Pakistani Telcos Give Mixed Response on Health Consequences of Cell Towers

Telecom operators in the country have disputed the ‘environmental obligations regularity framework’, saying it will add to miseries and hinder rapid site deployments as they are already dealing with five agencies relevant to environment protection.

They also recommended to reduce import taxes on greener Telco equipment including generators and implementation of investor-friendly policies so that power is easily available for healthy growth of telecom sector and to avoid CO2 emissions, official documents revealed.

Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, under the Telecom Policy 2015, has instructed Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to set up an environmental regulatory framework for the sector – consistent with relevant laws, policies and regulations – after consultation with stakeholders including licensees and those agencies responsible for the environment at the federal and provincial level.

Carbon Emissions Due to the Telecom Sector

According to the documents, the total carbon emissions in Pakistan are approximately 0.7% of the global total and this figure has to considered high, taking into account the fact that Pakistan is a developing country and the industrial sector is still being nurtured at a slow pace in comparison to the advanced and developed countries of the world.

Cellular mobile operators have installed approximately 35,000 towers and these are spread across the country. The tier 1 cities (population of more than 1 million) are prime activity centers and source of revenue for the telecommunications, ICT and allied industry. Tier 2 (population 100,000 – 1,000, 000) and tier 3 (population 5000 – 100,000) are good activity centers as well but have huge problems relating to electricity from the transmission systems.

Diesel generators are required for electricity supply in almost all segments of the telecommunications market. Encouragement is required to shift to alternate energy in a phased manner and through consultation with the industry.

PTA’s Regulatory Framework

PTA will establish, within the environmental regulatory framework, a monitoring mechanism for the performance of licensees in the following areas:

a) use of renewable sources of energy.

b) CO2 emissions arising from their business activities.

c) other forms of air pollution such as the use of diesel and other methods of electrical power generation arising from their business activities.

d) management and documentation of the recycling and disposal of electronic waste, hazardous chemicals and other hazardous materials.

e) preservation and restoration of the environment after civil works.

PTA will publish the environmental performance of licensees against the defined targets on its website and through other channels, as appropriate.

Licensees that do not meet defined targets will be reported to the authorities responsible for the environment. PTA will monitor the environmental impact of licensees and the authority will define standards for the sector and issue orders to licensees and take action on contravention of such standards.

PTA as regulator of telecommunications sector is required to assist the environmental management & control organizations by providing necessary data of the licensed operators. The operators are obliged to take necessary steps for reduction of GHG, pollutants, waste and measures adopted by many developing countries in the world.

The electricity shortage and long duration of outages remain a problem in rural areas and most urban jurisdictions in Pakistan.

An alternate source of power for the telecommunications infrastructure is an issue which has to be dealt in a systematic manner by using sources of energy such as solar power, and other practical solutions which do not harm the environment.

It is expected that alternate arrangements, replacing diesel generators, will be employed by the industry when such sources are available to reduce GHG emissions in telecommunications & ICT sector.

Installed generators will be monitored by the environment and climate change organizations at the provincial and federal levels and active data of telecommunications operators will compiled by the PTA and made available on the website as a requirement of the Telecommunication Policy 2015.

International Practices

Majority of the countries have adopted International Commission for non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) limits and standards. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States has lower limits than the recommended limits of ICNIRP. In India, limits are set at 1/10th of ICNIRP’s recommendations.

Telecom Operators’ Reactions

PTA received mixed reactions from the operators.

PTCL & Ufone

Ufone and PTCL were of the view that the subject is being dealt by separate and independent agencies at federal as well as provincial level. These agencies have their own setups for monitoring the quality of standards with regards to environmental protection as per relevant laws, rules and regulations.

The operation of telecom operators is also under these environment protection agencies. Any non-compliance or degraded standards are duly identified and addressed as per prevailing legal framework. The operators are bound to get NOCs and to meet other requirements of these agencies while laying out the telecom infrastructure.

Ufone and PTCL believe that any regulations/obligation consequent to current consultation would be redundant in nature and will not bring additional benefits to the cause of environment protection. This will add to the miseries of telecom operators as they are already dealing with five such agencies relevant to environment protection.

PTCL and Ufone recommended that enforcement of environment protection obligations should solely be the domain of Environment Protection Agencies, already working under Environmental Protection Act 1997. Hence, the situation does not warrant for additional statutory instrument specifically for telecom sector.

Telenor

Telenor Pakistan (TP) replied that it is committed to be an environmentally green company. Therefore, Telenor has implemented an integrated Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) in accordance with ISO 14001 for Environment and OHSAS 18001 for Occupational Health and Safety.

Recently, Telenor has upgraded its Environment Management System (EMS) in accordance with the latest version i-e ISO 14001:2015. Telenor will also be proceeding for third party certification of EMS and will become one of the few companies with such certification in Pakistan.

TP is devoted towards Environment Obligations and appreciates the initiative of consultation for “Implementation of Viable Solutions to Environment Obligations” taken by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), in light of National Telecom Policy (NTP) 2015.

Jazz

Jazz replied that Environment protection is jurisdiction of EPA, therefore, any such consultation should include all stakeholders. Power generators are major source of CO2 emission that are used to power the equipment whereas power is not a core business of Telecom Operators in Pakistan. However, due to lack of availability of electricity around the clock, Telecom Operators were forced to invest CAPEX & OPEX for power generation.

Therefore, it is recommended that investor friendly policies be made so that power is available to the industry for healthy growth of Telecom sector and to avoid CO2 emission to the environment.

Zong

CMPak (Zong) was of the view that PTA should remove the restriction of deploying transformers on each site as the power consumption of the new equipment does not require huge electricity intake from the grid.

Import taxes on green Telco equipment, including generators, should be reduced to encourage imports of environment friendly equipment. The government needs to be serious in reduction of carbon footprint and give subsidies or allow tax free imports on such equipment.

As far as monitoring is concerned, Zong asks that it should not create any new cumbersome process that hinders rapid site deployments. Any new addition in current process will increase both, time and risk, of further exploitation of the policy and procedure loopholes, thus increasing the costs for the operators.


  • Ghazi Gul

    These are most appropriate for solar and wind power.