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Lauderhill residents complain cell phone antennas are too close to their homes
LAUDERHILL, Mar 20, 2013 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Residents concerned about new cell phone antennas popping up in city neighborhoods to improve wireless service will have to get used to them, officials said, because there's little the city can do to stop them.
Crown Castle, a national leader in communications infrastructure, is in the process of putting up 350 new antennas in 26 South Florida cities from Miami Beach to West Palm Beach, company officials told city commissioners Monday. There are 12 in Lauderhill.
The zoning regulations many cities have to deal with cell tower antenna structures don't apply to these smaller micro-cell structures -- known as a Distributed Antenna System -- because they are being placed along streets in public rights of way and are allowed under federal law.
The antennas, placed atop 35-foot-tall utility poles, are designed to cover dead zones with weak reception, where the larger antenna towers aren't providing sufficient coverage.
The antennas along major roadways or in commercial areas haven't been drawing criticism. But the ones next to homes and schools have raised safety concerns among residents, despite company research showing they don't pose a health risk.
"We're in the poor neighborhood. We don't even have insurance," resident Janice Brown said. "If I have cancer, who's going to take care of me "
Critics were particularly concerned about an antenna placed next to Castle Hill Elementary School.
"I'm a parent. I have kids. I have a problem with it," resident Nancy Gordon said.
Residents left the commission workshop with little changed. The company will place on the ground some of the large equipment boxes now sitting halfway up the poles to address fears that they could come crashing down in a storm. The company will also change the color of some of the boxes if neighbors request it.
But the antennas themselves have to stay close to where they're at because they're hitting pockets of poor reception and have a limited 1,000-foot radius coverage area.
"We're actually improving the service in these communities," said Melissa Anderson, a government relations counsel with Crown Castle. "They're not going five miles away. They're not going two miles away."
Victor Beninate, in charge of governmental affairs for AT&T in Broward and Palm Beach counties, said reception has become critical as many people now rely on cell phones for all their phone service, including for emergency 911 calls.
"People like my kids, if they call 911, and they can't get through because they don't have adequate coverage, they're not happy," Beninate said. "Cell service is a vital part of everyone's lives."
Mayor Richard Kaplan asked Crown Castle to provide the city specifics as to radiation emitted by the antennas versus radiation coming from a microwave oven, cell phone or television.
"I want to have some form of objective comparison," Kaplan said.
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UPDATED 12:25 AM EST - Jun 20, 2013
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