Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Action: Comment now on revisions to cell-phone tower siting standards

Here's an action alert from Kati Winchell, one of the founders of the Alliance for Democracy, who has been active on this issue for many years. The effects of the Telecommunications Act on local democracy were covered in early issues of Alliance Alerts (now Justice Rising).

Citizens and Professionals for the Responsible Use of Electromagnetic Radiation are asking that you comment on proposed regulatory changes that would make it harder for communities to have a say in where telecommunications corporations locate their cell phone towers or antennas.

Comments are due by Monday, September 15--there's not much time to weigh in on this issue. So ask the Federal Communications Commission to turn down the proposed change. For info on how to email your comments, see the EMR etwork site, here. For talking points, visit this page on the EMR Network site.

Some background: On July 11, 2008, CTIA, the trade association of the cellular telephone industry, petitioned the FCC to declare new limitations on local zoning authority as it affects cell tower and antenna siting, which, if approved, would pre-empt local ordinances and state laws. You can read a notice of the petition here.

Specifically, CTIA requests the FCC to:
  1. Force municipalities to act on wireless antenna or tower zoning applications within 45 or 75 days;
    Rule that applications are automatically "deemed granted" if a local government misses these deadlines;
  2. Prevent municipalities from considering the presence of service by other carriers in evaluating an additional carrier's application for an antenna site; and
  3. Preempt any local ordinance that would automatically require a variance for cell tower applications. (It appears that this would in effect preempt local wireless overlay districts, setbacks and height restrictions, thereby gutting existing local wireless bylaws.)

These proposed changes could lead to situations where wireless companies would be allowed to approach private individuals, including our neighbors, to site antennas on their property--without restriction. Given that these companies offer sizeable, yearly compensation for antenna space, many people would not be in a position to reject their offers. Property valuations would likely drop near such installations, and neighbor-to-neighbor acrimony would rise. Moreover, this would pave the way to increased exposure to microwave radiation where we live, work and play.

Exposure to electromagnetic radiation has been shown to cause biological disruption which can lead to a variety adverse health effects, including but not limited to childhood leukemia, adult brain tumors, childhood brain tumors, genotoxic effects (DNA damage and micronucleation), neurological effects and neurodegenerative disease, immune system disregulation, allergic and inflammatory responses, breast cancer in men and women, miscarriage and some cardiovascular effects.

This is not the first blow against local control of tower and antenna siting. Twelve years ago, the industry-driven 1996 Telecommunications Act (Section 704) struck a grave blow to local governing authority, resulting in the widespread build-out of the "seamless" network of cell phone towers and antennas nationwide that we see today. The '96 Telecom Act accomplished this by:
  1. Forcing towns to do business with any comparable wireless carriers that submit applications; to do otherwise is considered to be "discriminatory" practice, with legal consequences.
  2. Prohibiting towns and cities from banning wireless communication facilities (cell phone towers and antennas) in their communities; to do so is considered to be in violation of federal law.
  3. Reducing local governing authority to the comparatively marginal area of regulating antenna and tower placement through such means as overlay districts, setbacks, and tower height restrictions, etc.

Following the '96 Telecom Act, many towns and cities, though not all, crafted tower and antenna siting bylaws within these severe strictures. But the curtailments didn't end there. No bylaw, according to the Telecom Act, could be based on environmental impact, which is interpreted by the telecom industry to include human health effects. Even so, these local bylaws have been the last line of defense that communities could look toward for protection of their health, environment, and properties. And now, even this last remnant of local authority may be pre-empted, if the CTIA's petition is approved!

Please send a letter to the FCC by September 15, 2008, urging it to deny the CTIA's petition. If possible, please send a copy to the following to maximize the impact of your letter:
  • Your local governing boards - so they will notify their colleagues in other towns and cities
  • Your state representative and senator
  • Your Congressmen
  • Your City and local papers
  • The EMR Network --so we can track the effect of your letters. You can email your letter to
On August 22, Montgomery County, Maryland, and NATOA et al. filed motions to extend the comment deadlines. Check back at for the latest on this issue.

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