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13/10/2004 - Governments drops TETRA

Mast campaigners are demanding answers after TETRA phone mast locations mysteriously disappeared from an official website a couple of days ago. The controversial, police communications network, being rolled-out by Airwave O2, has met with widespread opposition from community groups and local councils throughout the country. Concerns about public health have been dismissed by the Home Office in spite of mounting evidence of health problems among people living near the masts and also among police officers using the handsets. Airwave, a subsidiary of mmO2 has caused outrage by its attempts to bypass the planning laws and erect masts, even when permission has been refused. Campaigners say that the company likes to present itself as a special case with emergency powers but in reality it is subject to the same controls as other telecom operators.

Mast Sanity press officer, Karen Barratt says that no explanation had been obtained for the disappearance of TETRA mast information from OFCOM's Sitefinder website. "We contacted OFCOM and the NRPB (National Radiological Protection Board) but nobody seems to know why the data has gone missing," she said. "If Airwave has taken the decision to remove the information without informing anyone it makes you wonder what is the point of OFCOM." Dr. Michael Clark speaking for the NRPB said he was still trying to find out whether it was a temporary measure for updating. Campaigners think this is unlikely, given Airwave's record in the area of public relations, and are putting pressure on OFCOM to ensure that the data is reinstated immediately.

Mast Sanity is not surprised by this latest episode, pointing to the culture of secrecy that pervades the whole mobile telecommunications industry. "Words like transparency and consultation look good in glossy brochures, but the reality is very different," says Karen Barratt. She and the growing numbers of campaigners accuse the Government of failing to publicise the downside of the technology. They claim that health research showing adverse effects from phones and base stations is not publicised, and scientists, who don't subscribe to the industry view are portrayed as mavericks. They also point out the lengths to which the tobacco and sugar industries have gone to cover up risks to public health and know that the telecoms lobby is equally powerful. With the prospect of a forthcoming general election, however, they are urging ministers to start istening to the voters rather than private companies.

In the meantime, campaigners continue to monitor the Sitefinder website looking for signs of TETRA's return. They say that Airwave is being naive if it believes that public opposition will diminish if location information is withdrawn. Mast Sanity represents hundreds of campaign groups throughout the country and its members are invariably better informed about the technology than industry employees. More importantly, campaigners know that OFCOM has a responsibility to the public when it comes to keeping "out of control" companies like Airwave in line and are not prepared to wait much longer for explanations or action.