CELLTOWER SITING FACT SHEETS YOU SHOULD READ AND KNOW
WIRELESS TELECOMMUNICATIONS BUREAU FACTS SHEETS HOLD ANSWERS TO SOME OF YOUR MOST PRESSING QUESTIONS
By Jane Celltower
Here are a few highlights from Fact Sheet 2, as provided by the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau. Education and knowledge will enable you to present your case, as well as inform small city, county, alike, with the basic fundamental facts concerning wireless communications, and the siting (location site), of cell phone towers. The information contained within these two fact sheets, will provide easy to read information, that will answer some of your most pressing questions. As is always the case, the information provided should be the catalyst to your own research, education, and knowledge. Most especially in regards to RF emissions, and health issues.
INFORMATION FACT SHEETS 1, AND 2, OF THE WIRELSS TELECOMMUNICATIONS BUREAU - SITING POLICIES
Highlights provided by Jane Celltower...
6. Does the Commission maintain any records on the locations of personal wireless
structures throughout the United States?
Answer: The Commission maintains site information on antenna structures that may affect air
navigation, including (1) antenna structures located over 200 feet above ground, and (2) antenna
structures that are in close proximity to airport runways. Antenna structures that do
not exceed 20 feet above existing landscape or buildings, however, are not included. Site
information for structures built prior to July 1, 1996, is contained in the Commission's "tower file"
database. Site information for structures built after July 1, 1996, as well as an increasing number
of structures built before that date, is contained in the Commission's "antenna registration"
database. The registration database will contain all the tower file information by July 1998.
Additionally, the Commission's cellular and SMR licensing databases contain some site
information for base stations in those services.
For a fee, you can request a search of the tower file or antenna registration databases through
International Transcription Service, Inc. (ITS), 2100 M Street, N.W., Suite 140, Washington, DC
20037, at (202) 857-3800. You may also view the antenna registration database on-line using the
Commission's ASR Electronic Filing/Viewing Software. For more information on this software,
please call (800) 322-1117.
The cellular and SMR databases are available for on-line viewing in the Public Reference Room of
the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau's Commercial Wireless Division, located on the fifth
floor of 2025 M Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20554. For more information, you may contact
the Reference Room at (202) 418-1350. You may also obtain on-line access from a remote
location, by contacting Interactive Systems, Inc., 1601 North Kent Street, Suite 1103, Arlington,
VA 22209, at (703) 812-8270. However, because PCS licensees are issued a blanket license for
their entire geographic area, the Commission does not maintain any information in its databases
on the specific locations of any PCS base stations, unless they fall into the categories listed above.
7. Some people consider personal wireless service facilities to be unsightly. Is there some
way to make these structures blend in with their surroundings?
Answer: Antennas for personal wireless services can sometimes be mounted on existing
structures such as building roof tops, church steeples, street lights, traffic lights, or electric utility
substations, where they are relatively unobtrusive. Painting antenna structures to blend in with
the existing structure is also an effective camouflage. Camouflaging of antennas is also used to
accommodate highly specialized land use concerns. For example, a personal wireless service
provider seeking to locate a transmitter site in a historic district may consider camouflaging the
antenna in such structures as clock towers or artificial trees. Such camouflaging is, however,
expensive and time consuming and most service providers are reluctant to routinely use the
8. What types of information exchanges should occur at the beginning of the local
zoning process that would be helpful both to local and state governments and to
personal wireless service providers?
Answer: From the perspective of the local and state governments, it is helpful for the wireless
service provider to supply as much advance information as possible about the nature of its service
offerings and the "big picture" plan for service deployment. Local zoning authorities have a
strong interest in becoming fully informed about exactly what they are authorizing, and what will
be the long-term effects of facilities siting on land use in their communities. Many personal
wireless service providers have found it helpful to organize seminars aimed at acquainting local
zoning authorities with their services. Community outreach is also a productive way for new
wireless service providers to pave the way for introduction of their offerings. Personal wireless
service providers may be able to expedite the zoning authorization process if they target, where
possible, site locations that are compatible with the proposed use, such as industrial zones, utility
rights of way and pre-existing structures.
From the perspective of the personal wireless service provider, knowing what to expect in the
zoning process is the primary concern. Therefore, state and local authorities should endeavor to
provide wireless service providers with a clear picture of the zoning authorization process in
advance. It is also helpful for zoning authorities to share information about their land use
priorities to determine where and how wireless service facilities fit into the plans. Finally, keep in
mind that wireless telecommunications systems are very dynamic. Personal wireless services are
thus designed to respond quickly to customer demands which may change dramatically as a result
of the construction of new highways and roads and the development of new residential and
9. How do personal wireless service providers approach state and local governments to
request authorization to construct, place or modify their facilities?
Answer: A personal wireless service provider may have an internal antenna facilities siting team
which seeks potential sites for the company's own needs, or it may hire an independent contractor
to seek potential sites. Some of these independent facilities siting companies may be working on
behalf of more than one Commission licensee at a time, or they may not be seeking sites for any
Commission licensees at all. The local zoning authorities should therefore be aware that a
facilities siting company may not be seeking the sites that are of most interest to particular
Commission licensees, but rather seek general sites on highly elevated locations in the hopes of
leasing the sites, in turn, to Commission licensees.
10. Can personal wireless service providers share common structures to house their
Answer: Yes, it is possible for these entities to share structures. Sharing of structures by several
wireless service providers is typically referred to as "collocation." The Commission encourages
collocation of antenna structures to the extent technologically feasible, and recommends that local
zoning authorities engage the parties in cooperative efforts to chart the potential overlap of
desirable locations, in order to minimize the number of antenna structures to be sited. It has also
been our experience that personal wireless service providers are responsive to positive incentives
to collocate, such as, for example, processing the zoning application of a collocating facility more
quickly. There are, however, limitations on collocation, and it should not be viewed as a
complete solution to all land use concerns associated with the deployment of personal wireless
First, there are physical limitations on how many transmitters a single structure can sustain.
Different tower structures have different structural tolerances. In general, there are other
technical issues that the service provider must consider, including the evaluation of interference
and compliance with the Commission's RF emissions criteria. In addition, personal wireless
services will deploy a variety of technologies that will require differing site configurations to
provide subscribers with quality service. It is also important to note that as additional service
providers enter the market, they will tailor their offerings to market demands that remain
unsatisfied, so that while the first two providers in the community may be able to share a site
because they seek to provide similar service to a similar market, the third provider may require a
new site configuration because it intends, for example, to provide wireless Internet access to the
community's educational institutions. For this third provider, collocation with the first two
providers may therefore be technically or economically problematic. Additionally, because
collocation groups many pieces of equipment on a single structure, collocation may result in
larger and more obtrusive and unsightly structures than multiple, discrete installations of
individual antennas and transmitters.
It should also be kept in mind that personal wireless service providers are fierce competitors that
are often deploying the first commercial use of a particular technology. As a result, the providers
may be unwilling to share their siting plans, particularly actual site locations, because they
consider these plans proprietary business information, or they may be reluctant to engage in group
discussions with their competitors about siting because such conduct could be viewed as
Finally, because these services are new technologies, it will be difficult to predict the exact
location of all sites at the time of initial service deployment, and adjustments may be necessary
along the way. New technologies also present unique technical challenges. Attempts by state and
local governments to "reengineer" these new technologies and service offerings may have
unpredictable effects on service quality and coverage. At the same time, the new law recognizes
the legitimacy of local zoning and land use concerns. Service providers and local zoning
authorities are thus encouraged to work together to develop ways to protect the proprietary
nature of siting plans yet still yield information that can be useful to local zoning authorities for
developing overall zoning plans for personal wireless facilities.
11. How quickly must state or local zoning authorities process applications for new
personal wireless antenna structures?
Answer: Section 704 of the 1996 Act states that local authorities are required to act upon an
application for a facility site within a reasonable period of time. The Conference Report
accompanying Section 704 explains that the "nature and scope" of each request should be taken
into account. The Conference Report further explains that "[i]f a request for placement of a
personal wireless facility involves a zoning variance or a public hearing or comment process, the
time period for rendering a decision will be the usual period under such circumstances. It is not
the intent of this provision to give preferential treatment to the personal wireless service industry
in the processing of requests, or to subject their requests to any but the generally applicable time
frame for zoning decision."
Some state and local governments have adopted, or have considered adopting, "freezes" on the
processing of facilities siting applications in anticipation of an increase in applications for personal
wireless antenna structures. Many state or local governments believe that such freezes or
moratoria are necessary because they are being asked to evaluate long-term land use issues
without having relevant ordinances in place, and in some instances without the information they
need to make these types of global assessments. Freezes of this nature are not looked upon
favorably by personal wireless service providers because the providers are generally concerned
that moratoria (especially those that are open-ended or renewable) cause uncertainty and
disruption to their business plans. In addition, wireless service providers find the lack of certainty
amplified when it is not clear exactly what the state or local government is accomplishing during
the moratorium other than not processing their applications.
While the issue of whether moratoria are consistent with Section 704 is being developed in the
courts, the Conference Report provides some guidance: "It is the intent of this section that bans
or policies that have the effect of banning personal wireless services or facilities not be allowed
and that decisions be made on a case-by case basis." Moratoria may have a disproportionate
impact on some personal wireless service providers, who may be effectively blocked from entering
the market during the pendency of the freeze, or may be inhibited from further deployment or
improvement of existing service. For one court's opinion on this issue, see Sprint Spectrum, L.P.
v. City of Medina, 924 F. Supp. 1036 (W.D. Wash. 1996).
In certain instances, state and local governments may benefit from a brief, finite period of
consideration in order to set up a process for the orderly handling of facilities siting requests.
These brief periods of consideration may be most effective if the state or local government
communicates clearly to wireless service providers the specific duration of the moratorium, the
tasks that the local governmental entity intends to accomplish during the moratorium and the
ways in which the wireless service providers can help the local government to achieve the stated
goals of the moratorium by, for example, providing additional information about their needs and
about their services.
12. If the state or local zoning authorities deny applications for personal wireless antenna
structures, must the decisions be in writing?
Answer: Yes. Section 704 of the 1996 Act mandates that the decision must be in writing, and
supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record. The Conference Report explains
that "substantial evidence contained in a written record" means "the traditional standard used for
judicial review of agency actions." For one court's opinion on this issue, see BellSouth Mobility
Inc., v. Gwinnett County, No. 1:96-cv-1268-GET (N.D. Ga. Aug. 13, 1996).
13. Section 704 states that state or local governments may not unreasonably discriminate
among providers of functionally equivalent services. What types of state and local
governmental actions constitute unreasonable discrimination?
Answer: It appears that what constitutes "reasonable" discrimination among providers will be
developed in the courts on a case-by-case basis. However, Congress' Conference Report
accompanying Section 704 provides some guidance as well, explaining that the intent of the
conferees is "to ensure that a State or local government does not in making a decision regarding
the placement, construction and modification of facilities of personal wireless services . . .
unreasonably favor one competitor over another." The Conference Report further explains the
intent of the conferees is to "provide localities with the flexibility to treat facilities that create
different visual, aesthetic, or safety concerns differently to the extent permitted under generally
applicable zoning requirements even if those facilities provide functionally equivalent services.
For example, the conferees do not intend that if a State or local government grants a permit in a
commercial district, it must also grant a permit for a competitor's 50-foot tower in a residential
district." As a general matter, there appears to be an expectation that state and local governments
should endeavor to avoid making land use decisions that give one personal wireless service
provider a competitive advantage over another. For one court's opinion on this issue, see
Westel-Milwaukee Co., Inc. v. Walworth County, No. 95-2097, 1996 WL 496670 (Wis. Ct. App.
Sept. 4, 1996).
14. What should I do if the state or local government has acted inconsistently with Section
704, and I have been adversely affected?
Answer: If the state or local governmental action is inconsistent with Section 704, and you are
adversely affected by such action, you may appeal the zoning authority's decision to a court of
competent jurisdiction. Congress' Conference Report which accompanied Section 704 states that
such actions may be filed in the federal district court in which the facilities are located or a State
court of competent jurisdiction, at the option of the party appealing the decision. Section 704
also requires that such action be filed in court within 30 days after the state or local government
acts or fails to act, and courts are directed to rule expeditiously on such cases.
If the decision of a state or local government authority which adversely affects you is based on the
environmental effects of radiofrequency emissions, such decision may be appealed to the courts or
it may be appealed directly to the Commission through a request for Declaratory Ruling, pursuant
to Section 1.2 of the Commission's Rules. Either way, however, the appeal must be filed within
30 days after the state or local government's action.
15. What can the federal government do to accommodate multiple providers of personal
wireless services in seeking antenna structure locations?
Answer: Section 704 of the 1996 Act mandates that the federal government make available
property, rights-of-way, and easements under its control for the placement of new spectrum-based
telecommunications services. It also provides that a presumption may be established to grant such
requests absent unavoidable direct conflict with the government's mission or planned use of the
locations, and that the decisions regarding siting on such locations must be fair, reasonable, and
On August 10, 1995, President Clinton issued an Executive Memorandum directing the
Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), in coordination with other federal
government departments and agencies, to develop procedures to facilitate appropriate access to
federal property for the siting of mobile services antenna structures. In response to this order and
the Congressional mandate, GSA has prepared a manual entitled "Government-Wide Procedures
for Placing Commercial Antennas," which is published in Volume 61, page 14100 of the Federal
Register, issued on March 29, 1996. For more information on the use of federal property to site
wireless antenna facilities, please contact James Herbert, Office of Property Acquisition and
Realty Services, Public Building Service, General Services Administration, at (202) 501-0376, or
write to GSA at 18th & F Streets, NW, Washington, DC 20405.
Section 704 also mandated the Commission to provide technical support to states in order to
encourage them to make property, rights-of-way and easements under their jurisdiction available
for the placement of new spectrum-based telecommunications services. For more information on
how the Commission can be of assistance to the state and local governments in this area, please
contact Steve Markendorff, Chief of the Broadband Branch, Commercial Wireless Division,
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, at (202) 418-0620, or fax (202) 418-1412, or email
RADIOFREQUENCY (RF) EMISSIONS
16. Does Section 704 preempt state and local governments from basing regulation of the
placement, construction or modification of personal wireless facilities directly or
indirectly on the environmental effects of RF emissions?
Answer: Yes. Section 704 states that "No State or local government or instrumentality thereof
may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities
on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such
facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions."
17. Have any studies been conducted on potential health hazards of locating an antenna
structures close to residential communities?
Answer: Many governmental agencies, scientists, engineers and professional associations have
conducted studies of exposure levels due to RF emissions from cellular transmitter facilities.
These levels have been found to be typically thousands of times below the levels considered to be
safe by expert entities such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE),
and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), as reflected in the
Commission's rules governing RF emissions.
18. Has the Commission adopted new guidelines for evaluating RF exposures?
Answer: Yes. In light of revised guidelines developed by the Institute of Electrical and
Electronics Engineers, Inc. and adopted by the American National Standards Institute in 1992
(ANSI/IEEE C95.1-1992), the Commission initiated a proceeding in 1993 to determine whether
the Commission should adopt these guidelines to replace the 1982 ANSI guidelines. Section 704
of the 1996 Act required the Commission to complete this rulemaking proceeding (ET Docket
93-62) and have in place revised RF exposure guidelines by August 7, 1996. The Commission
adopted a Report and Order, FCC 96-326, on August 1, 1996, which revised the guidelines that
the Commission will use to evaluate the environmental effects of transmitters licensed or
authorized by the Commission. The new guidelines governing transmitter facilities become
effective January 1, 1997. Guidelines governing equipment authorization become effective
19. How do the new guidelines differ from the existing guidelines used by the
Answer: The new guidelines are based on recommendations from the public, including federal
health and safety agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and
Drug Administration (FDA). These agencies recommended that we adopt elements of both the
1992 revision of the ANSI standard and the exposure criteria recommended by the National
Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. In certain respects the new guidelines are
more stringent than those used previously by the Commission. For example, exposure limits
allowed for the general public are stricter with respect to exposure from building-mounted and
tower-mounted transmitting antennas as well as from hand-held devices such as cellular
20. Which federal agencies made recommendations to the Commission that formed a basis
for the final rules?
Answer: While Congress vested the Commission with the authority and responsibility for
regulating the environmental effects of RF emissions, four key federal agencies with responsibility
for health and safety filed comments in this proceeding and made specific recommendations.
These agencies were the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Center for Devices and
Radiological Health (CDRH) of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA). In adopting the new guidelines, the Commission paid considerable
deference to the recommendations of these federal agencies, and these agencies have reaffirmed
their support for the Commission's action with letters which are part of the record in this docket.
21. What is the American National Standards Institute?
Answer: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a non-profit, privately funded
membership organization that coordinates the development of voluntary national standards in the
United States. ANSI, based in New York, New York, has a membership composed of over 1200
companies, 250 professional, technical, trade, labor and consumer organizations, and
approximately 30 government agencies. ANSI and IEEE standards are often recognized by many
government agencies and organizations in both the United States and abroad.
22. What is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc?
The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) is the world's largest technical
professional society comprised of over 320,000 engineers throughout the world. IEEE is a nonprofit
organization that promotes the development and application of electrotechnology and
applied sciences for the benefit of humanity, the advancement of the profession and the well being
of its members. The technical objectives of the IEEE focus on advancing the theory and practice
of electrical, electronics and computer engineering, and computer science.
IEEE standards are voluntary and these documents are developed within the Technical
Committees of the IEEE Societies and the Standards Coordinating Committees of the IEEE
Standards Board. Members of these committees serve voluntarily and without compensation and
may or may not be members of the institute. The standards developed within the IEEE represent
a consensus of the broad expertise on the subject within the Institute as well as those activities
outside the IEEE that have expressed an interest in participating in the development of the
23. What is the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements?
Answer: The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) is a nonprofit
organization chartered by the United States Congress to provide government, the public,
and industry with recommendations and guidance concerning human exposure to ionizing and
non-ionizing radiation. The Commission, along with other government agencies and
organizations, has an official relationship with NCRP as a "collaborating organization."
24. How will antenna sites be evaluated for RF exposure?
Answer: Antenna sites will be evaluated for compliance with limits for maximum permissible
exposure (MPE) if they meet the criteria based on operating power, location, or height above
ground set forth in Table 1 in the new Section 1.1307 of the Commission's rules. Under the rules,
all sites are required to comply with the new MPE limits, but only certain sites are required to
undergo environmental evaluation. The rules provide specific guidelines and procedures for such
25. Some carriers say their facilities are "categorically excluded" from compliance. What
does that mean?
Answer: In the past, the Commission categorically excluded certain radio services, including
cellular, land mobile services, and others, from routine environmental evaluation requirements.
Categorical exclusions are allowed under the National Environmental Policy Act if such facilities
are determined, individually or collectively, to have no significant impact on the quality of the
human environment. This does not mean, however, that such facilities do not have to meet the
Commission's guidelines for exposure to RF emissions. Rather, it means that certain facilities will
normally be assumed not to exceed the applicable MPE limits, and do not have to demonstrate
Under the new rules, the Commission has changed the ways it determines which facilities should
be categorically excluded. Instead of exempting whole services, the categorical exclusions are
now based on the operating power, location, or accessibility of an individual facility. Thus, the
categories requiring environmental evaluation have been changed to include some facilities which
were previously categorically excluded and to categorically exclude others which were previously
included. Table 1 in the new Section 1.1307 of the Commission's rules identifies those facilities
that are subject to routine environmental evaluation. Thus, under the new rules which apply to
cellular, PCS, and paging, as well as other services, some of a carrier's facilities may be
categorically excluded, while others are subject to routine environmental evaluation. It is
important to note that if the Commission receives evidence that a particular facility or equipment
may not be in compliance with the MPE or specific absorption rate (SAR) limits, the Commission
can require that the operator of such facility or the manufacturer of such device demonstrate
compliance, even if it is otherwise categorically excluded.
26. How can I obtain a copy of the new Commission rules adopting the revised RF
Answer: PART II of this Fact Sheet #2 sets forth the most relevant Commission rules governing
RF emissions. Paper copies of the Commission's Report and Order which adopted these new
guidelines can be obtained from the Commission's duplication contractor, International
Transcription Service (ITS), 2100 M Street, N.W., Suite 140, Washington, DC 20037, at (202)
857-3800. An electronic version of the Report and Order is also available from the Internet on
the Commission's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) homepage at
http://www.fcc.gov/oet. Under the section entitled "Headlines," click on the sentence concerning
RF guidelines. The text of a press release and the complete Report and Order can be accessed
27. How can I obtain additional information about RF safety and standards?
Answer: The Commission's Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) provides technical
bulletins and fact sheets that address these issues. These documents are available by mail upon
request to the OET's RF Safety Information Line at (202) 418-2464. Additionally, the
Commission's Compliance and Information Bureau maintains a Communications and Crisis
Management Center which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In the event of an
emergency, such as a radiofrequency hazard threatening public safety or health, the public can call
(202) 632-6975, or fax (202) 418-2813, or e-mail "email@example.com." The watch officer who
answers at that number can contact the Commission's staff in the affected area and dispatch them
within a matter of hours.
For more general background information on the health and safety issues related to
electromagnetic fields and biological effects, you may also call the Environmental Protection
Agency's Electromagnetic Field (EMF) information line at 1-800-363-2383.
Copyright - 2010-2012, Jane Celltower. All Rights Reserved.