Mobile phone base station roll-out and service levels threatened by Greens Bill, warns industry

The mobile telecommunications industry is concerned that a highly prescriptive Greens Bill on mobile phone towers will make it harder to deploy vital national infrastructure to cater for huge consumer demand for services, such as mobile broadband, and result in reduced service levels for mobile phone users.


Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) Chief Executive Officer, Chris Althaus, said the industry believed that Greens Leader Bob Brown’s Bill to withdraw the low-impact determination and introduce buffer zones would undermine efficient deployment of base stations and place unworkable burdens on local councils’ approval processes.


“Senator Brown’s Bill cuts across community consultation on a revised deployment code to help ensure that communities are properly consulted on the placement of mobile base stations in local areas,” he said.


“Co-operation on a new Mobile Phone Base Station Deployment Code with community representation is well advanced and it is counterproductive that Senator Brown has chosen to ignore this transparent and open process with his political intervention, which threatens to result in poor outcomes in no-one’s interest, let alone the community’s.”


Mr Althaus said Senator Brown’s call to scrap the Telecommunications (Low-impact Facilities) Determination, which allows industry to roll-out critical infrastructure in a timely and efficient manner, will result in local governments being flooded with development applications for minor works and blocking the deployment process.


“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 Band, which is in high demand throughout the economy with growth projections in the order of 280% to 2014.


“The Greens’ Bill would delay deployment of base stations and the necessary upgrading of existing facilities, place increasing pressure on network capacity, increase network enhancement costs and reduce services as operators try to cope with expected traffic loads.”


The proposal to have the Australian standard reviewed every five years was misguided because mobile base stations are designed, built and tested to comply with strict science-based safety standards, which take a precautionary approach by having substantial in-built safety margins. The World Health Organization (WHO) says:


Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.


An audit of base stations across Australia by Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) found some sites, even those expected to have the highest levels, emit less than 0.001 per cent of the safety standard, or 100,000 times below the standard.


Mr Althaus said the Greens had failed to realise that higher levels of radio frequency energy have been in the environment long before mobile phone base stations appeared.


A nationwide study conducted by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) found TV, AM and FM radio were by far the most significant contributors of radio frequency emissions in the environment (98%). Mobile phone base stations contributed only a small part of environmental levels (2%).


Mr Althaus said advice to site base stations more than 200m away from homes and schools is based on the mistaken belief that the further a base station is away from people the less they would be exposed to the radio signals it uses to communicate.


“Mobile phones and base stations are designed to operate at the lowest power to make a quality call. Base stations adapt their output depending on the number of calls and the distance of handsets from the base station. The further a base station is built from residential areas requiring coverage, the more power it needs to operate, which increases exposure to radio frequency magnetic fields – although these levels are still very low and compliant with Australia’s safety standards,” he said.


“The best location to build base stations to minimise emissions is closest to where those services are required.”


Mr Althaus said this was one example of a number of approaches taken in this Bill which do not reflect operational reality or the consensus on scientific opinion on health and safety issues.


For more information contact Randal Markey, AMTA, (02) 6239 6555 or 0421 240 550