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GSA, INDUSTRY WORK TOGETHER TO SOLVE WIRELESS SITING PROBLEMS

WASHINGTON-At least one federal agency appears to be stepping up to the plate regarding expedited siting of new wireless towers and antennas in an effort to comply with the August 1996 presidential memo regarding unimpeded building of such network elements on government land.

At the March 19 Federal Agency Antenna Forum sponsored by the General Services Administration’s Office of Real Property, representatives of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, the Personal Communications Industry Association, the American Mobile Telecommunications Association, the U.S. Telephone Association, the Federal Communications Commission and GSA discussed concerns, viewpoints and recommendations aimed at improving GSA’s siting program-which includes some 1,800 federal rooftops-prior to a larger meeting between industry groups and other federal agencies April 15.

According to Randall Coleman, CTIA’s vice president of regulatory policy & law, more than 100,000 new sites will be needed to build coming wireless networks and to ensure ubiquity; however, he said that it was a “slow process getting response from the bureaucracy” when it comes to building along such federal corridors, as the George Washington Parkway that links Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia, and in Rock Creek Park, a favorite recreational area.

“The U.S. Park Service is more concerned about vistas than it is about technology,” he said. Both areas carry heavy commuter traffic, and Coleman fears that wireless subscribers who may need to make an emergency call could have that called dropped because of a hole in the network. Education is needed, and Coleman charged GSA with creating a uniform approach to helping other government agencies like the Park Services and the Bureau of Land Management with understanding applications and assigning locations or alternatives.

Even with language in the presidential memo and in the 1996 Telecom Act that prohibits local jurisdictions from halting wireless buildouts, some areas like Schaumburg, Ill., have made waves over towers that “have been put up in the dead of night” on U.S. Post Offices without consulting the locals. Here again, commented Brian Polly, GSA’s assistant commissioner of the Office of Property Disposal, is another educational opportunity. “You have to cooperate with the community and try to conceal the sites.” PCIA’s Sheldon Moss agreed, admitting that the wireless industry “has made a lot of mistakes by going around the process and sneaking sites in.”

Another federal siting problem centers around lack of uniformity of rules from one agency to the next. To help alleviate the personnel and the property problems inherent in a large government bureaucracy, GSA has designated one person per region (and there are 11) to handle siting requests and to work with the industry. GSA also maintains a Web site (www.gsa.gov/fai) that lists the top 20 most desirable buildings in a region and what currently is available. Going even further, GSA will be listing the top 25 to 30 sites per region by the end of the month.

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