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Unrest over telco plan

Last updated 00:00 03/09/2007

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A proposal to allow telcos to install equipment on road reserve outside people's homes without requiring consent under the Resource Management Act has run into stiff opposition from dozens of individuals, several councils and the Green Party.

The Environment Ministry supported exempting some telecommunications equipment, such as roadside cabinets and cellphone and WiFi antennas, from the Resource Management Act when it issued a discussion paper in June.

Equipment would instead have to comply with a proposed new national environmental standard.

An analysis conducted by the ministry estimated the country would be $80 million to $90 million better off under the changes, as telcos' costs would be cut and the public would benefit from faster access to improved services as well as "more choice and competition".

The ministry received 81 submissions on the proposal, many from individuals concerned about the effects of radio-frequency emissions on people's health.

Green Party health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley is vehement in her opposition, describing it as "an outrageous proposal that must be rejected".

Ms Kedgley says there is growing evidence that radio frequency emissions are harmful and the proposal would take away people's right to be consulted about telecommunications equipment in the community.

"We are frankly astonished that the Environment Ministry would propose to undermine environmental protections and communities' right to be consulted through the Resource Management Act in this way," the Green Party's submission said. "We can only assume it is a result of `industry capture'."

The Telecommunications Carriers' Forum backed the changes, while signalling there might be room for compromise on the details.

InternetNZ said there was an urgent need to improve telecommunications infrastructure. It believed the proposals "should be welcomed by most of the community".

NZ Communications, which wants to build New Zealand's third mobile network, was also supportive.

It said it wanted to erect 840 cellsites to service 60 per cent of the population "over a number of years", and has plans to expand this to a network of 1340 cellsites covering 80 per cent of the population.

The proposed national environmental standard would let telcos attach cellphone and wireless Internet antennas to existing structures such as power poles and street lights without seeking resource consent.

This would be so long as they did not emit a higher level of radio-frequency emissions than allowed under a standard drafted in 1999.

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Size restrictions would also apply. The Environment Ministry's discussion paper suggested antennas might have to be no more than three metres higher than the structures to which they were attached.

Telcos also want the automatic right to install roadside cabinets up to 1.8m high in residential areas.

Auckland City Council said the proposed national environmental standard would come at a cost to the community and would give councils no leverage when negotiating with telcos, which would have "no incentive" to mitigate the environmental impact of their infrastructure.

North Shore City Council said "the country's rush to embrace broadband wireless solutions should not come at the risk of long term adverse visual effects to the natural streetscape".

Kapiti District Council said telcos should be able to install some equipment without resource consent, but joined other councils in arguing 1.8m high cabinets and 3m antennas were too large to be exempted from the Resource Management Act.

"A cabinet of the maximum size can be a significant and obtrusive feature in the street scene," it said.

Tasman District Council said an exemption for 1.2m or 1.5m cabinets would be more reasonable.

Franklin and Waikato district councils were concerned that the industry's proposals had not adequately addressed the effect of noise emissions from roadside cabinets. Wellington City Council did not make a submission.

Kent Duston, a project manager living in Mt Victoria in Wellington which is a hotbed of resistance to the proposal, criticised the Environment Ministry for working closely with the industry on the proposed national environment standard before seeking public submissions. "Getting public comment at the end of a long-running industry-centric development process smacks of tokenism, rather than a serious attempt to engage with people who will be most affected by its outcome," he said.

The ministry's manager of national environmental standards, Glenn Wigley, says officials were instructed to work with the telecommunications industry after it was decided in 2005 that the development of national environmental standards could help balance the benefits and costs of installing new infrastructure.

However, the discussion document was only a proposal.

"We are going to carefully consider everyone's submissions, whether they represent industry or are a member of the public."

- The Dominion Post

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