Cellphone antennas exposed

Downplaying anxiety and uncertainty about potential, as-yet-undetermined future harm is unconscionable.

Our cellphone service providers are in a tizzy after Interior Minister Eli Yishai last week canceled a waiver that allowed mobile network operators to deploy small base stations without permits from local planning and building commissions.
Pending approval by the Knesset Economics Committee, it will now be prohibited to install any antenna, regardless of size, anywhere without proper license and without duly notifying the public.
In so ordering, Yishai resisted mighty pressure from both the Finance and Communications ministries, which in this confrontation appear to identify strongly with business interests. This promises quite a battle in the Knesset committee. We hope the interior minister prevails, because in this case he solidly represents the public’s interest and nothing but.
SINCE 2005 all plans to erect cellular-phone antennas had to be publicized, and local authorities were granted near-veto powers regarding their placement – especially in residential areas, but also on public structures (including existing utility pylons).
Nevertheless, resourceful service providers soon exploited lucrative loopholes. The installation of diminutive devices on private rooftops, balconies and even inside residences was exempt from permit requirements. Property owners were handsomely paid off. In the overwhelming majority of cases nobody – not even next door neighbors – knew about the installations. Entire networks were put up and others planned along this model.
No less than a fifth of all cellular transmitters in Israel rely on such unreported small base stations. Already in operation are an estimated 1,400 installations, with entirely new and greatly expanded networks in the pipelines. Needless to say, this utter lack of transparency robs the public of any opportunity to lodge objections, regardless of the possible radiation hazards and detrimental effects on property values.
FOR THEIR part, the cellular companies have charged that Yishai has cravenly caved in to populist pressure and thoughtlessly curtailed their ability to provide high-quality transmission. Yet if everything these companies do is on the up-and-up, and if their transmitters indeed pose no danger whatever, why should they so shrilly object to tipping off nearby residents and enabling them to take a stand, perhaps even take their cases to court? Surely the companies have nothing to fear if they are as clean as they profess to be.
Of course, antennas aren’t a uniquely Israeli phenomenon, but the problem here is particularly acute. The country is territorially tiny yet among the highest-ranked nations worldwide in cellphone use. Israelis talk more on their mobiles than do most other nationalities. That may conceivably account for why so many antennas are constructed so impudently on apartment house rooftops, often stealthily concealed to avoid detection.
The companies justly argue that they provide a by-now essential service to which Israelis eagerly subscribe. Though the country is seemingly crisscrossed with enough antenna “coverage” to facilitate high-quality reception most everywhere, there is a growing need for more. Third-generation gadgetry makes greater and shifting demands. The companies further assert that the higher the number of antennas, the lower the radiation each emits. Likewise they cite a slew of overseas studies, which apparently pinpoint no health hazards directly attributable to antenna-generated microwave radiation.
However, downplaying anxiety and uncertainty about potential,as-yet-undetermined future harm – especially to more susceptibleage-groups like young children – is unconscionable. No current researchcan conclusively put our minds at ease. No experiment has exposedhumans to prolonged radiation effects, leaving the burden of proof noton those who warn about the antennas but on those who erect them.
Furthermore, resorting to facile and furtive solutions within otherpeople’s homes – even if the homeowners are greedy – doesn’t absolvehotshot executives of the moral onus. We can only hope that the KnessetEconomics Committee understands that some things transcend money-makinginterests. Whatever one’s position on the substantive health issue, onething is clear and indisputable: No one has the right to keepinformation from the public on the presumption that business concernsknow better. It can never be better to do things behind the citizenry’sback.