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Cell towers and the 'silent majority'

Tower company executives are seeing a shift in public opinion when it comes to new cell towers. Even those who might not want new towers recognize the need for coverage.
What’s the best way to protest a proposed cell tower in your neighborhood? You could contact your city’s leaders by calling or emailing them. And if your first impulse is to do that from your smartphone, you see the problem your protest is likely to encounter.
Across the country, citizens who would prefer not to see new cell towers near their property are running up against the reality of their own demand for mobile broadband. City officials hear protests about the risk to health and property values that cell towers represent, but they also hear complaints about poor cellular coverage from voters and businesses.
“Public opinion evolves slowly over time,” said American Tower’s Steven Marshall, president of the company’s U.S. tower division. “I am getting the sense … that the silent majority are starting to speak up more now against the minority interests that have tried to restrict the development of infrastructure.”
Examples of cell tower projects that are getting the green light despite protests are plentiful. Last week the city council in Hutchison, Kansas approved a new tower despite strident objections from a few people who live near the proposed site. In South Dakota, a school board is considering a cell tower on school property that would double as a flagpole.
American Tower’s Steven Marshall says that when new infrastructure can be deployed in ways that are discrete and appropriate, zoning and approval become easier. He notes that many of the same affluent communities that once sought to protect their environments from towers are now clamoring for coverage.
“I think we see now with increasing frequency where we’re trying to get planning and zoning support, that you get the minority contesting it, but the silent majority comes to stand up and advocate for the need for coverage,” he said.
Sometimes the majority is not so silent. SBA Communications CEO Jeff Stoops said one of his associates recently sent him a picture of a billboard urging a city’s residents to come together to advocate for approval of a new cell site. Stoops liked the picture, but he knows the tide has not turned completely.
“I think there’s a healthy balance out there of opposition,” said Stoops. “There will be some spots that you will just never get a tower in and you’ll have to find a different way to do it. And then there are others that, over time, as people continue to become more and more reliant on wireless, you’ll get those towers built.”
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Martha DeGrasse
Martha DeGrasse is the publisher of Network Builder Reports ( At RCR, Martha authored more than 20 in-depth feature reports and more than 2,400 news articles. She also created the Mobile Minute and the 5 Things to Know Today series. Prior to joining RCR Wireless News, Martha produced business and technology news for CNN and Dow Jones in New York and managed the online editorial group at Hoover’s Online before taking a number of years off to be at home when her children were young. Martha is the board president of Austin's Trinity Center and is a member of the Women's Wireless Leadership Forum.

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