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Feds shouldn't pre-empt rules on cell towers

Tuesday, January 14, 2014
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Ever since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 took away local communities and states’ ability to ban cellphone towers altogether, public officials in New York have endeavored to regulate them in a way that accommodates this important (and now ubiquitous) technology without ruining the landscape. And for the most part, especially in the scenic Adirondack Park, they’ve done a good job.

Their achievement is now jeopardized by a new rule the Federal Communications Commission is considering that would allow existing towers to be made bigger and wider without any local or state review. The agency FCC is currently seeking public comment, and it needs to hear that this is a bad idea.

The typical free-standing cell tower is huge, 100 to 200 feet, and ugly. That’s why people, whether they own a cellphone or not, don’t want to live next to, or within viewing distance of, one. It’s why local officials have adopted zoning rules governing the size and locations of the towers.

And it’s why in 2002 the Adirondack Park Agency, to protect the scenic and natural beauty of the Adirondacks and the tourist industry that depends on that beauty, adopted rules that the things be “substantially invisible.” That means smaller towers, screening for larger ones, none on mountaintops and ridgelines, and, wherever possible, placement of antennas on steeples, water towers, grain silos and chimney.

The policy hasn’t stopped telecommunications companies from steadily adding installations to fill in gaps, although coverage is still spotty or non-existent in some places. And last year the APA said that cellphone service providers are preparing for a “massive” upgrade to their networks in the Adirondacks, based on the influx of applications and inquiries.

The FCC’s proposed rule change, which looks as if it will automatically allow towers to be 10 percent bigger or wider, would undo this delicate balance achieved in the park and other scenic and historic areas. It’s destructive and unnecessary, and the FCC should drop it.

 
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