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New bid to curb illegal masts
[September 23, 2009]

New bid to curb illegal masts

Sep 23, 2009 (Gulf Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- THE war against illegal phone masts is spreading across Bahrain after the Central Municipal Council agreed to set up a committee to outline new regulations.

In its first meeting since the two-month summer break, councillors agreed to the decision after being bombarded with calls from worried residents.

They also voted unanimously to start an awareness campaign to educate residents about mobile phone masts in an attempt to ease public confusion.

The central municipality will provide the council with statistics on the number of mobile masts in the area.

Council chairman Abdulrahman Al Hassan earlier called for the issue to be discussed as an "urgent matter".

But during the meeting, several members claimed it was solely the responsibility of the Health Ministry and the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife.

"We are getting bombarded with residents' calls, but we don't have any idea if this involves us or not," said councillor Abdulrazzaq Al Hattab.

"Health risks of these devices are not our speciality." However, councillor Adnan Al Malki argued that the members had a responsibility to get involved, as the devices were built on homes and had to follow municipality guidelines.

"We have to work hand in hand with the responsible authorities to organise installing these masts in our governorate," he said.

Meanwhile, Central Municipality director general Dr Mohammed Hassan revealed there were 70 masts already installed at the governorate.

"Some of them are illegal and have not been licensed through the municipality," he said.

"The point of licensing them is to organise procedures, not to stop these masts.

"If we do, we will be stopping a technology we are in need of." Dr Hassan told the GDN after the meeting that licensing masts was important to ensure no problems arose in the future.

"A resident who wants to instal a mast has to make sure the company has a licence to instal it," he said.

"In the end, this is an object that is built on a residential building that follows municipality rules." Dr Hassan said the municipality was demanding telecommunication companies to acquire licence for the masts or face fines.

"Companies who did not acquire licence from the municipality to instal masts will be fined," he said.

He revealed a meeting would be held shortly with the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) to discuss the issue.

However, area MP Abdulhaleem Murad urged the government to halt the installation of mobile masts until a study conducted by the Municipalities and Agriculture Ministry was completed.

"The ministry is currently conducting a study to find out if mobile masts are indeed a risk to people's well-being," he said.

Mr Murad said the company was paying residents to instal masts on their houses' rooftops.

"This is also a social issue, as it can lead to disputes between neighbours and those who leased the space of their homes for the masts to be installed." A petition has already been started by residents in the area, calling for the installation to be halted.

It will soon be presented to the council and responsible authorities.

The war on mobile masts was started at the Muharraq Municipal Council two years ago after residents signed a petition against phone masts in their area.

The council banned setting up of masts until investigation was complete and had come up with new regulations.

However, it got delayed after the Public Commission asked to revise the regulations.

The GDN reported earlier this month that electricity could soon be cut off to illegal phone masts on rooftops in Muharraq to force residents to stop leasing out space of their homes.

The Muharraq Municipal Council has sent a letter to the Electricity and Water Authority (EWA), explaining that homeowners have not received permits from the municipality for such services.

Councillors are also planning to seek an urgent court order to remove the masts, following clashes between neighbours amid rumours that emissions could poison food.

They voted for these two measures at their first meeting following a two-month summer break.

TRA officials have discussed with councillors ways to regulate rooftop wireless networks.

The meeting agreed that detailed procedures and guidelines must be completed and followed by all stakeholders, including telecommunication operators, the TRA, municipalities, the EWA and the Interior Ministry.

These would set out the responsibility and technical requirements for putting up wireless antennas and masts.

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