Wireless Communications Policy

May 27, 2013

On Monday, May 27, 2013 Council adopted an updated Wireless Communication Facilities Policy.

The Policy builds on the District’s 1997 policy and establishes a more robust series of processes and guidelines for different types of proposals.

The policy is clear that cell towers should be directed to the Upper Levels Highway and avoid local residential roads.

All applications for cell towers over 15 m in height are presented to Council for consideration following a public engagement process as set out in the Policy.

In the event that the Council passes a resolution of non-support for a given application, the wireless provider may apply to Industry Canada with an ‘impasse request,’ after which Industry Canada would act as an arbiter between parties.  Ultimately, Industry Canada may choose to approve a tower application with or without local government support, providing that a willing landlord is available.

Who Regulates Cell Towers

Industry Canada, through the federal Radiocommunication Act, regulates and is the decision-making authority for radiocommunication and broadcasting antenna systems and structures throughout Canada (including cell towers, AM/FM radio, over-the-air television signals, and radio frequencies reserved for baby monitors, WiFi routers, wireless landline telephones, amateur use, aviation, and emergency responders).

Health Canada has established federal standards for safe human exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic energy, published as Safety Code 6, and local government has neither the authority nor expertise to comment on the standard. The Chief Medical Health Officer of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has issued a statement that concludes, “in light of the current scientific understanding of the risks of RF exposures to the public, the installation of base stations and cellular antennae in the community do not pose an adverse health risk and Safety Code 6 provides an appropriate level of protection.”

Applicants proposing cell towers must follow the default public consultation process established by Industry Canada or, if one exists, the consultation process established by the respective local government (in this case, the District’s Wireless Communication Facilities Policy).  In all cases, a willing landlord is required before a wireless provider can install an antenna site.

Where applicants believe the local consultation requirements are unreasonable, they may contact Industry Canada for guidance.  Industry Canada considers concerns about any potential effects on property values and questions as to the validity of Industry Canada or Health Canada regulation to not be relevant concerns.

History & Developing the District's Policy

In May 2012, staff brought forward to Council an update on recent trends within the Canadian mobile phone industry, prompted in part by the ongoing auction of wireless spectrum by Industry Canada.

Industry Canada is the federal department responsible for the licensing of wireless spectrum across the country and has in recent years placed priority on the efficient use of wireless spectrum through the re-purposing of underutilized licenses. The majority of this newly available wireless spectrum has been reserved for Canada’s wireless communication providers (to be bought at auction) in order to accommodate industry growth and demand for services from customers.

Wireless providers report that changing customer behaviour is testing wireless network capacity to an extent not before seen. Cell sites which once could be counted on to reliably serve a given area are now suffering from reduced coverage due to increased demand, and gaps in service are growing. Providers report higher numbers of complaints and dropped calls while some residents may report that their phone works perfectly fine. Both parties may be correct as the effective range of a cell tower ‘breathes’ as the demand and load placed on it changes through the day.

West Vancouver Council received a staff report transmitting a draft Wireless Communication Facilities Policy on July 23, 2012. The public was invited to comment on this draft policy from mid-September to mid-November 2012. The invitation to comment took place through the District website, newspaper notices, press release and media coverage, and posters at District facilities. In response to feedback from the public, wireless providers, and Council, a revised draft of the Policy was prepared for Council review in February 2013, and a final version of the Policy was prepared for Council consideration in May 2013. Members of the public also took the opportunity to address Council directly during their meetings.

The draft policy was revised based on feedback received and returned to Council, who approved a finalized policy.