February 4, 2014 6:29 pm
Updated: February 7, 2014 10:50 am

Ottawa moves to close cellphone tower loophole

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Ottawa is moving to close a loophole in its rulebook on how and where cellphone companies can put up their communications towers, Global News has learned.

UPDATE: Ottawa closes cellphone tower loophole

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Facing a fast-rising number of unsightly cell towers popping up in neighbourhoods and towns across the country, Industry Minister James Moore will announce Wednesday tougher rules that will require greater consent from home owners and municipal governments before new towers go up, sources say.

Under the present rules, towers hosting cellphone equipment that are taller than 15 metres must go through a lengthy approval process that includes consultations with local residents and an attempt to reach consent.

Those conditions don’t apply however to cell towers under 15 metres.

Government officials say the loophole has led to “an alarming number of antenna towers under 15 metres” being built by companies like Wind Mobile, Bell, Telus and Rogers without local residents being informed.

Sources say Industry Minister Moore will amend the government’s antenna tower siting policy to close the exemption.

As cellphone services have proliferated, disputes between cellular companies and local residents over the placement of taller towers have become common place.

Firms like Rogers and Telus have gotten creative, disguising their towers as trees and other objects that blend in with the surrounding environment.

Still, the number of shorter towers that have rapidly sprouted up in recent years has created ongoing friction between operators and communities.

In the past few months alone, citizens in Abbotsford, B.C., Sudbury, Ont., Oakville, Ont. as well as St. John’s, Newfoundland have registered their opposition to proposals to build towers in certain neighbourhoods.

Moore is acting as Ottawa auctions off additional airwaves that could see new pressure to increase the number of towers going up to support smartphone services.

READ MORE: Spectrum 101, what consumers should know about a federal auction for airwaves 

Taller towers would help maximize the use of those airwaves while reducing the need for shorter towers that would otherwise be required to keep signal strength up, experts say.

If cellphone companies and communities cannot arrive at an agreement, Moore’s department, Industry Canada, is responsible for intervening and ultimately approving where the tower goes.

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