Municipalities now must be notified every time a cell tower or antenna goes up

MONTREAL – More smartphones and tablet traffic on wireless networks means an increase in antennas and cellphone towers, and now municipalities will be consulted on where this digital infrastructure will go.

Under a national protocol released today, wireless carriers will be required to notify and consult with municipalities about every antenna system, including towers, that go up as they expand their networks.

Bernard Lord of the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association says the guidelines allow municipalities to give feedback on suggested locations in residential, industrial and agricultural areas.

Municipalities will also get a say on the look of the wireless antenna systems, says Lord, noting that in the past, some have been incorporated into lamp poles, for instance, to blend in with existing infrastructure.

Generally, antennas and cellphone towers can often be found on rooftops, along highways, near ski hills and in rural areas.

Lord says up to 50 per cent of data, used for email, surfing the Internet and watching video on mobile devices is consumed at home. That means more sites need to be closer to where people live, even though it may result in citizen complaints about health or esthetic concerns, he said.

“The only reason that carriers want to set up more antennas and more sites is because there’s growing demand,” said Lord, president of the association that represents the wireless industry.

“Demand for data in Canada from mobile devices is growing at the rate of five per cent every single week.”

Consumers expect “21st century, state-of-the-art” networks that are fast and allow them to do such things as watch live, high-definition television on their devices, Lord said.

Another reason for more wireless antenna systems in municipalities is to prevent gaps in coverage for 911 emergency service, he said.

More than half of 911 calls now come from mobile devices, according to the association.

Lord said the protocol, which was developed by the Ottawa-based association and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, will promote consultation but does not give municipalities the ability to veto the location of a cellphone tower or a rooftop antenna. Telecommunications falls under federal jurisdiction.

He said electromagnetic radiation from wireless antenna systems meet federal standards applied by Industry Canada and citizens’ health concerns are unfounded.

In the past, large carriers like Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T) have all run into opposition from local citizens at times over placement of towers and antenna systems.

Karen Leibovici, president of the FCM, said many municipalities receive concerns from their citizens about where cell towers go up.

“Up-front communications is important in letting people have input (on) where the towers are sited and why the towers need to be there, and hopefully you have less concerns being expressed by citizens,” she said.

Leibovici added that it will be up to municipalities to decide how they will consult residents on the matter.