Impact of 5G draft policy on property

An example of a 5G tower.

A government draft policy, if passed, will allow mobile networks to build 5G electronic communication infrastructure on your property without compensation.

The draft submitted by Department of Communication and Digital Technologies Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams appears in Gazette No. 43537 dated Wednesday July 22.

It says property owners could be held liable for the cost of repairing the infrastructure if it’s found they didn’t show due care in preventing damage to it.

The policy is intended to pave the way for LTE and 5G infrastructure, giving mobile networks and other licensees permission to install it on any public or private land they so choose.

Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams said all spheres of government should push the rapid deployment of electronic communications networks and facilities, seen as critical for the country’s participation in the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The policy says rights of way will become increasingly important to deploy massive numbers of small cells for 5G.

Licensees wanting to build communications infrastructure on a property have to give the owner a notice stating, among other things, the reasons for it, when and where it will happen and how to object.

The public have 30 days, after the date of publication on Wednesday July 22, to comment on or object to the draft.

After this public consultation, the minister will issue a final policy direction to the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) which will draw up the regulations for implementation.

Retired Anglican bishop Geoff Davies from Kalk Bay and founder of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, who is known as “The Green Bishop”, said without getting into the debate around the merits or demerits of 5G he was shocked the policy would permit network companies to put up 5G masts wherever they saw fit.

“So what of an historical conservation area like Kalk Bay? What of my rights as a property owner who would be devastated if a 5G mast was planted in my garden, or if I believed there were negative health impacts from 5G? The government can simply not override the rights of its citizens in such an arrogant manner. Are we losing all sense of democracy?”

Brian Youngblood, chairman of the Fish Hoek Valley Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association, said they had unsuccessfully objected to the City’s amendments to the Municipal Planning By-Law to allow minor free-standing cell masts and minor rooftop cell masts on residential properties.

“We will object to this one as well,” he said.

Lakeside archaeologist Dr Jayson Orton, who claims to suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, said he had swiftly objected to his property rights and human rights being taken away.

“The techies like to tell us that phones expose you to far higher radiation than towers. Yes, true. But they do this for half a second while sending a message or for the duration of a phone call. Then they revert to almost zero. The cell tower goes 24/7/365.”

According to the World Health Organization, no link has been made between radiofrequencies from cell towers and adverse health effects. It says health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum, but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G.

However, a Constitutional Court ruling in June might hold some hope for property owners’ rights in Cape Town.

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said the City had noted the draft policy submitted by Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams, but she added that the Constitutional Court had affirmed the City’s constitutional mandate to regulate and control the use of land within its municipal borders.

“The ruling sets an important precedent that all telecommunications service providers, inclusive of state-owned Telkom, must obtain the City’s approval prior to installing cellphone masts in Cape Town,” she said.

In January 2016, Telkom applied to rezone a portion of a residential property in Heathfield to put up a cell mast but went ahead two weeks later and built it without waiting for City zoning permission. After residents complained, the City fined Telkom and put a hold on its rezoning application until it paid the fine.

Telkom took the issue to the High Court which declared the construction of the mast was unlawful. Telkom pushed the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court but was unsuccessful.

Mayor Dan Plato welcomed the Constitutional Court ruling, saying it confirmed the City’s by-laws need to be respected. Telkom would also have to take down cell masts it had put up without land-use approval.

Written comments or objections to the draft policy, a copy of which can be found here, must be sent in writing to: The Acting Director-General, Department of Communications and DigitalTechnologies; for attention: Mr A Wiltz, Chief Director, Telecommunications and IT Policy at: rapid@dtps.gov.za