Cell tower #2

In another effort to show it has ordinary citizens on its mind, Ottawa has changed its policy to ensure residents and municipalities have a bigger say on where cellular and other antennas are located.

Industry Minister James Moore said Wednesday that companies will have to consult with communities on where new antennas are located before construction no matter what the tower’s size.

Until now companies only had to consult on towers over 15 metres.

Last year the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA) and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) came up with an agreement that carriers would voluntarily notify communities before towers and antennas go up, and in particular to submit to meaningful public consultation on towers under 15 m. Industry Canada still had the final approval on the structures.

Moore’s announcement means the government is forcing consultation on towers of any height. Also, carriers will have to clearly notify local residences and businesses with clearly marked notices that can’t be misinterpreted as junk mail. There’s also a three-year construction time limit after an approval is given. “This means fewer surprises for the local community,” Moore said.

To further assist residents there will be online resources they can use to track to track tower issues.

The government already requires wireless companies to share existing tower infrastructure as much as possible to reduce the number of towers in a community.

“The placement of new cell towers is often a divisive issue in communities across Canada,” Moore said. “It is essential that residents be at the centre of the process to determine the location of a new tower, and it is up to the wireless industry to ensure that local voices are heard. These new rules will give communities a better say in the placement of new cell towers.”

The announcement was criticized by financial analyst Dvai Ghose, head of research at Canaccord Genuity, who said it may illustrate inconsistencies in the government’s policy on wireless competition. Many new entrants rely heavily on a consultation exemption for towers below 15 m to build their networks quickly in urban areas, he wrote in a note to investors. He believes Wind Mobile in particular has used that loophole.

“While the issue tackles the age old problem of consumers wanting 5 bars of connectivity without the eyesore of cell sites, it does nothing to tackle new entrant survival challenges,” he wrote.