Residents revive fight against cell tower
More than 200 objectors along with the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce are opposing a second attempt by Digicel Bermuda to obtain planning permission for a mobile cell tower in Devonshire.
The communications company’s earlier effort failed after residents appealed the Development Applications Board’s approval of the plan. Minister of Home Affairs Senator Michael Fahy reversed the DAB decision, citing that Digicel had not provided evidence that co-location with other towers was not possible.
The new application, which was received by the Department of Planning on February 13, is almost identical to the original application, objectors claim.
Digicel is requesting approval for a 65ft “cell-site on wheels” capable of extending 100ft, which it would like to see raised at 49 South Road.
This time, the company has included a co-location study, which states that the existing cell service in the area is poor and that co-location on existing towers is not feasible.
Nicole Renaud, who signed as the representative of the more than 235 objectors, along with BEST, Dr Deborah Daly and Karen Gonsalves, penned a joint letter of objection, and have asked director of planning Aideen Ratteray Pryce to copy all the documents from the first application on to the new application’s file.
They argue that Sen Fahy’s main grounds for allowing the appeal was that Digicel had provided insufficient information to show “every effort was made to utilise or share an existing support structure”.
They said: “In the new application Digicel still has not provided evidence that negotiations took place regarding co-locating, and exactly why it wasn’t feasible.”
Objectors also say CellOne’s signal strength near Digicel’s proposed site is “significantly better” than the applicants’ coverage.
“Could Digicel leverage off of the CellOne tower(s) covering this area and co-locate to achieve a better signal? If so, how much improvement could Digicel experience to their signal strength?”
The objectors also asked how extensive Digicel’s research had been.
“Specifically when and how was testing conducted? Demand for voice and data services may be higher or lower at certain times of day and days of the week dependent on number of users, volume of use, et cetera,” the objectors said.
They also said that Digicel has “still not stated the real need for this tower”.
“During the hearing for application P0389/13 held on August 13, 2014, Digicel claimed that the need is based on demand from their customers due to lack of coverage in the area, however no evidence was offered to validate this,” they said.
“Are there documented reports of customer complaints? Have surveys been conducted when customers were specifically asked if they wanted to have better coverage in the area?”
The objectors said they surveyed area residents and most said they were willing to live with non-perfect coverage if it meant the tower would not be put up.
“This essentially serves as a measure of evidence to the contrary of Digicel’s claim,” they said.
The objectors also asked whether the Regulatory Authority’s spectrum reallocation, announced in December, meant that there was still a need for the planned tower.
“Wayne Caines, then CEO of Digicel, indicated there may not be in a Royal Gazette article on December 24, 2013, entitled ‘Freeing up the airwaves could do away with the need for more towers’, says Digicel boss.”
They suggested that the DAB ask the Regulatory Authority about required tower numbers.
The objectors also raised broader issues in their objection. They stated that they have noted in their previous objection: “There were no clear guidelines surrounding over-intensification as well as the fact that the most recent data describing the number of towers/masts/antennae in Bermuda was as at 2009, and ... the fact that there is no radiofrequency (RF) emissions monitoring programme in place in Bermuda.”
The DAB had asked for a guidance note that would prescribe the acceptable number of towers, and an RF monitoring plan “to ensure there is no detrimental impact caused to the public”.
The board had also requested data from the RA to track telecommunications towers and other installations throughout Bermuda, the objectors pointed out.
“None of our concerns have been addressed and none of the DAB’s requests have been actioned,” they said. “Therefore, we believe that no applications for new towers/masts/antennae, etc, should be considered until such time that this has occurred.”
The objectors also argued: “If the DAB continues to approve applications for tower after tower, we strongly feel that it will not give providers the push needed to move towards a more sustainable future for telecommunications in Bermuda.
“We, in fact, believe that denying these applications would be a positive way to encourage them to explore better long-term solutions, starting now.”