Bill would put tighter restrictions on cell towers
by Stephen Geffon
May 13, 2009 | 729 views | 0 0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Legislation was introduced in the City Council last week that will allow for more industry regulation and community involvement in the placement of cell phone antennas.

The legislation, authored by City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. of Astoria and co-sponsored by Councilman Eric Ulrich of Ozone Park, would require the following from cellular phone carriers:

• Alert the community and local elected officials when a new tower or antenna will be installed or mounted onto a building.

• Provide the community board and local council member with written notice before applying for an installation permit from the Department of Buildings, in order to keep an up-to-date record of antennas in the neighborhood.

• Each antenna must have an identification number, so that residents and community groups can reference potential concerns related to specific equipment.

• Prove they have made the best possible effort to install antennas in non-residential areas.

The legislation will allow community residents to have a dialogue with the wireless phone companies before the towers are already in place. The bill would also require the Buildings Department to set general rules about how and where antennas or towers can be erected.

State legislators also have health concerns about cellular antennas and towers. Legislation is pending which would authorize the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Conservation to commission a study on the effects of long-term, low-radiation emissions from cellular phone antennas on individuals, specifically on the physical and mental development of adolescents.

There is also pending legislation which would prohibit cellular towers or related equipment within 500 feet of a school building in New York City.

Studies commissioned by the FCC have stated that the possibility of “non-thermal” biological effects may exist from low-frequency RF emissions, but current evidence is “ambiguous and unproven.” The FCC report also states that further research is needed in order to “determine the generally of such effects and their possible relevance, if any, to human health.” The full report can be accessed at www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety.

Vallone said he still has unresolved health and safety concerns about the cellular antennas and towers.

“Our goal is not to stop progress, we just want reasonable regulation,” Vallone said, adding, “This is an issue of worldwide importance, and after six years, it is time for New York City to take a stand.”

Ulrich said Vallone’s bill has picked up overwhelming bipartisan support in the City Council.

“I think that the Vallone bill is an excellent piece of legislation,” said Ulrich.

Vallone said his bill also has the support of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, which increase the legislation’s chances of passage.

Commenting on the bill, the International Association for the Wireless Telecommunications Industry (CTIA), said in a statement, “CTIA understands the need to ensure that the siting of antennas on towers and existing buildings are done in a safe and swift manner. Wireless carriers are working tirelessly to build and maintain their network infrastructure to meet the growing demand for advanced wireless technology while providing reliable service.

“We are wary of any additional hurdles that may needlessly delay carriers' ability to serve wireless consumers,” continued the statement. “With more than 270 million subscribers, the wireless industry is proud to serve and provide these customers with exceptional wireless service. By deploying more cell sites around the country, including New York, our member companies will be able to continue to provide customers access to quality broadband and voice services, including underserved areas that would otherwise not have access.”

A spokesperson for AT & T Wireless issued the following statement after reviewing Vallone’s bill, “AT&T works hard to deliver the best wireless network experience for our customers and to keep up with the growing demand for enhanced coverage in more places. We do this in compliance with all federal, state, and local guidelines for the installation and maintenance of cell sites.”

Jane Builder, T-Mobile’s Northeast Senior Manager of External Affairs, said T-Mobile was concerned that Vallone’s bill might unduly slow the development of improvements to wireless phone coverage and reliability.

“According to recent government and industry studies, families are becoming increasingly dependent on wireless communications - more than 20 percent of homes in the U.S. now rely solely on a wireless phone and no longer keep a traditional wireline phone,” she said. “For this reason and others, T-Mobile is concerned that proposed amendments to the city's administrative code might unduly slow the development of much-needed improvements to wireless coverage and reliability.

“T-Mobile has always supported open dialog with communities where there is a need for a more robust and reliable wireless network,” continued Builder. “The company will continue to work within the guidelines of all city codes and in cooperation with our communities to find the best solutions possible that meet customer demand for strong wireless coverage where they live, work, and play.”

Verizon Wireless is against the bill, according to spokesperson Howard Waterman, stating that Verizon disagrees with the premise of the bill.

“We believe that the current process is working,” he said. “We believe that this bill would impede the speed at which we can provide the services that our customers demand. It would slow the process down.”



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