) Wilkie backs phone tower reform

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20.09.2011Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has thrown his support behind tougher restrictions for the construction of new mobile phone towers, following the introduction of similar legislation by Greens` leader Senator Bob Brown last week.
In a speech made before Parliament, Wilkie tabled a private members` Bill known as the Telecommunications Amendment (Enhancing Community Consultation) Bill 2011, which will see mobile phone carriers forced to consult home and business owners living and working within 500 metres of a proposed new mobile phone tower site. It also looks to extend the objection period from 10 days to 30, and give citizens access to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) for dispute resolution.
Wilkie said that the Bill is a move to stop carriers from dodging state and local planning laws by designating mobile phone towers as “low impact” structures.
“A case in point is Optus` proposal to build a tower on top of my local Woolworths in Sandy Bay. Originally, it was declared by the carrier to be a low-impact facility, even though it would literally tower over a heritage neighbourhood and be an eyesore from nearby historic Battery Point. Yes, community pressure seems to have forced Optus to re-categorise the development as high-impact, and now the Hobart City Council is considering the proposal.
“But the community should have been spared the heartache in the first place, and there is still no certainty [the Australian Communication and Media Authority] won`t just ride in at the eleventh hour and issue a permit, regardless of the Council`s determination,” Wilkie said.
The independent MP is hoping to give communities a voice about where mobile phone towers are situated in local townships, who he says have called his office, voicing their “hopelessness” when a new tower is erected that they disagree with.
“For too long, communities have been unable to have a say in where new towers spring up in their area. The playing field has been skewed towards the commercial self-interest of the telecommunications companies,” he said, adding that the balance between fast, reliable wireless network communications and community interest has leaned towards carriers acting in their own interests.
“I understand that there must be a fundamental balance in this debate between the public interest in having fast and reliable mobile communications on one hand, and the public interest in not having inappropriate and hastily planned developments springing up all around our communities on the other. But for too long, this balance has been skewed in favour of telecommunications companies, who, under the current legislation, have a carte blanche to place new telecommunications facilities essentially wherever they please.”
The Bill is expected to be debated next month.
Last week in the Senate, Greens` leader Bob Brown proposed a similar amendment to the Telecommunications Act, which would mandate consultation with residents and business owners within 500 metres of proposed new mobile signal towers.
Senator Brown`s Bill was read in the Senate last week, with debate set to be held at a later date.
The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has said that such a Bill could slow down the deployment of new networks, including long-term evolution (LTE) wireless networks and wireless towers required to support the National Broadband Network (NBN) roll-out.
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