School Acreage May Be the Best Game in Town Despite Blowback

Vital statistic: Prince George’s County, MD receives $112,139 annually in tower revenues

Across the country, school districts are turning to an unlikely source of income: cell towers. NPR reported in an article entitled “Cell Towers At Schools: Godsend Or God-Awful?” that schools are beefing up their education budgets by leasing land to telecom companies. For example, in 2016, schools in Prince George’s County, MD, generated $112,139 in revenue from towers; and schools in California, Illinois, and Florida are on board to reap the benefits as well.

But why schools? Telecom companies look to build towers where people live and work, and typically schools are embedded where there’s a more densely populated area. And high schools are a prime location, some with 20-40 acres of space for towers.

One company, Milestone Communications, which partners with telecom companies and school districts, already has 50 partnership deals with schools across six states. And Crown Castle, along with Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T, also have deals with school districts.  

“The places where service is needed the most are places where people live as well as where people work,” Len Forkas, founder of Milestone Communications told NPR.  “There are very few locations in residential communities where the properties are large enough.”  High schools are an exception nationwide.

However, revenue aside, many parents are concerned with the arrangement between the schools and the telecom companies. The concern of radiation from cell towers is at the top of the list accompanied by the visual impact, worries about potential property devaluation and anxiety that kids might get hurt playing near them.

Tower companies often counter that fear by citing a comment from the American Cancer Society: “It is very unlikely that a person could be exposed to RF levels” in excess of limits established by the FCC “just by being near a cell phone tower,” the organization says.   Another issue wielded by tower developers is safety.  School shootings, are, unfortunately, no longer an isolated tragedy.  Students under attack can call 911 with a good signal and hope of immediate rescue from a tragic situation.

For 10 years, David McCormick and his colleagues at the IIT Research Institute in Chicago have been studying RF fields generated by cell phones and related devices. McCormick commented to NPR, “Is there a hazard or potential risk of cancer in humans who are exposed to RF fields? I believe the answer is yes.” He added that exposure to RF from cell phones, held against the ear, is far greater than from cell towers. Even 30 meters away from a tower, children’s exposure to RF would be “almost zero,” McCormick says. And the distance from a tower to an occupied school building is often much larger than 30 meters.

July 17, 2017      

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