Comms authority clamps down on mobile tower obligations

The revised draft of the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure code contains amendments which give councils an extension of 5 days to comment on telecommunications carriers' proposals for the construction of mobile phone towers.The revised draft code gives the council 5 business days to comment on the consultation plan with the possibility of another 5 day extension once the carrier has lodged a copy with the council.

The revised draft of the Deployment of Radiocommunications Infrastructure code contains amendments which give councils an extension of 5 days to comment on telecommunications carriers' proposals for the construction of mobile phone towers.

The revised draft code gives the council 5 business days to comment on the consultation plan with the possibility of another 5 day extension once the carrier has lodged a copy with the council. Prior to the code revision, councils were only given 5 days to comment on the plan with no possible extension.

During the 5-day period, the council is required to write to the carrier if they have any concerns about the proposed facility or the consultation plan.

The Australian Communications Authority (ACA) said that the 5-day extension can be used if a council believes they will not be able to provide a written comment within the given time frame. The council should then contact the carrier and ask for an extension of time.

Mobile phone towers have been the center of contention between local councils, residents and carriers. Complaints were previously raised about the "unfair balance of power" between the carriers and the communities on decisions regarding the construction of mobile phone towers.

Lobby group EMR (Electro-Magnetic Radiation) Association in Australia previously said that the carriers have very "extensive rights" while communities have "very little rights" in having a say about the matter.

Executive director EMRAA Lyn McLean, believes the 5-day deadline and the 5-day extension for comment is too short for councils and "a conflict of procedure."

"The provision of 5 days for a council to provide comment on a community consultation plan is insufficient and the requirement for a council to notify a carrier within the given timeframe to request an extension of time is cumbersome. Councils should be allowed ten days to provide comments on consultation plans. This is not only a more reasonable timeframe for councils, but simplifies the process," Mclean said.

Under the revised draft code, the carriers are obliged to inform "interested and affected parties" of the proposed project. Councils are tasked to ensure that the carriers are aware of who should be included in the consultation process.

Some of the possible interested and affected parties councils may want carriers to consult are residents opposite and adjoining the facility site, and residents whose homes are within "line of sight" or are near to the site.

Consultation plans should also take into account community sensitive locations such as schools and aged care facilities and relevant community stakeholders such as local progress associations.

McLean believes there is a need to amend the definition of "interested and affected parties" in the code.

"The definition of 'Interested and Affected Parties' should be amended to read, 'includes persons who reside within the immediate proximity and owners of properties within the immediate proximity of the facility who may have an interest in the proposed facility," she stated in a comment submitted to the Australian Communications Industry Forum (ACIF).

"Owners are without doubt 'interested and affected parties' and must be included in this definition, particularly in light of the effects of a telecommunications facility on the amenity and economic value of their property," she added.

McLean said that the revision committee excluded the owners from the definition because of "practical difficulties" in obtaining the owner's details.

However, McLean said the affected property owners details are easily obtainable from several data bases and that the "information should make it possible for carriers to implement the proposed amendment."

At this point, McLean is still apprehensive about the implementation of the industry code especially in terms of informing affected people about the proposed infrastructures.

"It's very hard to say at this point. I think it is a good thing however, what happens in practice is quite different," she said.

McLean believes that carriers may still technically comply with the code by sending letters about the proposed projects that confuse people or look like junk mail. When the matter was raised, McLean said she was told the issue was "outside the terms of reference to this revision."

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