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Monday, June 27, 2011

San Francisco Could Reap Millions from Cellphone Antennae

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2011 at 12:50 PM

click to enlarge There's gold in them thar towers.
  • There's gold in them thar towers.

San Francisco is always looking for new ways to close the budget gap. And with a more than $300 deficit this year, it's time to get a little creative. The city's Planning Department is suggesting the city could rent out city facilities to cellphone companies looking to expand local coverage.

That would almost certainly pump millions of dollars into city coffers. In a new memorandum to the Board of Supervisors, planning director John Rahaim says that telephone companies plan to add 320 wireless transmitters to the 767 existing ones, and that local government could profit by putting them on siren poles and other public facilities.

Cellphone towers have long been controversial in San Francisco, a city populated by self-appointed medical theorists who believe they emit enough radiation to harm humans. In May, these activists seemingly received a hat tip from the World Health Organization, which determined that frequently holding a cellphone to your head for years is as potentially cancerous as a bad coffee habit. This doesn't apply to wireless broadcast antennae, however, which typically don't rest against users' heads.

What's more, San Francisco could improve residents' quality of life by increasing cellphone coverage. According to Rahaim's memo:

Existing structures such as light standards and signs in parks and recreational facilities

and the public right-of-way are opportunities where service providers may improve

their coverage and capacity.

As luck would have it, the western part of San Francisco is home to lousy cellphone coverage and tower-mounted sirens that allow the city to warn residents of natural disasters.

Companies, including T-Mobile and Verizon, want to expand and strengthen their coverage in San Francisco. If the city were to embrace that business opportunity, it could earn between $2 million and $20 million, given market rates for cell-tower leases. Per Rahaim:

Generally, individual leases may generate anywhere from as little as $500 per month to as much as $5,000 per month.Given the wide range of lease agreements and the uncertainty in knowing whether city properties are located well for this use, it is difficult to estimate the total potential revenue for the city. However, it is clear that parks, streets, and other city properties could provide some of the locations needed for these facilities, assuming the impacts can be addressed.
Whether the "impacts" could be addressed is, of course, the million-dollar question: Could the city really beat back anti-cellphone-tower NIMBYs and execute such a plan?

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Matt Smith


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