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INDUSTRY GAINS GROUND ON TOWERS

WASHINGTON-The wireless industry last week made significant strides in its efforts to reach a conciliatory note on antenna siting with various parties with which the industry has often disagreed.

Additionally, the House Commerce Committee approved legislation that encourages tower sitings on federal property and uses the lease fees to fund the rollout of E911 service.

The Federal Communications Commission announced an agreement between representatives of local governments and the wireless industry that should help speed up the process of siting wireless facilities. The agreement, announced by FCC Chairman William Kennard, included the withdrawal of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association’s pre-emption petition. CTIA had asked the FCC to issue a blanket pre-emption against local governments issuing antenna-siting moratoria.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, CTIA President Thomas Wheeler said the agreement represented the “end of the beginning” of the battle over antenna sitings. Ken Fellman, chairman of the FCC’s Local and State Government Advisory Committee, noted while there are 36,000 local governmental units, CTIA has tracked only 300 active moratoria. “This is not a broad-based national problem,” Fellman said.

The agreement calls for local governments to use negotiated guidelines in developing moratoria and says moratoria should only be used as a stop-gap measure while local governments enact local zoning ordinances for wireless facilities sitings. If the wireless industry becomes frustrated with a particular locality or a specific locality believes the industry is being unreasonable, either party may request a nonbinding resolution process. The agreement maintains both parties’ right to seek a legal remedy if they are unhappy with the outcome of that process.

Jay Kitchen, president of PCIA, said the agreement was “not an ultimate solution to every problem in this complex and emotional area but it is one more tool in our tool box.”

Wireless companies often encounter resistance as they attempt to build towers for antennas. The towers are seen as aesthetic nuisances by local residents, many of whom complain to local authorities who, in turn, feel compelled to stop the siting of antenna towers. Some local governments have resorted to enacting moratoria for undetermined lengths of time while they figure out how to proceed.

The industry, for its part, has taken many local governments to court and complained to the FCC, saying citizens want the benefits of towers so they should be allowed to build them. Additionally, carriers have disguised towers as trees or light poles to reduce aesthetic concerns.

Wireless companies increasingly have encountered resistance along national scenic trails, but the industry appears close to reaching a consensus on this issue as well. David Startzell, executive director of the Appalachian Trail Conference, said his organization has met with PCIA and CTIA to discuss ways to minimize the conflict between towers and aesthetics when towers are within one mile of a scenic trail. The industry, according to Startzell, agreed to draft a consensus document calling for early notification of a tower siting.

CTIA may be drafting such a document. Sheldon Moss, PCIA manager of government relations, said the meeting with the trails organizations, including the Appalachian Trail Conference were refreshing. “They did their homework. They knew what they didn’t understand. They tried to seek some win-win solutions,” Moss said.

The consensus document most likely will replace an earlier initiative of the trails groups that called for the FCC to issue a notice of proposed rule making that would have required wireless carriers to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) for every tower siting within one mile of a scenic trail. EAs can be expensive.

The National Park Service recently charged Bell Atlantic Mobile $25,000 for phase I of an EA to determine the impacts of two tower sitings in Rock Creek Park, an urban park in Washington, D.C.

E911 bill

Building towers on federal property should get a little easier for carriers as the House Commerce Committee last week endorsed the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1998.

The endorsement came after Commerce Chairman Tom Bliley (R-Va.) amended the bill to clarify that the cancer studies to be funded by the bill be performed with scientific objectivity. During the bill’s mark up, Bliley said the studies must be conducted with “the highest possible standards of integrity and objectivity; that evidence, not preconceptions, drive the research; and that we tell people whether or not there are real risks to using a wireless telephone.”

The remaining funds raised from leasing fees, after the various federal agencies receive a portion, will go to local public safety answering points to upgrade their E911 systems to accommodate wireless users.

Congress has left town for the rest of the month and a companion bill has not been introduced in the Senate so it is unlikely that a measure will pass this year, but the Communications for Coordinated Assistance and Response to Emergencies Alliance released a statement praising the House Commerce Committee action. “Our members understand how [H.R. 3844] can help save lives, and judging from the unanimous bipartisan support, the members of the House Commerce Committee recognize that as well,” said Sue Hoyt, co-chair of the alliance.

In other antenna siting news, the park service said it hopes to issue guidelines on antenna sitings that can be used by all park service units. These guidelines-which were revised at least once and received public input earlier this year-were distributed last week, according to an NPS official overseeing the project.

The guidelines have not yet been published in the Federal Register and the industry has not had a chance to review them. Tim Ayers, CTIA vice president for communications, said CTIA is hoping for an attitude change within NPS that will make siting towers easier. “You saw what happened with Rock Creek Park. They turned it down for not dotting one `i’,” Ayers said.

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