The Epidemic Spreads: Cellular Base Station Antennas - JuniperCivic.com
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Originally published in the September 2004 Juniper Berry Magazine

The Epidemic Spreads: Cellular Base Station Antennas

Microwave antennas on Eliot Avenue

In 1996 the Federal Telecommunications Act was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by President Clinton. It was enacted to regulate and govern the new technologies of the electromagnetic (wireless) telecommunications industry. This act, while necessary to a growing industry and technology, is biased in favor of the telecommunication companies over the public interest because the current law prohibits local communities (states, cities, townships etc.) from having any jurisdiction over the siting of cellular base station antennas with regard to health and safety issues.

These antennas are the backbone of the wireless telecommunications network. It is obvious that the telecommunications industry fought hard to preclude local authorities from having the final say on base station sitings. Legal scholars are of the opinion that many facets of The Federal Telecommunications Act are, in fact, unconstitutional under the first and tenth amendments.

Cellular base station antennas are actually very large transmitters and receivers of low frequency, low level radiation usually within the radio/microwave areas of the electromagnetic spectrum. These frequencies are supposedly non-ionizing (which means that they do not break chemical bonds at the cellular level). The FCC has set the safety standards for this industry and, along with the FDA, are in theory the regulators of public safety with regard to this industry. It is stated in theory because neither of these agencies inspect or monitor any of these cellular base station antennas to ensure their compliance with the federal guidelines. When the Federal Communications Act was established, wireless communication was quite different from what it has become today. PCS (Personal Communication Services) wireless systems (which is the newest type of wireless system) require shorter distances between antennas which will require more antennas to cover the same area. On average, there will be a need to have an antenna every 1 to 3 miles to provide adequate coverage for cell phone subscribers within a particular bandwidth. Most wireless telecommunication companies are using this technology or are in the process of conversion. When you consider the number of companies providing this service and the fact that they will all require antennas with this proximity, you can't help but be frightened by the possible outcome.

There are approximately 120,000 mobile base station antennas in operation in the United States as of this writing. The telecommunication industry itself predicts that a fivefold increase will be required to support the PCS Technology. The FCC and Congress could not have possibly envisioned hundreds of thousands of electromagnetic radio/microwave antennas transmitting radiation through residential neighborhoods all across this country. The effects of this kind of bombardment and interaction of RF radiation have never been studied and to preclude local safety and health concerns is preposterous. We feel that caution is required when the technology implemented by industry (supported by government) exceeds our capacity to understand the long term social and environmental effects. In the case of electromagnetic radiation it may be decades before we fully realize the consequences of this development. Unfortunately there have been instances in our country's history where we have not proceeded with caution with regard to health and safety concerns. (Tobacco, Asbestos, Silicone, Seatbelts, Airbags, etc.) We must take steps now to avoid past mistakes.

In New York City these base station antennas are being erected and placed in residential areas at an alarming rate. Omnipoint Communications, Inc. just one of these providers admits to having around 1000 of these base stations within the 5 boroughs. Unfortunately there are no statistics being compiled tracking the construction of these antennas. There is also no uniform policy on the placement of these structures.

One of the reasons for the rapid construction of these antennas is an order provided in a technical policy procedure notice issued by Richard Visconti, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Buildings on July 1, 1998. The technical notice provided an exemption of local residential zoning laws with regard to the construction of these antennas. The problem with Mr. Visconti's order is that it appears to be illegal under the Zoning Resolution and City Charter of New York City. This writer and others have researched the Charter and Zoning Resolution and have found that the Zoning Resolution Text of section 21-22 requires that the installation of telecommunication equipment and or radio or television antennas requires a special permit through the Standards and Appeals Board. The permit process requires a review of the alteration by a panel of experts in a variety of fields. The Appeals Board then has to notify the community board in the area of the installation. The community board then must hold a public hearing. The community board makes a recommendation to the Appeals Board. The Appeals Board then renders their decision. In addition, the City Charter in its outline of the Dept. of Buildings Commissioner's authority precludes him/her from enacting any laws or variance to the Zoning Resolution. In light of these facts it is obvious that all cellular base station antennas constructed on or after July 1, 1998 were erected in violation of the Zoning Resolution and City Charter and as such considered a public nuisance (illegal).

Most people in our community are opposed to the current federal legislation and prepared to do whatever it takes to publicize, protest and litigate all parties involved who support it. There is also a national movement taking place to regulate the siting of these antennas.

We are joining together to insure that the shortsightedness of the public officials, landlords and telecommunication companies who implemented the status quo is redressed. Some of our basic freedoms have been taken away. Regardless of whether the health concerns we have are real or imagined, we have already been injured psychologically. When cellular base stations can be moved into a community without the consultation or consent of the people who live, work and play there, then we have been disenfranchised from the process of democracy and free speech. Are 250 million people supposed to move their families to get away from these antennas? These structures are going to be located every few blocks in every community in the United States unless something is done to stop this from happening. Our one saving grace is that it still only takes one voice to turn into the voices of many and make positive change. Those voices are America's forte and they will be heard.

Over the past year we have seen at least 10 or 12 of these antennas constructed in Astoria. They have been constructed without any notice to our community and there is every indication that this is just the beginning.

We urge everyone to become aware of this growing problem and support legislation regarding the zoning laws and enforcement of the current laws on the state level.

As a final note I'd like to mention that a cellular base station antenna was installed by T- Mobile without warning on the roof of a residential building right next door to my house in Astoria. There are families with children living just six feet below the roof. The lease is for 25 years. The antennas are directed at houses across the street and a school two blocks away. The only way we found out about the antenna is that the plans for the construction fell into a neighbor's yard!

Take a moment, take a look at the roofs in your neighborhoods. For instance, the corner of 74th Street and Eliot Avenue in Middle Village, right next door to Our Lady of Hope Church and School, several antennas have emerged and more are on the way.

(Note: John Campos is a resident of Astoria, New York and he sought out the Juniper Park Civic Association for help in this emerging health threat to all our neighborhoods)