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Cell phone companies will have to obtain building permits and notify the public before installing wireless access points, if new regulations drafted by the interior ministry are approved.

Mobile operators yesterday blasted the changes, which would revoke their exemption from building permits and public notification for the erection of the devices, which contain a radio receiver/transmitter and an antenna.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai submitted the regulations yesterday to the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee for its approval.

For several years the cellular companies have been permitted to install the devices, known as WAPs, on the roofs and balconies of private residences - or even inside them.

They usually rewarded the owners of the apartments or buildings handsomely for agreeing to host the devices.

The installation was often carried out without the knowledge of other nearby residents.

Neither the public nor local zoning boards were involved, or even aware, of the installations.

Environmental organizations warned of the potential radiation danger posed by the devices and slammed the lack of transparency regarding the process.

Mobile communications operators in Israel have installed a total of 1,400 WAPs, nearly one fifth of all cellular transmitters.

Notifying owners

The new regulations would require the companies to obtain a permit from the local planning and building council and to inform the public of their intentions to enable the submission of objections.

The companies would also have to notify all the owners of the land for which antennas are planned as well as adjacent sites, since they may affect property value.

Yishai exempted new cell operators from the need to obtain building permits for 40 percent of the antennas planned.

This decision contradicts the regulations and appears intended to encourage competition among the companies, environmentalists said.

The cellular companies yesterday accused Yishai of caving in to populistic pressure that could affect their ability to provide high-quality cellular transmission.

"The regulations are in complete violation of recommendations by both Israeli and foreign experts, who support installing as many transmitters as possible to reduce the radiation level both from telephones and transmitters," the Cellular Companies Forum said yesterday.

The Ministry for Environmental Protection refused to comment on the drafted regulations, saying it must first study them thoroughly.

Attorney Nirit Lotan of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) said the widespread installation of antennas on private properties violates the principle of involving the public in planning and zoning, especially in an issue affecting public health and property value.

"The interministerial committee's report on the issue explicitly stated that as far as radiation safety goes, regular antennas with a permit are better than WAPs," Lotan said.

"As for the argument that requiring due process contradicts the experts' recommendation to set up numerous small antennas, there's is no reason not to obtain building permits for small antenna sites as well," she said.