MCF Calls on NSW Education Department to Drop Buffer Zone Policy

The Mobile Carriers Forum today met with the NSW Department of Education to convey the industry's views in relation to the Department’s buffer zone policy requiring mobile phone base stations to be kept 500 metres from schools.

The Department’s Policy, which was first applied in 1997, requires a “500m buffer distance” between schools and proposed mobile network telecommunications facilities. Over the past 12 months, the MCF has identified a number of cases where the Department’s policy has been highlighted in supporting written objections to proposed mobile network base stations, citing their proximity to schools, health concerns and the DET’s “Mobile Telecommunications Policies”.

MCF Program Manager Matt Evans has told Departmental representatives that the Policy has no regard for the way mobile network facilities operated. “A buffer zone between schools and mobile phone towers is fundamentally flawed. Buffer zones can severely restrict community development and could create reception black spots or network congestion, which would deny Australians access to the safety, business and personal benefits of mobile communications”, he said.

The MCF has found that if the Department’s Policy of 500m buffer zones was uniformly applied around all schools then at least 58% of the Willoughby Council area, 83% of Leichhardt Council area and 60% of the built up area of the Sutherland Shire would have no mobile network coverage at all. “The Policy is not being applied uniformly and we note that the Department has not ruled out building schools within 500m of existing mobile network facilities. The Policy is 11 years old, flawed and should be withdrawn” said Mr Evans.

The MCF advised the Department that just as schools are located close to the residential communities to service the educational needs, so too are mobile network facilities, which seek to address the telecommunications needs of the same community. Today’s educational environment is more reliant than ever on interactive applications where students, teachers and administrators can access the internet via Wi-Fi and wireless broadband services. The increasing demands to improve the quality of education in NSW will necessitate greater levels of accessibility to wireless technologies. This objective will be frustrated if reliable, high quality services are unavailable due to incompatible policies within the Department.

“If a telecommunications facility was to be sited further from a school the facility may in fact need to operate at a higher power level to operate effectively. This could result in higher exposures at the school, which would be inconsistent with a “precautionary approach” that aims to minimise emissions. In reality, the huge body of global scientific analyses, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and our own local regulatory/research agency ARPANSA, clearly indicates that there is no evidence of adverse health impacts arising from mobile telecommunications infrastructure”, said Mr Evans.