Industry Minister James Moore has announced that telecommunications companies will be required to consult with communities when it comes to building new cellphone towers, regardless of their size.
This addressed the loophole under current federal regulations, where cellphone companies are not required to notify municipalities if towers being built are under 15 metres high. That led to many companies building towers across Canada just under the height limit, therefore bypassing the requirement to engage with communities.
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Moore said Canadians "need to have a say" in how towers will be built in their towns.
Many communities have expressed frustration with unsightly cell towers popping up without their consent. Residents in St. John's, Nfld., protested the construction of a Bell Media tower last summer, which was set to go up a few hundred feet from a local elementary school — raising fears of potential health hazards.
Bell Media has since indicated it might decide to scrap that decision.
Residents to receive personalized notice
Moore announced that wireless companies must also better inform local residents of upcoming consultations.
In the past, he said residents might have ignored unclear letters sent to them that said talks would be happening.
In today's announcement, the minister said wireless firms must personalize the mail to residents and clearly address it to the homeowner "so people can be properly engaged."
There will also now be a time limit of three years on the consultative process. Companies must build towers within three years after consulting with Canadians. If they wait too long, companies must restart talks with the communities.
This will mean fewer surprises for local residents, Moore said.
The companies, such as Bell Canada, have said they are building cellphone towers in order to meet growing demand for wireless data services.
Moore said that there are more than 18,000 towers in Canada. Last year, about 400 were built or fixed.
700 MHz spectrum requires fewer towers
The government has been taking steps to reduce the number of cell towers across the country, the minister said. One of those steps is the recent federal auction of the 700 MHz wireless spectrum.
The 700-block spectrum would require fewer cell towers because of its capability to transmit data over longer distances. That would also make it cheaper for companies.
Moore's announcement falls in line with the Conservative governments' consumer-friendly agenda as outlined in last fall's throne speech.
It is similar to a defeated New Democrat private member's bill from 2012, which would have required telecommunications companies to hold public consultations before building "any mast, tower or other antenna-bearing structure, of any height." Bill C-429 also would have encouraged tower sharing to reduce the need for new locations.
At the time, Conservative MP Chris Alexander had said the NDP bill "would duplicate existing regulatory requirements" and "impose an additional regulatory and administrative burden on everyone without any discernible benefit."
"When government gets in the way of private enterprise, when government makes a sector less efficient or less productive, it affects everyone," he said.
"It raises the costs of telecommunications and we do not want to allow that to happen any more than it already has."
Last year, the lobby group representing the country's wireless industry promised cellphone service providers would start consulting more with homeowners and municipalities about the placement of cellphone towers.