How Steel in the Air Arrived on the Scene
During the five-year period from 1996-2001, the United States showed its sharpest increase in cell tower growth (30K cell sites in 1996 surged to 127K in 2001). The Telecom Act of 1996 resulted in an era that was remarkably similar to the Wild West – wireless carriers and cell tower companies embarked upon an aggressive nationwide race to claim as many cell site locations as they could. (The major dissimilarity between the Wild West and the Telecom Era was that during the latter period, the land acquired was not meant to be simply a means of sustenance, but in every way, was meant for profit). The demand for cell towers was high and the suppliers (the tower companies) had to struggle to keep up. For a while, chaos ensued, along with a lot of shady marketing and deceptive business practices. In an effort to stay ahead of the game, tower companies would imply that they had actually built towers on cell site locations before they were, in fact, constructed.
Wireless carriers would arrive at the site location, expecting to see a tower, yet no tower would exist. Tired of being misled by the tower companies, the wireless carriers soon began to ask, “Is there steel in the air?” If steel was indeed in the air, in other words, a cell tower was built and ready to go, then carriers were able to service the ever-growing demand of their customer base.
In 2004, after having provided site acquisition, zoning, and permitting services on behalf of Nextel, T-Mobile, and a number of tower companies (and learning everything there was to know about telecom leases and the industry players who served the market), Ken Schmidt noticed a unique niche that needed to be filled. Steel in the Air was created in 2004 with the explicit purpose of representing landowners who were involved in contracting with wireless carriers and/or cell tower companies to lease a parcel of their property for the purpose of developing cell sites. When thinking of a name for his company, Ken wanted it to express a dual meaning. “Steel in the Air” is industry slang for ‘a tower has been erected’ (as opposed to ‘a tower has been planned’) and also symbolizes the strength of community and economic empowerment available to individual property owners and municipalities.