Thursday, 25 April 2019

Proposed laws to restrict mobile phone towers defeated



Bob brown


A parliamentary comitee has rejected a Bill to restrict mobile phone base station deployment put forward by former Greens leader Senator Bob Brown.


Proposed laws to prevent mobile phone towers near schools and hospitals have been rejected by an Australian parliamentary committee, because the changes were impractical and the improved industry code of conduct addressed most of the issues raised by the community.


The proposed changes to Australia’s Federal telecommunications laws would have increased the cost of rolling out Australia’s mobile phone network by $2.2 billion a year and reduced investment in Australia’s mobile digital highway needed for national development, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association argued in the parliamentary hearings.

AMTA Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, said: “Potential underinvestment by mobile network operators would also impact on network capacity and performance across the board, including important uses such as access to emergency services via emergency alert systems.”

“This is a retrograde step which will undermine carriers’ ability to meet the huge demand for services, including the uptake of data through Mobile Broadband, which is in high demand throughout the economy with growth projections in the order of 280% to 2014.”

The Bill required operators to consult with landholders within 500 metres of any proposed new site and introduced a 200-metre buffer zone to the nearest school or hospital, and mobile carriers would have had to lodge a five-year plan with councils to say where they wanted to install facilities.


The Bill – introduced by the then Greens leader, Senator Bob Brown, – would also have required carriers to notify all owners and occupiers within half a kilometre radius of an existing base station, if a carrier planned to do maintenance activities, which was a significant additional cost.


Part of the current legislation – the Federal Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination – encourages the development of base stations with ‘lower visual impact’ such as panel antennas on road signs, building facades, water towers, and rooftops to allow for the fast and efficient delivery of the latest mobile communication technologies and services to the Australian public, said Mr Althaus.


Because of their minimal visual impact and small design, currently low-impact sites do not require formal council approval. However, larger mobile phone towers, which do not satisfy the ‘low-impact’ definition, remain subject to State planning laws which require local government approval.


Mr Althaus said a new, revised Communications Alliance industry code for mobile phone base station deployment enhanced community consultation and requires carriers to consult with the community even if they do not they need council approval. 


The Bills sought to remove legislation, which exempts base stations with ‘lower visual impact’, such as these rooftop antennas, from formal council approval.  
Under the revised code, councils will have 10 business days to review consultation plans - up from five - while communities will be able to review the plans for 15 days, up from 10. An additional five days can also be given to communities during public and school holiday periods or when required, Mr Althaus said.

In a report published by the parliamentary committee, chair Senator Doug Cameron said, that while the committee is sympathetic to concerns from communities about telecommunications infrastructure being deployed in their areas, telecommunications companies have made improvements to the industry code of conduct in response to those concerns.

Senator Cameron said that consumer demand for improved telecommunications services requires more telecommunications infrastructure, and consumers must acknowledge that this infrastructure must be built in their area to meet this demand.

Ultimately, the costs associated with increasing the amount of consultation would be impractical, Senator Cameron said.

“It is the committee's view that these costs and unintended consequences suggest the Bill is impractical and would not effectively resolve the concerns it is seeking to address. On that basis, the committee recommends that the Bill not be passed.”

In his dissenting report, Senator Bob Brown said that current regulation is inadequate.
“While we recognise the importance of providing appropriate coverage, security and stability of our telecommunications network, so too is the community's ability to voice concerns about infrastructure which may impact on their lives.

“Telecommunication carriers are given widespread powers to locate their facilities. The Australian Greens share the concerns of many in the community that the current consultation provisions are inadequate, and that communities should have a right to be more involved in the location of mobile phone towers and engaged in the decision-making process, and that the legislation should provide for this.”

Senator Brown acknowledged that there are technical issues with the Bill in its current form, and said that the Greens will make amendments so that the Bill will be more favourable to the Senate.

Similar proposed legislation from Independent MP Andrew Wilkie was rejected by a lower House of Representatives committee in March.


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