Op-ed piece, The Washington Times, October 23, 2000
Politics Towers Above
Just last week, Mayor Anthony Williams revoked a validly issued permit for the construction of a telecommunications tower. This tower would not only have brought wireless communications and high definition television (HDTV) to the entire District, but would have created the sort of telecommunications infrastructure necessary to allow the District of Columbia to enter into the next phase of the digital revolution.
As the vice president and general manager of American Tower, the company charged with constructing this tower, I thought the District's constituents would be interested in knowing these facts.
Prior to early September, the mayor and his administration had been gracious and helpful in facilitating the tower's construction. His office had given the green light for construction of the tower, acknowledging that it would be essential to the long-term technological advancement of the nation's capital.
On Sept. 8, American Tower halted construction of the tower at the request of the administration so that the permits and approvals could once again be reviewed. After a week of intense scrutiny, it was determined that American Tower had done everything right, all permits were in order and construction was allowed to continue.
With those reviews complete, you can imagine our outrage when the
mayor suddenly changed his mind and decided to revoke the permit last
Sadly, it seems that the mayor's decision was motivated by the residents of a small, but politically influential community who have started a campaign to tear the tower down. They submitted petitions, met with the mayor and senior officials, and demanded that it be moved further away from their plush neighborhoods.
Battle lines were quickly drawn and the battle that ensued has been illuminating. Despite the fact that the American Tower Company complied with every regulation regarding the construction of the tower (a point acknowledged twice by the D.C. Office of Planning when it approved the tower's construction), the administration has suddenly contrived a claim to the contrary.
For obvious reasons, the mayor, and his administration, does not mention that the district operates its own tower, located on Georgia Avenue. After all, if his sudden concerns over the safety of building a tower are valid, why is it that he maintains a similar tower on Georgia Avenue? Is the administration saying that it's safe to have a telecommunications tower on one side of town, but not on the other?
What seems clear to anyone who gives some serious thought to the situation is that the administration's decision is plainly a matter of favoritism. A few members of a small, politically important neighborhood start pumping their fists in the air and the administration springs into action.
Meanwhile, the law falls by the wayside. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 said these towers and these facilities should be built and not impeded by local zoning. "We had never experienced anything like this before," says attorney Robert Cooper, who has counseled antenna builders and tower builders for a number of years. "I can only attribute it to the difficulty that the mayor is facing as a result of these local protests," he said.
At the same time, federal deadlines for HDTV are approaching and only 50 percent of local broadcasters have facilities for this technology. This new tower will ensure that all federal deadlines are met. The simple fact is that if the citizens of Washington want to have access to wireless technology and HDTV, they need this tower.
For too long, the citizens of Washington have lagged behind in the technological revolution. They were among the last to receive cable television. Now, the District is on the cusp of falling behind the current pace of wireless technological advancement.
It's time for the mayor and his administration to put aside political favoritism in favor of living up to their duty to uphold the rule of law within the District and the recognition that new technology can bring a better quality of life to the entire District.
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