TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Debate Over Cell Phone Towers Growing

Debate Over Cell Phone Towers Growing

Jim Salter (
Mon, 22 Aug 2005 17:05:34 -0500

By JIM SALTER, AP Business Writer

After two years of boisterous meetings and litigation, the 150-member
Southampton Presbyterian Church surrounded by closely-spaced red-brick
homes is at odds with its neighbors over an issue that has nothing to
do with theology.

T-Mobile plans to construct a cell phone antenna along the chimney of
the two-story, 89-year-old white-stone building. In return, the
company will pay rent to the church.

"That revenue is in exchange for our potential well-being, our peace
of mind and our property values," said David O'Brien, 33, who lives
two homes down and remains unconvinced by studies downplaying the
health threat of low-level radio-frequency emissions.

"None of us are willing to take that risk," O'Brien said. "None of us
are going to put our kids in a bedroom that's 70 feet away from
something that might cause cancer or other problems."

In years past, cell towers and antennas stood anonymously in farm
fields, on remote hilltops, on water towers. As cell phone use
continues to grow, companies must find new places to keep up with
demand -- including residential areas like the South Hampton

Ten years ago, the U.S. had 24 million cell phone subscribers, said
Joe Farren, a spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Association, the trade
group for the industry. Today, more than 190 million cell phones are
in use.

To keep up, cell "sites" -- towers and antennas mostly -- have
increased tenfold - from fewer than 18,000 in 1994 to more than
175,000 now. Without additional towers, calls are lost and reception

"Our companies are always running into this conundrum, which is, 'We
want cell phone service, but don't put that tower here,'" Farren said.
"When you're dealing with communications through the air, you have to
have antennas and towers."

To meet demand, companies are increasingly turning to nontraditional
sites -- fire houses, churches, schools, even cemeteries and national
parks. A cell tower now sits near Yellowstone's Old Faithful, despite
strong opposition.

Opposition is just as strong in residential areas. Washington attorney
Ed Donohue, who represents several cell phone companies, estimated
that more than 500 cases have been heard nationwide involving efforts
to stop cell phone towers and antennas. In most cases, the cell phone
companies have won.

That's in part because federal law eliminates one of the key arguments
against cell sites -- the health factor.

No studies have shown conclusive evidence that radio-frequency
emissions are harmful at levels allowed by the Federal Communications
Commission. As a result, the law prohibits rejection of a tower based
on health risk.

Yet fear of the uncertainty remains. A year ago, the International
Association of Fire Fighters opposed the use of fire houses for cell
sites "until a study with the highest scientific merit" proves they
are safe.

The American Cancer Society's Web site says that because the
technology is still relatively new, "we do not yet have full
information on health effects." However, the organization noted there
was no known evidence of a link between low-level emissions and

Still, the perception of a health risk, combined with what some
consider an eyesore, can lower property values for those living near a
cell site, O'Brien said.

Cell sites can be a financial boon to those who provide space for
them. Cell companies won't discuss rent, but Donohue said companies
typically pay $800 to $2,000 per month, depending on location, the
size of the tower or antenna, and other factors. That can be a
significant amount for a struggling school district or a church with
stagnant or declining membership.

Residents of St. Louis' South Hampton neighborhood first learned of
Southampton Presbyterian's plan to rent space to T-Mobile in 2003.
Immediately, they mobilized against it. A petition opposing the cell
antenna was signed by more than 250 people.

When talks failed, residents turned to zoning officials who ruled
against T-Mobile. The city's Board of Adjustment agreed, ruling the
antenna could have "a negative impact on the health of children and
residents" and would cause property values to decrease.

T-Mobile sued. U.S. Magistrate Judge Frederick Buckles ruled in favor
of the company in July.

Debbie Barrett, a spokeswoman for suburban Seattle-based T-Mobile,
said the company is doing everything it can to make the site blend
in. But she said the antenna is needed.

"We have a responsibility not only to our customers but to the public
agencies that benefit from our 911 service," Barrett said.

Southampton's pastor, Will Mason, said the antenna will not extend
beyond the top of the chimney, will sit flush against in, will even be
painted the same shade of white as the chimney. Neither he nor
T-Mobile would disclose the rental fee.

Mason said he spent months studying health effects of cell sites, the
impact on property values. He believes the antenna is harmless.

"It wasn't all that kindly to be demonized, but we're over it," Mason
said. "We've tried to work with the neighborhood association and the
folks opposed to the antenna."

Still, O'Brien said neighbors feel betrayed. Parishioners on Sunday
morning used to be met with a smile and a wave from neighbors. Now, he
said, they're met with angry glares.

"Almost every one of my neighbors says they're going to move if this
thing goes up," O'Brien said.

On the Net:


CTIA-The Wireless Association:

American Cancer Society:

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