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Monday, 01 September 2008 10:39

Coming to NSW schools: more neighbourhood cellphone towers

The Mobile Carriers Forum, the industry body representing Australia's cellular operators, is calling on the NSW Government to scrap its policy requiring mobile phone base stations to be kept 500 metres from schools, describing it a "fundamentally flawed".

The MCF claims that, if the buffer zone policy was strictly implemented, at least 58 percent of the Willoughby Council area, 83 percent of Leichhardt Council area and 60 percent of the built up area of the Sutherland Shire would have no mobile network coverage at all.

MCF is also not happy that others opposed to the location of new cellphone towers are citing the NSW Government's ruling in support of their arguments. "Over the past 12 months, the MCF has identified a number of cases where the [NSW Department of Education] policy has been highlighted in supporting written objections to proposed mobile network base stations, citing their proximity to schools, health concerns and the [NSW Department of Education's] 'Mobile Telecommunications Policies'."

According to MCF program manager, Matt Evans, "The policy is not being applied uniformly and we note that the Department has not ruled out building schools within 500m of existing mobile network facilities...The Policy is 11 years old, flawed and should be withdrawn...The huge body of global scientific analyses, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and our own local regulatory/research agency ARPANSA, clearly indicates that there is no evidence of adverse health impacts arising from mobile telecommunications infrastructure."

Fair enough, but some of the other arguments touted by the MCF, according to an article in the newsletter of the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Assocation (AMTA) are less convincing. "Today's educational environment is more reliant than ever on interactive applications where students, teachers and administrators can access the Internet via Wi-Fi and wireless broadband services. The increasing demands to improve the quality of education in NSW will necessitate greater levels of accessibility to wireless technologies. This objective will be frustrated if reliable, high quality services are unavailable due to incompatible policies within the Department."

And, paradoxically, siting the tower further from the school might even result in higher exposure, according to MCF. "If a telecommunications facility was to be sited further from a school the facility may in fact need to operate at a higher power level to operate effectively. This could result in higher exposures at the school, which would be inconsistent with a 'precautionary approach' that aims to minimise emissions."

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