Cell towers in the public right of way - A toolkit for neighborhood activists
This toolkit was compiled by RespectPDX to assist the public in advocating for responsible, respectful siting of cell towers. The tools will help you get more complete and accurate information from wireless providers, utilities, and the City of Portland regarding cell towers in the public right of way. It also serves to raise important issues related to the regulation of cell towers in residential neighborhoods. We will continue to update this toolkit as we learn more. Feel free to send your suggestions.
The siting of wireless antennas on utility poles involves multiple parties:
- The telecommunications company
- Independent consultants working for the telecom company in the area of land use and site acquisition (ie Powder River
- Utility company who has rights to the pole (PGE or PP& L )
- City of Portland Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management supervised by Commissioner Saltzman
- City of Portland Bureau of Development Services
- City of Portland Office of Transportation
- Land owners on property adjacent to the pole, if auxiliary equipment is located on private land
- Neighbors near the pole
Regulatory agencies include:
- Federal Communications Commission
- Public Utilities Commission
- City of Portland—mulitiple agencies, see above
City of Portland Regulations for Siting Cell Towers in the Public Right of Way
Ordinance Adopt Application Process & Siting
Final map street priorities
Amendments to Right of Way Agreements
Wireless Facility Application Checklist
Process for siting antennas in the public right of way
Early in the process, the utility companies identify poles where they will allow pole extensions and wireless antennas. Telecommunications companies pay siting consultants to choose a site and do the administrative work for the permit. The site choice is driven by "coverage need" and limited by what the utility company says is allowable. Siting consultants should be using the City of Portland's Priority Street map to find utility poles on the lowest priority streets before siting on Priority 4 streets in residential neighborhoods. ( See 25 Final map Street Priorities).
All cell towers and antennas require cooling equipment which includes compressors. On PGE poles they can place the equipment boxes, which are roughly the size of a refrigerator, right on the pole. This does not require a land use process. On PP & L poles the equipment box cannot be mounted on the pole so they are placed on the ground near the pole. This requires a land use permit process through Bureau of Development Services and a leasing arrangement with the landowners where the box is placed. Leases are often signed a year before any public notice about the pole goes out.
If a Priority 4 site is chosen then the wireless company is required to hold a meeting to notify the public.City ordinance says that they must send out public notices to affected parties including: neighborhood associations, neighborhood coalitions, residents within 400 feet of the pole, and business associations in the area. (See 28. Wireless Facility Application Checklist ). City officials are not required to attend those meetings. Wireless companies usually send consultants (not employees) to represent them at the meeting.
Thirty days after the proper meetings are held the telecom company can submit their application including a checklist to OCCFM. OCCFM does not do a technical review.. They rely on the telecom companies' RF engineer reports for demonstration of need for coverage and the siting consultants' reports to show that public meetings were conducted properly. OCCFM collects the fees for the poles. It is our understanding that the fees go to a general fund and not into a dedicated fund.
OCCFM makes sure the checklist is complete, approves it, and then sends it on to the City of Portland's Office of Transportation for final review and permitting. It is not clear if anyone in the City reviews issues like earthquake safety, wind shear, actual RF emissions, etc. related to these antennas in the right of way.
Construction can start once the permit is approved by the Bureau of Transportation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. A cell tower is proposed on a utility pole in my neighborhood. What can I do?
You have a right to an open, honest process, but you will have to be your own advocate. We advise you to ask questions, verify information, document all communication, research, and seek publicity for your efforts.
Ask questions: A list of questions to pose to wireless providers and city officials follows.
Verify: Always verify what the wireless providers or their representatives and city officials say is appropriate or legal or allowable.
Document: Keep all paperwork and emails related to the proposed pole, including the notice of the meeting. Follow up phone calls with emails verifying the conversation. Keep dated notes of conversations and emails for yourself.
Research: Learn the local ordinances. Find out all you can about the company who is proposing the cell tower. Research land use ordinances. Find out what other neighborhoods and municipalities have done. Investigate the Portland zoning code. Look into the Oregon Public Utility Commission and their laws.
Seek publicity: It is important to share information. Contact the press. No outlet is too small. Write an article for your neighborhood newsletter or send meeting notices to local calendars. Write letters to the editor.
Advocate for change:
Contact the Portland City Council and tell them you want new ordinances about cell towers in the Public Right of Way. We are working to develop new ordinance language and get a hearing time scheduled.
Go to www.cloutnow.org and sign the petition to repeal the health preemption in Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act.
Q. Why do city officials and the wireless company representatives keep telling me this is not a cell tower?
What most people would call a cell tower on a utility pole is called “Wireless facilities in the Public Right of Way” by the City of Portland. This is not simply bureaucratic lingo. It is a legal distinction. Wireless facilities in the Public Right of Way are permitted through an administrative process, not a land use process. Free standing cell tower permits require the more rigorous land use process. They also have higher fees.
Q. If the wireless company removes a utility pole and replaces it with a metal structure for an antenna, wouldn't that be considered a cell tower.
It is not entirely clear whether replacing a utility pole with another pole is truly just a replacement as stated in Portland ordinances or whether the new pole is actually a monopole. If it is a mono pole it is seen by the FCC as a new tower. This is an issue that would probably need to be argued in court.
Q. OCCFM says that private wireless companies are utilities. Is that true?
Not exactly. Cell phones could be considered a utility and some cell phone providers are registered utilities. But internet service providers like Clearwire are not registered as utilities. Some would argue that being able to watch a football game in the back of your car is not exactly a vital utility like water and gas.
Q. Why are so many cell towers going in the Public right of way?
The city says that putting wireless antennas in the Public Right of Way was in response to public demand. By allowing cell towers to be sited in the Public Right of Way, any utility pole can be a potential site for a wireless antenna. Unless we regulate this more closely, we will increasingly have more antennas in residential neighborhoods, close to our homes and schools.
Siting in the Public Right of Way has many benefits for the wireless companies. The costs are lower because antennas on utility poles have lower fees, a less rigorous permitting process, and use pre-existing structures instead of new towers. Equipment can be mounted on PGE poles, eliminating the need to pay lease fees.
Another factor in the proliferation of cell towers is wireless broadband internet service. Services like WiMax, promise seamless internet service in your car, or wherever you are. This requires lots of antennas placed close together.
Q. Are wireless companies who are putting wireless antennas on utility poles taxed as utilities?
No, at least not consistently. A 2009 Audit of OCCFM says that:
"...traditional landline phone companies pay a 7% fee based on the gross revenues from providing dial tone service. Newer competitive landline phone companies, however, pay a 5 percent fee on a broader base that includes the revenue from internet services. Cable companies pay a 5 percent fee on cable television service, and an additional 3 percent for other public benefits. As of January 2009, cable companies will also pay a 5 percent fee on the phone service they provide. Most wireless phone and internet providers do not pay any fee on gross revenues, but pay only a franchise fee for each utility pole attachment." Page 12
"OCCFM staff estimate the potential revenue from expanding the utility tax to cover all telecommunications providers at a consistent rate would be approximately $13 million per year." Page 16
See complete report: http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?a=243738&c=49566
Q. How can I stop a cell tower?
We don't have an exact formula for this, but below are some steps that neighborhoods have taken to respond to cell tower proposals on utility poles in their neighborhoods. These were mostly developed by reading the ordinances closely (See City of Portland regulations for siting a tower in the Public Right of Way) and making sure the wireless provider adhered to them.
Before the Public Meeting
Look at notice of meeting closely and answer these questions. This is important because once the meeting has been held the clock starts ticking on your application. The carrier can submit their application thirty days after the public notice meeting and start construction as soon as the application is approved.
- Were the notices received least 14 days and at most 30 days in advance of the meeting?
- What is the date of the meeting? When was the notice sent out?
- What contact information was given on the meeting notice?
- Was the contact information correct on the notice? Is the telephone number correct?
- Were all property owners and occupants within 400 feet of the pole notified?
- To help you verify this you can go to Portland Maps www.PortlandMaps.com and enter the pole address. Use the scale at the bottom and approximate a circle with a radius of 400 feet around the pole. Now you can knock on your neighbors doors and ask if they received notice. Note that tenants and owners of rental units must be notified.
- The Portland Maps site also gives information about the name of the owner for each property.
- Click on the property on the map and then click on “Property” link in the Explorer links in the upper right hand corner of the page.
- People in one neighborhood used a surveying tool to measure the 400 feet from the pole to the residents around it.
- Were the notices sent out in the languages of the property owners and building occupants? Although this is not part of the ordinance, proper notification should include necessary translations.Was your neighborhood association, business association, and district coalition notified? Every Portland neighborhood has a neighborhood association, a district coalition and and business association. Using the links on the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement page, contact your neighborhood association, district coalition, and business association and verify that they were contacted.
- Neighborhood Association link: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=59267
- Business Association link: http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=59269
- District Coalition or equivalent link: http://www.portlandonline.com/oni/index.cfm?c=28388
We recommend contacting all the board members of the neighborhood association, including the chair and the land use committee chair. It is also helpful to contact the Land Use chair of the District Coalition.
Note: in some locations there may be more than one neighborhood association or business association. Make sure both were contacted.
Make sure there are enough handouts
Before the meeting, contact wireless company representative and OCCFM. Tell them you want enough handouts for at least 50 people. One thing they have done repeatedly is to bring only a few handouts with RF coverage maps and a site plan and photos. Then they say "We didn't expect a crowd."
Publicize the meeting
Make a flyer and get it around your neighborhood.
Make sure you have someone to videotape the meeting.
Organize questions or comments. Download copies of questions for wireless providers and/or background on health effects.
Make signs and bring them in to the meeting.
Make lawn signs.
Make bumper stickers
At the Meeting
Bring copies of the “Questions for Wireless Providers” section of this toolkit, to help people at the meeting ask informed questions.
Bring a sign up sheet so you can get people's names and contact information.
Make sure you get and keep a copy of any information that the wireless company representative hands out. Look at any information they hand out closely. We have found discrepancies in many of documents, from the height of the pole to inconsistent, unlabeled RF maps.
Designate one or more people to video-record the meeting. At a minimum tape record and take photos. Make sure that at least one of you gets a copy of whatever the city and or Clearwire (or Clearwire contacts) hand out, including RF coverage maps and all of the site plan. Ask the wireless representative to send you an electronic copy.
Ask if there are any Clearwire (or other wireless company) employees attending the meeting. Usually the person leading the meeting are consultants rather than Clearwire employees, but at some meeting Clearwire engineers have attended. Note that in other cities Clearwire has sent out consultants who have given out erroneous information and then said that
They will likely ask you to propose an alternative site. Siting cell towers is NOT our responsibility It is up to Clearwire to thoroughly research appropriate sites, and it is up to the city to make them follow the ordinances. It is not fair to our neighbors to propose sites near other homes.
Do not assume that the consultant is familiar with the site. Someone else may have selected it and done the paperwork.
In some Portland neighborhoods, pole locations have been changed, equipment has been vaulted, the city has been forced to take a closer look at the application all due to people speaking up.
At other meetings neighbors have brought signs, called the press, organized speeches. Building a movement of people.
After the Meeting
Document anything you think is important.
Get a copy of the application when it is filed in the OCCFM office. Compare the information on the application to the Portland ordinances.
Keep the issue in the public eye by holding demonstrations, speaking during public comment time at City Council meetings, making updates at the Neighborhood Association meetings, sending updates to your mailing list etc. Be creative. Beaumont Wilshire neighbors held a bake sale/demonstration near the pole during rush hour. Children made signs to put on the pole with their vision of what they would want there instead of a tower. Send a short report to RespectPDX and we will put it on our website. Write a report of the meeting and submit it to local newspapers.
Keep an eye on the site. If you see any sign of construction, go investigate. For example, Clearwire started construction before any permit had been issued in Beaumont Wilshire. Construction was halted when neighbors contacted OCCFM, the Bureau of Transportation and the press. There is still no cell tower at the 37th and Fremont site in Beaumont Wilshire. The initial notices for a public meeting went out a year ago.
Consult an attorney to explore your legal options if the site is approved.
Work to change city, state and Federal laws to improve oversight and regulation of the telecommunications industry in our communities.
See the CLOUT website: www.cloutnow.org.
Questions for wireless providers
- Are you going to use the existing wooden pole and put an extension on it?
- Are you going to replace the existing pole? What will it be replaced with?
- Can you add more antennas to this pole later? Can other providers?
- What are the RF emissions from the antennas as designed at 20 ft, 50ft, 100ft?
- How do emissions from these antennas differ from WiFi antennas? From a cell tower that just provides cell service?
- How many antennas are proposed and can you explain their individual function? What is the RF emission of the proposed tower in Microwatts per centimeter squared? Is that from one antenna or the cumulative antennas?
- Are you aware of the Salzburg Resolution which recommends emissions of .1 microwatt per square centimeter? Are you also aware that the current U.S. standard for radiation exposure from cell phone towers is 580-1,000 microwatts per sq. cm. (mW/cm2), among the least protective in the world?
Priority 4 Street Alternatives
- As the site selected is a Priority 4 street, what alternative sites were looked at and why were they rejected? What are the addresses of the alternative sites?
- How far apart do these antennas need to be to get complete coverage of the city?
Portland Wireless Networks
- How many are of your company's antennas are in Portland now?
- How many more do you anticipate before your coverage of Portland is complete? Will there be any more in this neighborhood?
- Can you provide a map of metropolitan Portland with all the installations for our company on it so far, all pending with applications in or due in the next 3 months and all planned installations including antennas, towers, utility pole antennas, relay stations and other related equipment?
- How many towers will be needed for this area, how many towers will be within a 1 mile range of this tower?
- Who is in charge of seismic safety for these poles?
- Can you tell us about wind shear dangers?
- Who designed the sound-proofing for this installation? Did you use an acoustical engineer?
- Can the equipment cabinet be vaulted? What will the noise be like with a vaulted equipment cabinet?
- Has your company had complaints about noise from its installations?
- Has your company received any noise violations from the city? How many? How long do the noise issues take to resolve?
- Does your company have a noise-issue complaint process?
- What will the noise level of our proposed cooling unit be? Where is it going to be located?
- How does the alarm system work? Is the alarm connected to a remote location? If not connected isn’t there a safety risk, or why need an alarm?
- For PGE areas: Why are you mounting the equipment cabinet on the pole when other similar installations have had prolonged noise issues resulting in noise violations? Can't you put the equipment cabinet in another place?
- Did your company file an application with the State Historical Preservation Office? How will this tower affect the historic status of our neighborhood?
- What impact will this installation have on nearby trees?
- Dr Henry Lai, who has done research on the effect of RF radiation on DNA did his own analysis of 336 published papers. Industry-funded studies, he says, are roughly twice as likely as government-funded ones to conclude that cellphones are harmless. Your response?
- What is your response to the studies that show an increased rate of cancer for people living near cell towers?
- Melinda Wenner, a Science writer with a background in cell biology wrote this: “The industry has indeed funded a number of trials on the potential effects of cellphone radiation, but the results of those studies differ markedly from those funded by the government or other public agencies. In short, industry-funded research tends to show no cause for concern; the findings of other studies suggest a need for precaution.” What is your response?
- Wenner also wrote: “In a paper published last year in Environmental Health Perspectives, Swiss researchers reported that of the studies published between 1995 and 2005, which investigated whether controlled exposure to radio frequency radiation affected humans, 82 percent of those funded by public agencies, and 71 percent of those funded by a combination of industry and public money, reported that there were effects; only 33 percent of the solely industry-funded studies did.” What is your response?
Company's Legal Status In Oregon
- Is your company a licensed utility in Oregon?
- Is your company registered with the Public Utility Commission?
- Is your company considered a telecommunications provider?
- Does your company provide emergency services like 911 calls?
- Is your company doing door to door sales in this neighborhood? Is your company working with any other companies in sales?
- How many complaints have been filed with the Oregon Attorney General against your company? For what? How were they resolved?
Clearwire's Sales Practices
- In 2009 Clearwire announced a partnership with Pinnacle Security for door to door sales. Are you still working with them? Are you aware that in March 2010 Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced a deal that bans Pinnacle Security from deceptive tactics. Also, the company must return money to customers who signed contracts after a deceptive sales pitch.
- How many complaints have been filed with the Oregon Attorney General against Clearwire? For what? How were they resolved? How many complaints have been filed with Oregon Attorney Gen against Pinnacle since March 2009?
- To the consultant: Can you give us your contact information including phone number and email address?
- Can you give us contact information for the employee at the wireless company who is in charge of this installation?
- Can you give us contact information for the PGE/PP &L person who is in charge of this installation?
- Since PP & L is in charge of the pole replacement, is there a PP&L representative here?
- Since PGE is in charge of the pole replacement, is there a PP&L representative here?
- If Utility representative is not present: Can City representative or company representative tell us why not?
- If Utility representative is present ask them: Can you tell us why this site was chosen? What other sites were considered?
Questions for the City
- How does the administrative process differ for siting antennas in Historical Districts? Doesn’t that require a land use hearing?
- Is a land use hearing required for the vaulted equipment or any other part of this installation? When will that take place?
- Does the Office of Transportation gives final approval for these antennas? For antennas that are not located in the Right-of-Way who gives approval? Who is the contact in the Office of Transportation for this application?
- Can you send a City representative to the neighborhood meetings for wireless facilities in the PROW?
- Can you require representatives from the utility companies (PGE and PP &L) to attend the meeting so questions can be answered.
- If questions are not answered in the meeting by the wireless company representative, how can we ensure that they are answered? If questions are unanswered can the wireless company still file an application thirty days later?
Real Estate Value/Historic District
- What will the estimated impact of a cell antenna be on real estate values?
- Is the City prepared to compensate homeowners for those losses?
- What impact will this have on a neighborhood's designation as a historic district? Would the process differ if this was already a designated historic district?
Legal Status Of The Wireless Company
- Is this company a licensed utility in Oregon?
- Is this company registered with the Public Utility Commission?
- Is this company considered a telecommunications provider?
- If they are not considered a telecommunications provider, do they have the same rights to locate in the Public Right-of-Way as a telecommunications provider? What statutes explain this? If they are not a telecom provider do they still fall under the FCC's Telecommunications ACT?
Clearwire Consultants And Responsibilities
- Why isn't the company sending an employee here to make the presentations?
- Are the statements by the consultant legally binding?
Public Access To Wireless Network Installations
- We have heard that you expect 800 more antennas and that the city has 400 installed now. Is that correct? If not could you give us the correct number? Where is the map of wireless antennas and cell towers for the City of Portland? Is it available on-line? If not, why not?
Utility Taxes And The May 2009 OCCFM Audit
- A 2009 audit ("UTILITY AND FRANCHISE REVENUE: Equitable tax and consistent approach needed to improve collections") said that OCCFM was allowing up to thirteen million dollars annually in tax breaks for wireless companies. What has OCCFM changed since the May 2009 audit? Have you expanded the utility tax to cover all providers?
Note: May 2009 report from City Auditor states "traditional landline phone companies pay a 7% fee based on the gross revenues from providing dial tone service. Newer competitive landline phone companies, however, pay a 5 percent fee on a broader base that includes the revenue from internet services. Cable companies pay a 5 percent fee on cable television service, and an additional 3 percent for other public benefits. As of January 2009, cable companies will also pay a 5 percent fee on the phone service they provide. Most wireless phone and internet providers do not pay any fee on gross revenues, but pay only a franchise fee for each utility pole attachment." p12 of Audit.
"OCCFM staff estimate the potential revenue from expanding the utility tax to cover all telecommunications providers at a consistent rate would be approximately $13 million per year." p 16 of Audit
See complete report: http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?a=243738&c=49566
- If you cannot answer these questions can you please refer me to someone who can?
The information in this pamphlet was compiled by RespectPDX and represents our best research since November 2009. We are a volunteer organization of neighborhood advocates. For legal advice contact an attorney.
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