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Time-out for towers

Lee Peoples September 20th, 2011

Just look up and you’ll notice the proliferation of cellphone towers around Oklahoma City. Many of these towers reach heights of 125 feet or taller. AT&T, only one of many wireless providers, is planning at least 60 applications for new towers or antennas this year alone. A temporary moratorium on new cellphone towers, combined with an examination of the applicable zoning rules, is in order.

Burlingame, Calif.; Bangor, Maine; and Huntington, New York, are just a few of the cities around the country that recently enacted moratoriums on new towers while their city planners chart a course forward. A moratorium would give our city the time to come up with a thoughtful approach that balances the need for adequate wireless coverage with concerns over aesthetics, health, property values and future development.

Many of the new towers being proposed in Oklahoma City are in residential areas. These steel monstrosities are vastly out of scale with surrounding homes and buildings. When a tower goes in, the value of surrounding property goes down. Studies have shown an average decrease in property values of up to 20 percent in areas near cellphone towers. There is some evidence that radiation from these towers has negative health effects.

Unsightly tall towers are not the only way to provide adequate data and voice coverage. Shorter antennas have been in use in California since the late 1980s, and today 50 percent of wireless antennas in California are less than 50 feet tall. Wireless coverage can be provided using small shoe box-sized antennas mounted on existing telephone poles, streetlights or sides of buildings. These types of antennas are commonly found in California and Washington and throughout Western Europe. Wireless providers seeking to erect 125-foot towers all over Oklahoma City are needlessly tying us to the past, instead of advancing into the future.

These steel monstrosities are vastly out of scale with surrounding homes and buildings.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was created with extensive input from wireless industry lobbyists and is widely considered to be a gift to the industry from Congress. The act limits the ability of municipalities to deny applications for new cellphone towers and forbids the consideration of any possible negative health effects emanating from towers. The industry has aggressively litigated denials of tower applications and has built up favorable precedent in courts around the country.

Armed with scientific-looking studies showing purported gaps in coverage and backed by the industry-favorable aforementioned act, telecom providers can often steamroll tower permit applications through planning commission hearings. The deck is stacked against citizens and city staffers who lack the resources and expertise to challenge claims made by telecom providers at these hearings.

A temporary moratorium on new towers will buy time for city planners to develop a comprehensive plan that allows for adequate wireless coverage, while protecting property values and encouraging future development.

Peoples is building a home in the Cottage District of Oklahoma City and is a professor and law library director at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

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09.21.2011 at 12:29 Reply

Does this explain why Sprint has bragged about it's 4G network for more than a year, but it has yet to make an appearance in Oklahoma City?