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Greens tower Bill will impact NBN: AMTA

Proposed Greens legislation to restrict the construction of mobile towers would impact the deployment of the fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) network deployment as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor on

Proposed Greens legislation to restrict the construction of mobile towers would impact the deployment of the fixed-wireless long-term evolution (LTE) network deployment as part of the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA).

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown has announced plans to introduce the Telecommunications Amendment (Mobile Phone Towers) 2011 Bill into the Senate this afternoon. The Bill would subject so-called "low impact" mobile phone facilities, such as antennae, to government planning laws, and would require tower owners to consult with landholders within 500 metres of the proposed site. There would need to be a 200 metre distance to the nearest school or hospital, and mobile carriers would have to lodge a five-year plan with councils to say where they want to install facilities.

"Mobile carriers can erect phone antennae on your land or close to where you live, and there's not a lot you can do about it. We think there is room in the legislation to provide more information to communities, and give them greater opportunities to object," Brown said in a statement.

"We're requiring mobile carriers to take a precautionary approach to where facilities are installed in the absence of evidence that long-term accumulated exposure to electromagnetic radiation does not cause harm."

AMTA CEO Chris Althaus told ZDNet Australia that should this legislation pass, it would have a detrimental effect on NBN Co's fixed-wireless roll-out.

"Clearly, not only the mobiles [are] in the frame here, but this would [also] have significant implications for the deployment of the National Broadband Network's wireless component," he said. "It would be a retrograde step after over a decade of substantial improvement."

NBN Co, with network technology company Ericsson, has begun construction on the fixed-wireless component of its network, which will service 4 per cent of premises in Australia. The first services are scheduled to go online in 2012, and the network is expected to be completed by 2015. NBN Co's chief technology officer Gary McLaren told ZDNet Australia last month that the company expects that it will need 2300 towers for the network, and will be consulting with the community in areas where new towers need to be constructed.

Althaus said that the industry consulted closely with the community with the deployment of network infrastructure through the industry's mobile telecommunications infrastructure code. This code had been recently reviewed and had broad support within the community and Althaus said the Greens legislation "seems to cut across all of that".

"It would appear that the Bill would be ... highly prescriptive, and will undermine efficient network deployment in this country in a time when people are seeking higher performance from networks. And, of course, it's based on a premise of health concerns that is not supported by any research, particularly from the World Health Organisation," he said.

Althaus added that mobile towers were not, in fact, responsible for most of the radio frequency pollution in the environment.

"95 per cent of the radio frequency [pollution] in the environment is coming from AM and FM radio, another couple of per cent comes from television and 1.5 to 2 per cent comes from mobile, so this view that somehow this is an industry that needs radical regulation on the deployment front is quite an erroneous view."

It is unclear whether the Bill will make it through Parliament at this point, as it would need the support of either the Coalition or Labor in both houses of Parliament. The offices of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had not responded to requests for comment at the time of writing.

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