As the legislature prepares to complete its work this Friday, local officials are fighting a proposal that would allow cellular telephone companies to build antenna towers nearly ANYWHERE they want to.

Mayors and other city officials say it would bring hundreds of ugly towers into residential neighborhoods, and bring down neighboring property values.

But The cellular industry argues it NEEDS to build 2,000 new towers across Florida to serve a fast-growing customer base and implement a new, advanced 911 system that will allow police and rescue workers to automatically locate callers, even if they can't give their locations.

Steve Skinner is Director of External Affairs at Cellular Wireless in Georgia...He says the Bill pending in the legislature simply accommodates the growing number of Floridians who rely almost exclusively on cell phones (roll tape#1 o.q."voice communications")

But Critics - led by the Florida League of Cities, are arguing strenuously against the legislation......Dottie Reeder is the President of the Florida League of Cities, and the Mayor of Seminole.....She says the bill will allow Cell phone companies the ability to place Cell phone towers or antennas anywhere they please - including in single family neighborhoods or protected public lands (roll tape#2 o.q."in put whatsoever...")

Steve Skinner of Cellular Wireless says that's NOT quite the case (roll tape#3 o.q."

That is part of the bill")

The bill's House sponsor, Pensacola Republican Dave Murzin, says such critics have unnecessarily "pushed the panic button" and are misrepresenting the provisions of the proposal. He said the bill will help fill in dead zones of cell coverage throughout the state, thus reducing the chance that 911 service is unavailable in case of an emergency.

Murzin's bill would grandfather in existing cell towers where they are and open state-owned land as possible spots to lease to cell phone companies. He told the Tallahassee Democrat that it's a" good idea that finds an appropriate compromise between commercial interests, public safety and consumer desires."

Ocala Mayor Gerald Ergle was part of a state wide Wireless 9-1-1 Study Commission that was sanctioned by the State Legislature to focus on issues regarding 9-1-1 accessibility...He said that study concluded that going thru the Legislature WAS not what their study concluded (roll tape#3 o.q."legislative bid")

One of the strongest objection that critics have to the Bills in the House and Senate that that it would exempt cell phone companies from having to show local governments that there IS a need for new towers or additional equipment.

Cellular Wireless Steve Skinner addresses that issue (roll tape#4 o.q."there is NOT a need")

Enivronmentalists are also speaking out against the proposed legislation.....Eric Draper , director of Policy with Audobon of Florida, says the Bill pending in the Senate -SB 2774- would take away from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Governor and Cabinet's responsibility for leasing state lands, particularly state conservation lands.

Ocala Mayor Gerald Ergle says he believes that Cell Phone Companies could even place Cell Towers withOUT going thru local Public hearings, and he thinks that's wrong.

Seminole Mayor Dottie Reader has a basic question for those legislators who may support the bill as currently drafted - (roll tape#3 o.q."or your neighborhood")

OUTRO: The 2004 Legislative Session is scheduled to end tomorrow night.......

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