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New regs mean consultation before new cell towers are built

Industry Minister James Moore makes an announcement in Ottawa on Wednesday, February 5, 2014., regarding Canada's wireless industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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Industry Minister James Moore makes an announcement in Ottawa on Wednesday, February 5, 2014., regarding Canada's wireless industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA - The federal government trying to mitigate an irritant for some municipalities and resident groups by expanding the rules governing construction of new cellphone towers.

Under a new Industry Canada policy announced Wednesday, wireless companies will now have to consult with communities before building new towers, no matter what their height.

"New rules will mean that citizens will be better informed and better able to engage in the decision-making about where new antennas are going to be constructed in their communities," Industry Minister James Moore told a news conference.

But while consultation will be necessary, companies won't have to win the approval of local residents before building a tower.

Cell service providers will only have to satisfy the concerns of municipal governments.

Cellphone companies will also have to build their proposed towers within three years of the consultations.

If they aren't built within that time, the community consultation process must begin again, said Moore.

"Today, when somebody gets a permit to build a tower, there can be a great delay, an entire community can develop, and then a tower is erected and people were not aware of it," he said.

"Now there's going to be a timeline on that, because in the past this no limit could mean that companies could wait a very long time and residents could be surprised at the creation of a new tower in their community without their consent."

Existing rules require consultations only if the towers are higher than 15 metres.

Companies are also required to piggyback on the towers of other cell providers first, if possible, before building new antennas.

In August last year, opponents of a plan to build a cellphone tower in a St. John's neighbourhood felt powerless against a telecom giant.

They fought Bell Mobility's plan to erect a tower in the middle of a residential area, very close to an elementary school. The company backed down, but not before the battle created animosity in the community.

The new rules are meant to ensure local residents are well informed and involved before decisions are made on tower locations.

A group representing the majority of the country's cities and towns applauds the change.

"We all know that demand for wireless communications is rising, requiring more antenna systems to be built in or near Canadian communities," Federation of Canadian Municipalities president Claude Dauphin said in a statement.

"But we have to make sure that when that happens, it is done in a way that respects the needs of our communities."

The rule change does not impact the construction of radio towers on top of highrise buildings.

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