with a QWERTY keyboard.

Then, the Apple iPhone with a touchscreen.

We saw the technology change with time, yet we eased into such transition.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, technology in and of itself might have been taken for granted. This week, Port Arthurans who viewed the latest city council meeting through streaming video — technology, get it? — received a stark reminder of its necessity, like doing work from home and keeping children educated.

Jon McClellan, director of external and legislative affairs for AT&T Texas, gave councilmembers and viewers a lesson on small cell technology. To sum it up, think of it as our smartphones relying on small devices throughout city structures instead of the usual big towers.

If the city issues a small cell permit, which AT&T is requesting, the city will generate revenue on related fees and the yearly lease of the right-of-way, McClellan told the council. A timeline then would be established.

The importance of small cell technology is to improve our ability to connect to things like the Internet and voice and data services. Small cells have been deployed in Beaumont and Groves, so this is no time for Port Arthur to lag behind.

But matters of technology go way beyond just surfing, streaming and talking. Small cells, according to McClellan’s presentation, prep us for technology of the future, including 5G, smart cities and developments in the Internet of Things, or IoT.

In a smart city, an urban area uses a number of sensors in the IoT to collect data that cities can use to manage its resources in an efficient manner. It only makes sense for a key port city to become a great fit for smart cityhood.

Did you know AT&T can place an acoustic sensor along water pipes to trigger alarms when they sense sound changes that indicate water leaks?

Why does that matter? AT&T, citing the American Society of Civil Engineering, says 6 billion gallons of water are lost per day.

The telecom giant also uses small cell data to monitor road conditions, a common topic here in Port Arthur.

Those things happen in a smart city.

Now, what is the IoT?

Put it this way:

If you send an email from your smartphone, if you dial a cell number from your computer (remember PhoneFree?), if you and your friends game from remote areas, and if you use your smartphone to turn off the lights in your kitchen or unlock your vehicle, you are participating in it right now. It’s nothing new.

Technology matters, and we take it for granted. But don’t feel guilty; just think what we would do without it?

As the school year approaches, it wouldn’t be much from home without a local PBS affiliate over-the-air. To realize the possibilities of small cell tech is to understand the potential of this city and our own everyday lives — consciously, of course.

I’ve said this before: This has been a year like none other, when a set plan for an entire school year can change so fluidly.

Then again, that’s life. We don’t get to where we are without the ability to adjust, and neither does technology. But tech matters because once integrated into daily life, we can adjust to some subconscious degree.

Choosing how to start school is no subconscious matter, however.

Whatever method of education parents choose for their kids, nothing takes the place of an educational setting where kids can interact with so many people and so many things. But we also know coronavirus poses so many risks we didn’t grow up with.

That’s why technology couldn’t be a happier medium, and it’s only smart for Port Arthur to set up for a future as a smart city.

I.C. Murrell is the editor of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at 409-721-2435 or at ic.murrell@panews.com.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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