The wireless telecommunications industry is preparing for explosive growth through a new form of wireless telephony called personal communications service, or PCS. But to put the new network in place in Northeast Ohio, the industry needs to build hundreds of towers 150 to 200 feet tall to move voice and data through the airwaves.
The federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits municipalities from banning wireless tower construction. However, they can use their zoning laws to mandate where towers are built. PCS and cellular companies say small towns and suburbs nationwide that fight tower construction are stalling their efforts to sell a new and improved generation of wireless phones, a product companies say residents of those same towns want.
More towers are needed for the digital technology of PCS because it uses smaller cells than the present analog cellular network. The digital technology allows phones to have clearer reception and fewer signal dropoffs. The towers can be built in a lattice style that looks like the Eiffel Tower or as a single pole. They hold antennae and microwave equipment that receive and send voice and data.
Existing cellular provider Cellular One now has between 300 and 400 towers in all of Ohio. AT&T, which last year won a PCS license in Federal Communications Commission bidding, wants to build 209 sites just in Cuyahoga and the surrounding counties.
Hundreds more sites will go up as PCS license winners Ameritech Corp. and NextWave Personal Communications Inc. begin constructing their networks, and existing cellular providers GTE Mobilnet and Cellular One convert their systems from analog to digital. GTE Mobilnet, which has 100 sites in Northeast Ohio, has immediate plans to add 60 more, said John Boyer, network director at GTE Mobilnet's Independence office.
The demand for tower sites is only expected to grow as wireless communications becomes more popular and new providers enter the marketplace. Indeed, up to three more companies could be added to the mix of PCS providers in the next year once the federal government completes an auction under way for three more blocks of the PCS spectrum.
The problem for many suburbs is they don't have much in the way of tall buildings or industrial land. In Avon, for example, there's a 35-foot height restriction on buildings, although that restriction wouldn't apply to telecommunications towers, Mayor Smith said.
Avon also zoned nearly all its industrial land on the north side of I-90, away from homes south of the highway. All of AT&T's proposed sites are south of I-90.
Because so many communities are concerned about tower placements, PCS and cellular companies are trying to find ways to make tower construction more palatable.
AT&T has entered a deal with Centerior Energy Corp. that allows it to build towers on Centerior's electrical substations. AT&T and GTE Mobilnet said they have offered to build towers on city or school property so that the public benefits from the rent they would pay.
Companies also are considering sharing tower sites ...
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Crain's Cleveland Business
Tower troubles costly for Mentor Thursday, December 31, 1998
By THOMAS OTT, PLAIN DEALER REPORTER
MENTOR - GTE Mobilnet, which had to fight more than two years to build a wireless communications tower in Mentor, will receive $1 million for its trouble.
Lawyers for National Casualty, an Arizona company that carried Mentor officials' liability insurance until this year, and GTE Mobilnet agreed on damages at the end of November, according to Susan Asher, a GTE spokeswoman in Atlanta. That settled a lawsuit filed early last year in federal court and avoided a trial on the amount to be paid. The civil case, in which Mentor was found to have violated the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, was dismissed Monday. The city's insurance policy required a $25,000 deductible.
The 185-foot tower, on industrial property north of Twinbrook Rd. and west of Hopkins Rd., was put into operation last month. The court approved construction earlier this year.
Tim Ayers, spokesman for the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association in Washington, D.C., said the amount was the largest he had heard of in such a case, but he added that the legal category was new.
Law Director I. James Hackenberg, who has been associated with Mentor government since the 1960s, said he could not recall a larger settlement involving the city. He referred further questions to National Casualty lawyer James A. Climer, who declined to comment.
Asher said actual damages, including lost revenue, were "well in excess of $1 million." Phone service suffered without the tower, prompting many complaints, said James B. Niehaus, a Cleveland lawyer representing GTE. He said the company detected a total of 800,000 blocked calls in 12 months.
Niehaus said the telecommunications act prohibited arbitrary or discriminatory rejection of towers.
"There was no evidence offered to support turning us down," he said.
The Mentor Planning Commission voted against the tower on two occasions. Chairman Raymond Kirchner said concerns included appearance, danger from the tower collapsing and handling an increase in tower construction. ...
"They shoved the Telecommunications Act down our throat," Kirchner said. "I hope . . . our congressmen and our senators are looking at this." ...