FCC Rules to Force Cities to Approve Cell Towers

heather-elementary-school-cell-antennasThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed new rules that will sidestep any zoning codes. The rules will force cities to approve cell towers and DAS (distributed antenna systems) and will prohibit cities from stopping wireless companies from expanding existing sites. It’s a pre-emptive move by the cellular industry to make it easier for cell companies to put towers and antennas up wherever they want.

Why You Should Be Concerned
In Palo Alto, there are already 80 DAS antennas on utility poles. These are AT&T antennas. In some cities, other cell companies have piggybacked on existing cell towers and added additional DAS antennas to existing utility poles. Since there are multiple cell companies, this could mean that you’ll see these antennas from Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and others. Put up one antenna and three other companies may want to do the same thing.

There are no long-term studies that have been made on DAS antennas and how they might impact health or safety. The cell industry simply says, “they comply with FCC regulations.” There are no studies on how multiple antennas might impact health.

We don’t see any DAS antennas in Palo Alto outside any City Council member’s home. Why not? If they are perfectly safe, perhaps the top management employees in Palo Alto should have them installed on the utility poles outside their homes.

The image is of the cell tower in San Carlos at Heather (elementary) School. We notice that more antennas were added including an additional cluster of antennas on the hillside.

The Malibu Canyon Fire in 2007 was caused by an overloaded DAS antenna, burning over 3,836 acres, destroying 14 buildings and 36 cars. A fine of $14.5 million was assessed against the company that owned the antennas.

Cities need to consider how to deploy wireless communications in a safe, orderly and aestetically compatible manner.

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AT&T DAS Antennas, Palo Alto Locations

das-louis-palo-altoThis is a DAS antenna, installed on a Palo Alto Utility pole. The antenna is shown at the top. Below the antenna are several equipment cabinets.

AT&T’s original plans include 20 DAS (distributed antenna system) nodes, mounted on City of Palo Alto Utility poles or street lamps. The equipment includes the antenna(s) and equipment cabinets that operate the transmission equipment. You can view a larger map of the proposed locations.

The deadline for any objection to the proposal must be in the City of Palo Alto’s hands by December 30, 2011. The process will then be to have the City Council hear any objections.

Update: The City did approve AT&T’s plans for DAS antennas.

Notice that the number of DAS antennas in Palo Alto is now 80. The original plan was for 20.

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FCC’s 1996 Energy Exposure Limit for Mobile Phones Should be Updated

“Mobile phone exposure limits and testing requirements should be reassessed, according to a Government Accountability Office study

The study, the culmination of a year-long review done at the urging of lawmakers, comes at a time of heightened concern about the possible impact of cellphone radiation on human health. Its findings may prompt the Federal Communications Commission to update its standards to more accurately reflect how people use their cellphones.”

Washington Post


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Coming to an Electrical Substation Near You

AT&T is working with the City of Palo Alto to broaden their coverage with cell towers located in many of the electrical substations in the city. The Daily Post published a map of the locations that are being considered. If you’re located near one of the substations, you will want to know all of the facts. While many of the substations are in commercial areas, there are some that are close to residential areas.

The proposed tower height will be 100 feet – over the current city limits for height. In addition to locating the cell towers on electrical substations, the City of Palo Alto plans to provide access to City utility poles for DAS antennas.

Utility Advisory Committee Report: June 1, 2011

“Like many communities, the placement or “siting” of wireless communications facilities in Palo Alto is a controversial and politically-charged issue. Examples of these wireless communication facilities are cellular-towers, antennas, low-profile distributed antenna systems atop utility poles, and related equipment housing facilities. Opposition to siting wireless communications facilities is especially contentious in residential neighborhoods and scenic areas where some residents, homeowner associations and environmental groups oppose the facilities based on concerns about aesthetics, impacts on property values, impacts on the environment, and concerns about the potential health risks associated with exposure to radiation from radio frequency (RF) emissions.”

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The Potential Dangers of Electromagnetic Fields and their Effect on the Environment?

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s May 2011 Committee Resolution 1815, from a part of the world where there is no ban on making decisions about cell towers based upon health, is important to know what our government counterparts in Europe were deciding about cell towers and radiation, compared to the FCC in this country and the cell industry claiming there is no evidence of harm to human health.

1. Reconsider the scientific basis for the present standards on exposure to electromagnetic fields set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, which have serious limitations, and apply ALARA principles, covering both thermal effects and the athermic or biological effects of electromagnetic emissions or radiation.

2. There is a need to re-evaluate the safety standards pay particular attention to “electrosensitive” people who suffer from a syndrome of intolerance to electromagnetic fields and introduce special measures to protect them, including the creation of wave-free areas not covered by the wireless network.


The US Telecommunications Act of 1996 specifically states that no local jurisdiction can regulate wireless facilities based on the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions which are regulated by the FCC.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently changed their position on cell phone radiation.

Radiation from cell phones can possibly cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization. The agency now lists mobile phone use in the same “carcinogenic hazard” category as lead, engine exhaust and chloroform.

Before its announcement Tuesday, WHO had assured consumers that no adverse health effects had been established.

A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”

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Noise Levels of DAS Antenna Equipment

A study completed by Hammett & Edison, Inc, Consulting Engineers,  shows that the maximum calculated noise levels from this equipment at a distance of 25 feet will be 40.0 right, 42.2 front, 40.1 left and 39.5 dBA back.    Combined with the ambient noise (called “local ambient level of no less than 40 dBA), the equipment sound will be audible with an increase of  +3.0 dBA right, +2.0 dBA front, +3.0 dBA left and +3.3 dBA back.

Sources: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=29406

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AT&T Mails Postcards to Palo Alto Residents in Attempts to Get More Cell Antennas in Palo Alto

AT&T sent a four-color, fold out mailer with a return response card destined for the Palo Alto City Council to ask the City Council for “Better wireless coverage for Palo Alto” and urged recipients to “Tell the City Council you want better wireless coverage in Palo Alto.”

The key points were that upgrading the network would result in faster mobile data speeds, fewer dropped calls and “bolsters public safety for Palo Alto.”

These are the distributed antennas that many cities are agonizing over – cities are concerned about the look of these antennas that will be place on utility poles.  There are aesthetic concerns and concerns about the safety of adding additional transmitters near homes.

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Palo Alto to Become Testing Spot for AT&T’s Antennas

The City of Palo Alto may be the premier testing spot for AT&T’s Distributed Antenna System (DAS) project.    DAS antennas are smaller and can be mounted on utility poles throughout the city.   AT&T is hoping that these smaller antennas will “pass civic muster more quickly than traditional cell tower deployments…”

DAS systems are interconnected – smaller “nodes” can be utilized throughout the city.    DAS antennas radiate less power than a typical cell tower and can be used to improve coverage in weaker reception areas.

We believe that residents need to know where these proposed antennas will be installed, what they will look like and how they might impact any concerns.

For more information, check out the article in MuniWireless.  You’ll also see an example of what a proposed installation on a utility pole would look like in “spruce green.”

You can also get a view of the AT&T distributed antenna system.

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FCC Creates Order for Pole Attachment Antennas (DAS)

In April, 2011, the FCC released an order that gives non-discriminatory access to pole tops, regulated rates, and timely access to utility poles for the DAS antennas and other wireless technologies.

Essentially, the order:

  • Set a maximum timeframe of 148 days for utilities to complete make ready work for pole attachments in the communications space, and 178 days for pole top attachments. It allows an extra 60 days for requests of between 300 and 3,000 poles.
  • Set the rate for any attachment by telecommunications companies at or near the rate paid by cable companies. Wireless providers are entitled to the same rate as other telecommunications carriers.
  • Confirms that wireless providers have a right to access pole tops.
  • Allows ILECs, which are not covered by the rate schedule, to file complaints with the FCC for relief from unreasonable rates, terms and conditions.
  • Clarifies that a denial to a request to attach must explain the specific capacity, safety, reliability, or engineering concern.
  • Removes the cap on penalties for unauthorized attachments.
  • Encourages negotiated resolution of disputes and pre-planning and coordination between pole owners and attachers, which will be taken into account in any enforcement action.

The FCC’s oversight of utility poles stems from Section 224 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which directs the FCC to ensure that rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments by cable television systems and providers of telecommunications services are just and reasonable.

This recent Order is specifically for “pole attachments” – antennas and equipment located on utility poles.   This also cuts the amount of revenue that a city can obtain (or the pole owner) to a rate that is “at or near” rates paid by cable companies.  Typically, those rates are around $7 per foot; some pole rentals were at $20 a foot.  Since some cable company lease payments were from decades ago, this will give wireless companies a lower rate for pole space rental.

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World Health Organization: Cell Phone Radiation May Cause Cancer

Radiation from cell phones is “possibly” carcinogenic” to humans, according to the international expert panel at the World Health Organization.   Scientists are evaluating the safety of the cell phones and smart phones.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer panel, which included 31 scientists from 14 countries, reached its conclusion after conducting an exhaustive review of the scientific literature during an eight-day meeting in Lyon, France.

“The conclusion means that there could be some risk, and therefore we need to keep a close watch for a link between cell phones and cancer risk,” said Dr. Jonathan Samet, chair of the panel.

The latest classification was based on the two large epidemiological studies that found an association between cell phone use and cancer.

Read press release from World Health Organization.

What Should You Do?
Radio frequency electromagnetic fields radiating from cell phones, cell towers, wireless networks and other wireless technologies have caused mounting concerns about the possible adverse health effects.

Even with a small degree of risk, the question becomes how serious might the long-term implications to health be?   And, more importantly, what is the long-term risk to health when you are located near a cell tower or your children attend a school where a cell tower is located?

Seven Recommendations

  1. Limit cell phone use.
  2. Use a headset (wired version preferred).
  3. Use text messages to keep the phone away from your body.
  4. Read the distance recommendations.  From one of the droid phone manuals: “keep the mobile device and its antenna at least 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) from your body when transmitting.”
  5. Do not put the phone in your pocket or close to your body.   Most manuals warn against this – unless the phone is in a specially-designed “holster” that shields the user.
  6. Children are more susceptible to possible issues – teach children and teens how to safely use their phones.
  7. Use “airplane mode” to switch “off” your phone if you must put it into your pocket.   You won’t get calls, messages or email – but they’ll be there when you enable your phone again.
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