San Francisco proposes ordinance to block ugly cell towers

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It might soon get a little bit harder to build new cell towers in San Francisco.

The city is considering a new ordinance that will allow the construction of new cell sites to be blocked if they harm the aesthetics of public property. The ordinance, proposed by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, impacts installations on public property; private property will not be affected. The proposal also bans the construction of new utility poles solely for the purpose of installing antennas.

Federal law bars municipalities from banning cell sites for health reasons if the new towers meet safety standards. However, cities have wider leeway in blocking the cell sites for other reasons, including aesthetics. Wireless industry trade group CTIA said the proposed ordinance could push new antennas onto private property.

"If I'm a private landowner, I wouldn't be prevented from leasing my space," John Walls, CTIA's vice president of public affairs, told the San Francisco Examiner. "That's not doing much in terms of limiting their presence."

Wireless industry executives have long claimed that it is particularly difficult to get new cell towers approved in San Francisco. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs made that explicit claim last month at Apple's press conference to discuss the iPhone 4's antenna issues. "When AT&T wants to add a cell tower in Texas, it takes about three weeks to get approval," Jobs said, according to the Wall Street Journal, explaining AT&T's poor reception in certain markets. "When AT&T wants to add one in San Francisco it takes three years."

AT&T has been working to make improvements to its network in high-density markets such as New York City and San Francisco. 

Last year, the FCC voted unanimously to approve new rules for tower siting geared toward speeding up the application process for new and existing cell towers. The action fulfilled a pledge FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski made to the wireless industry last October.

For more:
- see this San Francisco Examiner article
- see this CNet article

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