With communities up in arms over the appearance of some towers without warning, carriers promise there will be more notification

Carriers agree to consult on cellphone towers

Cell phone users loves their handsets. But many don’t like cellphone towers that suddenly sprout up in their neighborhood to give them service.

One problem is that wireless companies don’t have to warn cities and towns before putting up towers below 15 meters in height. Now, after years of complaints about the sudden erection of towers mere millimeters short of that height, wireless carriers have promised to at least notify communities before towers and antennas go up.

The Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) said Wednesday they have agreed  on a joint protocol on antenna siting to ensure there is carrier notification on the location and look of antenna systems regardless of height before being installed, and to submit to “meaningful” public consultation on towers under 15 meters.

However, Industry Canada and not municipalities has the final say on the structures.

However, FCM president Karen Leibovici said in an interview that the voluntary protocol will hopefully lead to talks in communities across the country to avoid having to take fights to Industry Canada’s dispute resolution process.

Municipalities have been complaining for years about what they see as the high-handed power of wireless carriers. As an Edmonton city councilor, Leibovici has often had an earful from constituents on cell towers. There have been regular resolutions at FCM annual conferences calling for action, the latest in June, 2011 that led to talks between the federation and the CWTA.
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Although it took over a year to get an agreement, Leibovici said the carriers “have gone over and above what the legislation says they need to do.”

In a statement Rogers Communications, the country’s biggest wireless carrier said the agreement “is a step in the right direction as the protocol addresses many of the issues and concerns raised by municipalities and residents when it comes to current tower citing processes.

“This protocol will provide more certainty for carriers by ensuring that there are consistent standards and processes in place, and through this, increasing collaboration and communication among carriers and local partners.”

The protocol isn’t a fixed process: Municipalities can adapt it into their decision-making process. They still have the ability to issue a letter of non-concurrence with the protocol or its land use policy, which is sent to Industry Canada and can trigger the resolution process.

The objectives of the protocol, the document says, including minimizing the number of new antenna sites by encouraging carriers to co-locate them, as well as to “contribute to the orderly development and efficient operation of a reliable, strong radiocommunication network in the municipality.”

The protocol recognizes that “by working with (carriers) throughout the siting process, beginning with preliminary notification and the site investigation meeting, the municipality seeks to facilitate antenna system installations that are sensitive to the needs of the local community.”

For their part carriers argee they “must” adhere to Industry Canada siting guidelines, including looking at sharing infrastructure before proposing new towers, contacting municipalities to determine local requirements and notifying the public where required.

The protocol recognizes that new towers less 15 meters are exempt from public consultation, but there’s a new exception – there must be a consultation where required by a municipality.

The protocol also stresses the importance of carriers talking to municipalities early before being heavily committed to a site or design. Carriers not only have to tell the municipality of the proposed tower location, but also potential alternatives and documentation that co-location of antennas on existing towers has been looked at.

Where a public consultation is required, a carrier will provide the public at least 30 days to submit questions, reply to them within 60 days and allow a rebuttal within 21 days.
To read the full protocol, click here
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