VIEWPOINT

Oops!

Someone told the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors about language included in the House’s version of the telecom reform bill that could take away some local authority over where antenna towers are placed.

The associations are planning to step up their lobbying efforts to weaken an antenna siting amendment that would have created an industry-government panel to craft federal antenna siting guidelines.

Already, Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., chairman of the Commerce Committee and chief sponsor of the House telecommunications bill, said he will change the language in the original bill to ensure local regulators are not prevented from determining where cellular, paging, specialized mobile radio and personal communications services antennas are located.

But local zoning boards won’t be able to prevent placing antennas in an area altogether nor impose bureaucratic delays.

The irony in all this is the GOP-led House-which is champing at the bit to give power back to the states-included this seemingly nonintrusive little measure in a big deep telecommunications reform bill quite easily. (Kudos to wireless telecom lobbyists.)

But, and this is the big but, word is now out and the conferees whose job it will be to hammer out a compromise telecom bill between the House and Senate versions are going to be walking the political tight rope. Do they embrace state’s rights and substantially weaken or even drop the federal antenna provision, or do they advance the wireless industry by creating a national policy for antenna siting?

I’m guessing “grass roots” will win out this time and no such antenna tower siting provision will see the light of day in telecom law. (After all, the Senate never found a need to include it in its version).

Let me tell you about Brush, Colo., population 5,000. According to the Denver Post newspaper, the citizens of Brush are divided about a tower that Cellular One wants to erect there.

Already, three meetings and two public hearings have been held. Another public hearing is set. Here’s the problem: Cellular One wants to erect a 180-foot transmitter tower in downtown Brush. But Brush’s zoning laws only allow 45-foot towers downtown. Critics contend the tower would be an eyesore, proponents point out there are dead-air problems in Brush. And, according to opponents of the site, Cellular One wants to erect the tower on a particularly busy street corner.

What congressman representing a town like Brush is going to say he or she was in favor of letting the feds have more say over where a tower is placed than the local citizens of Brush?

With the prospect of 100,000 antennas needed to build out the nation’s new PCS networks, it is up to wireless carriers, manufacturers and lobbyists to work with the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to promote the positive aspects of cellular phone use, supported by hard facts, like 26 million users. And then, carriers are going to have to come to terms with the fact that some places just aren’t going to have the best coverage because towers sometimes have to be located in the least offensive area, not the best coverage area.

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