The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and its collaborators have completed a draft document seeking legally binding modalities for telecom operators to undertake co-location exercises.
The 26-page draft document made available to the Ghana News Agency is entitled “Guidelines for the Installation and Operation of Communication Mast in Ghana”.
It is designed to inject sanity into the mounting of telecom masts and antennas in the face of the rapidly growing telecom industry.
The document noted that from the late 1990s till date, the telecom industry, particularly mobile telecom, has seen rapid growth leading to the littering of residential areas and the countryside with telecom masts with its attendant aesthetic and public safety concerns.
“In some instances, masts are installed without compliance with existing regulatory requirements; unfortunately no other structured tower and antenna support structures has been developed to specifically regulate the location and construction of masts,” it said.
Co-location allows more than one telecom operator to mount their equipment at a common cell site and serve their subscribers.
Mr Ebenezer K. Appiah-Sampong, Director of Environmental Assessment and Auditor of the EPA, told the Ghana News Agency that in the face of challenges posed by littering of masts, co-location was the best alternative option to salvage the situation.
He said even though the telecom operators were fully aware that co-location was a sure way to create a win-win situation for all the stakeholders in the industry including subscribers, regulators and the operators themselves, they had only been paying lip service to it for years now because there was no law enjoining them to undertake co-location.
“The telecom operators are quick to blame the permit agencies like EPA for the poor quality service. Meanwhile they have not been able to take a single action on co-location since they started discussions on it years now,” he said.
Mr. Appiah-Sampong said one of the cardinal purposes of the guidelines would also be to ensure that the National Communications Authority (NCA), made it a licensing requirement for operators to undertake co-location, adding that it should be possible for the NCA itself to mount masts at strategic positions for the purposes of co-location.
Operators who spoke with the GNA admitted that even though they had agreed on hundreds of cell sites for co-location, they had not been able to take action on even one, for reasons not yet clear.
The Chief Executive Office of MTN, Brett Goschen, said the market leader had submitted a list of all its current and future cell sites to other operators but their competitors had not done same adding that co-location would save the operators money.
Meanwhile aggregately, operators have made thousands of separate requests to the permit agencies, including the EPA, District, Municipal and Metropolitan Assemblies, the Ghana National Fire Service and Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) for permits to mount their own cell sites within residential areas.
The GNA has a long list of complaints made to the EPA by residents of communities where cell sites have been mounted.
The complaints include mounting of cell sites without the consent of residents; congestion of masts in particular communities; masts close to people's homes; radiation; fumes and noise from generators causing health problems; schools losing pupils whose parents are concerned about nearby masts.
Mr Appiah-Sampong said the myriad of complaints the EPA received and attended to on daily basis was enough to ensure that the telecom companies were made legally enjoined to undertake co-location.
On delays in the issuance of permits, Mr Appiah-Sampong noted that several of the requests presented to the EPA for permits were incomplete, saying that an operator needed to show proof of consultation with residents of the community within which it sought to mount a mast, but in most of the cases there was no such proof.
“We have asked most of the operators to take the necessary steps to complete their requests but they have not. There are others who have completed the process and we have asked them to come and pay for the permit to be issued but they have not done so for months now,” he said.
Mr Appiah-Sampong said some operators mounted cell sites without the requisite permits and some had had to bring their masts down of that reason.
“There are currently several telecom masts which have been mounted and are functioning without the requisite permits and the EPA keeps receiving and attending to complaints about those.”
Mr Appiah-Sampong said the EPA, together with the other permit agencies, the regulator and the operators themselves, was designing a public education programme to disabuse the minds of citizens about the fear of radiation and other concerns about telecom masts.
“But it is our opinion that the operators should have led the way for the permit agencies and the regulators to support but they keep putting huge money into other ventures to promote their brands instead of educating the public to correct the wrong perceptions about telecom masts,” he said.