J Scott was on holidays when Telus Communications Company contractors installed fibre optic cables in her Langford neighbourhood. But upon her return she noticed something on a nearby utility pole that she wasn’t made aware of when representatives went door to door on her street.
Micro-cell transmitters are popping up on utility poles across the province and they’re something some West Shore residents are concerned about.
“The fibre optic is a benign cable,” said Scott, who lives on Fairway Avenue. “These are not benign, they’re sending out signals … The cable doesn’t pose a threat, the cell phone transmitter does.”
After realizing what they were, Scott went around her neighbourhood asking people to sign a petition to have the devices removed from poles on their street. “(Almost) everyone on our street signed the petition,” she said, noting that she was unable to catch someone home at the one household that didn’t sign.
Scott noted the poles and easement areas are supposed to be used for essential services. But she said these transmitters are being used for one company’s professional advancement. “It’s not an essential service.”
Residents on Fairway Avenue aren’t the only ones requesting that Telus move or remove the transmitters.
Colwood resident Sharon Noble said, “if you’re living with this outside your home, you should be told what it is.” She said that when the fibre optic network was going up outside her home on Triangle Mountain, she asked every possible question about them.
Scott added that she asked the same questions and was assured there would be no transmitters.
“They lied to me, I’ll say it,” Noble said. “So many people are sensitive, it’s not uncommon … Avoidance is the only thing you can do.” She pointed out that “if these things are outside your home you have no choice … You can’t turn it off, it’s 24-7.”
Janis Hoffmann was successful in getting a transmitter that would have gone up outside her home moved to a different location, adding that she recognized what the workers were putting up before it was installed. She also had a note, from a doctor specializing in electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), for her grandson and daughter who now live with her.
New to the Highlands, Hoffmann had lived in Colwood for 43 years. “I had no intention of selling my house … I was going to live there forever,” she said.
But after finding out her grandson suffers from EHS, which she said led to a number of health issues, Hoffmann said she began to realize what her home was being exposed to. With her grandson in her home most days, she looked for alternatives.
After moving to the Highlands, in an area with very little exposure to cell towers and Wi-Fi, her grandson experienced major improvements to his health, she said.
Telus spokesperson Richard Gilhooley said the company is “always happy to speak to residents about their concerns.”
Asked why residents were consulted about the installation of fibre optic cables, but not the micro-cell transmitters, he said that when crews install cables they need residents’ permission to do so on private property.
“The distinction there is the micro-cells are on our property,” Gilhooley said. “Because it’s our property there is no duty to consult.” He added, “we always let the local government know what’s happening.”
But that’s a grey area in Noble’s opinion. “Even if they don’t have to legally tell us, they still should,” she said. “They are misleading … They’re not telling people the whole story.”
A City of Langford staff member said the City has no consultation policy for the installation of these types of devices, noting they cannot regulate them as they are on Telus’ property. The infrastructure is, however, regulated by the CRTC.
As for why these transmitters are going up, Gilhooley said demand on the Island for better cell coverage is increasing. He nodded to the rise in 9-1-1 calls originating from cell phones. “We want to be able to keep up with demand,” he said. Alternatively, he added, without additional micro-cell transmitters or towers residents could start to see an increase in dropped calls.
These micro-cell transmitters, he said, are a smaller, lower-powered option to full-sized towers. “That’s the beauty of these things.”
The devices are being installed in areas where Telus, residents or local governments have recognized a need for increased coverage and Gilhooley noted their installation is usually routine. “The response is usually positive.”