The value of telecom towers
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While the issues regarding high levels of radiation may be valid, telecom towers form a vital and growing segment of India's infrastructure
The American evangelist Billy Graham reportedly said once that hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. The actors in the debate over whether telecom towers are good or evil could heed those words.
There are allegations that radiation from telecom towers is harmful and that mobile operators are like cigarette manufacturers—profiting from products that cause disease and death. A high court recently ruled that towers should be moved from crowded places and narrow roads. The department of telecommunications (DoT) has recently ordered that levels of radiation from towers be lowered to a tenth of their present values. These norms formed a part of an earlier inter-ministerial committee (IMC) report that also recommended a ban on towers near schools, hospitals, etc. The DoT order is silent on the latter.
Mobile operators have agreed to comply with the DoT rules even as they insist their towers conform to safety standards and guidelines of international regulatory bodies including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The IMC report had also accepted that the data on health effects of mobile radiation is inconclusive. Will the new norms prevent accidents and serious disease or add unnecessary costs for providers of services that few of us can do without?
It seems unfair to compare mobile operators with cigarette manufacturers who consistently refuse to accept that their products are harmful. Arguably, even chain smokers might concede that wireless connectivity offers greater all-round value than cigarettes do! Towers are perhaps better compared with roads or railways. They are valuable infrastructure even if there are good reasons to regulate them to prevent mishaps or unintended consequences.
Towers are a legitimate regulatory issue. They pose concerns about safety, aesthetics, emissions, spectrum use, etc. Virtually every country regulates towers, their location, numbers, shape, size and visibility. However, countries have different norms for towers. There is no easily discernible pattern. In Australia and South Africa, the permissible levels are low, in US, Russia and Canada they are rather high.
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