ABERFOYLE – Signals crossed as the merits of cell tower locations were debated here for close to an hour on July 17.
Until technology offers an affordable option for cell towers, bringing the internet to rural residents seems to be an ongoing battle between providing service and maintain rural aesthetics.
Councillors here were on the front lines as Rogers’ site acquisition specialist Jeff McKay returned to Puslinch regarding an application to install a cell tower at 4638 Sideroad 20 North.
Numerous residents have voiced objections to the proposed tower location and suggested it be placed in a nearby industrial area.
In June council passed a resolution that it did not support the proposed location because it was not adequately demonstrated that the tower could not be located elsewhere.
At the July 17 council session McKay stated, “telecommunications has been identified by our federal government as the enabler for social and economic development and the preservation of health and safety of our population.”
Industry Canada recognizes the importance of technology and innovation, which include access to mobile broadband, he said.
He agreed the connectivity of urban and rural areas presents a unique challenge.
“Our world has changed,” McKay said, adding it has moved from analogue to digital, requiring increasing amounts of broadband coverage.
He said while analogue towers of the past could be situated 10km or more apart, today’s Facetime calls are routed through facilities which, on average, are less than 800m away.
McKay said “in a civil society, matters of life and death, together with social and economic development for the population as a whole, cannot take a backseat to the wishes and perceptions of a few.”
He said perceptions will change, just as they have over the past 100 years as methods of communication change.
McKay added the economic viability of the digital transmission towers is critically reliant on dealing with coverage deficiencies.
“That will inevitably put the technical requirements at greater odds with residents who have concerns whether relevant or not, whether perceived or real,” he said.
McKay said this often brings more residences within the stipulated area of notification.
“In this case it does not,” he said.
McKay maintained the current proposal complies with the requirements and government regulation.
“It cannot be held to the standard of resolving all issues to all members of the public on their terms,”McKay added. “The site selected is one which best addresses coverage and mitigates resident concerns to the best of its ability.”
McKay noted that township staff also concluded the applicant had completed the requirements of the process.
McKay stated that of the 13 residents in opposition to the tower, only one lives within the defined public consultation area determined as being impacted.
“That zone is defined by the federal government,” he said. “It is unfortunate this application has polarized neighbours.
“Council’s decision tonight is not whether or not the site is acceptable … the matter before council is whether Rogers followed the procedural guidelines for municipal and public consultation as required by government protocol.”
He said locating the tower to the east of the Hanlon Expressway either provides coverage to an area already serviced by Rogers, would service currently vacant industrial land or would duplicate service of another planned tower.
McKay’s report stated, “a tower cannot be justified where 60% or more of the signal overlaps existing coverage areas.”
He stated, “there is no other location in the area which will address the coverage gap in a way which is financially viable.”
Township staff noted communication facilities are federally regulated with the final decision vested with Industry Canada. Rogers consulted with the township prior to filing its application, and submitted the fees, documents and reports required by Industry Canada’s default consultation process.
Staff concluded the applicant satisfied the requirements of the consultation process and had no further comments regarding the telecommunication tower and therefore recommend the issuance of the report.
Councillor John Sepulis questioned inconsistencies in the information provided to council.
“We are not against towers, but I have difficulty with the location selected for this tower,” he said.
He questioned why the tower could not be located in the nearby industrial area.
McKay again explained that while the commercial areas could provide service, they would significantly overlap areas where service is already provided.
Councillor Matthew Bulmer said some of the inconsistency came from differences in desktop versus on-site studies.
McKay agreed and added that in about three per cent of the searches, the original site determined by the desktop study does not meet the requirements for coverage.
He noted that having willing hosts on commercial properties does not mean a site is financially viable.
Councillor Jessica Goyda said “at the end of the day, I think we all understand the decision is not up to council.”
She said council’s role is to indicate whether Rogers has fulfilled its requirements to complete the application – “which they have.”
Goyda said “council’s job is also to be the voice of our residents. It is difficult to understand how the only location the tower can go is the location where no one wants it to be.”
Goyda asked what would happen if the site owner was no longer willing to host the tower.
“We’d love to find something, but there is no other option on that side of the Hanlon,” McKay said.
Mayor James Seeley asked for clarification.
“There is no other site in the area,” McKay stated.
He added, “Without the tower, the area will remain a dead zone (for transmission).”
Sepulis remained opposed to the tower at its proposed location and asked council to direct staff to issue a letter of non-concurrence.
Bulmer indicated he felt torn on the resolution.
“Our obligation is to determine whether or not the process was followed – whether we like the answers or not,” he said.
“Council’s decision was to (determine) whether the process was followed, not whether it agreed with the conclusions.”
He asked whether it is appropriate to hold an applicant responsible for a process which they did not create, but are following.
Acting clerk Nina Lecic said the process was set up by Industry Canada, which the proponent did follow.
“From our understanding the appropriate process was followed,” she said
Council’s decision was to submit a letter of nonconcurrence.