By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
It is far too easy to succumb to greed as is evidenced by the actions of a telecommunication company (telco) and a very willing landowner. One party has the money and the need while the other has the space. In a very competitive market where an oversight may cost millions, anything and everything is possible so long as the tiding is good.
Things are beginning to heat up in the telecommunication industry as competition is accelerating at a very furious pace. The main players are of course Celcom, Maxis and Digi, and the fight will soon spill out in the open fuelled by the long-awaited opening of the Asean Economic Community this year. Our home-grown telcos will have to fight it out with the best in the region. The prize for the picking is the 600 million-odd customers available within Asean.
So it is not at all surprising that one over-zealous company decided to tempt fate by making an offer too good to refuse. The bait is of course a long-term rental of space for the privilege of having its communication tower erected within the landowner’s compound. The landowner is none other than Majlis Agama Islam Perak (MAIP) whose premise in Jalan Lasam, Ipoh is the object of this simmering controversy.
Jalan Lasam, by all accounts, is an upscale neighbourhood within a striking distance of downtown Ipoh. It is a single stretch of road which accommodates over 40 houses, mostly bungalows built in the 1980s. Those who have made Jalan Lasam their home are mainly retirees and government pensioners who had invested a fortune to be where they are. Therefore, it is only expected of them to defend their turf should a stranger appear unannounced. And the inevitable happened.
Work on the controversial tower began in July last year. Residents’ fear and anger were aroused when they realised that the facility was being built without their knowledge and consultation. Approval for the construction of such towers rests with Ipoh City Council and it was apparent that the council had not taken the residents’ interest into account when they gave the owner, DiGi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd or simply Digi, the approval. Or was a green light given in the first place?
According to a source from within the telecommunication industry, the cost of constructing a tower of such specification is about RM1 million – RM500,000 for equipment and the balance RM500,000 for infrastructure. Rental of space is anything between RM3000 to RM5000 a month, depending on the location. Jalan Lasam being a strategic area, its significance is never in doubt.
But what the telco did not anticipate was the resolve of the residents to take the fight up to the highest level should their demand for the dismantling of the tower be ignored. That they did, and a stop-work order was issued by Ipoh City Council in November 2014. The one-month notice expired on Saturday, December 20, 2014 but a month’s extension was granted following an appeal by Digi and MAIP.
The irony of it all is the attitude of the landowner who has allowed greed to get the better of itself. The issues of health and safety become secondary where money is concerned. It does not matter that the effects of electromagnetic waves would impact the owner himself. The maxim that money will cloud the mind holds true.
Maxis and Celcom build their own towers too but these towers are hidden from prying eyes. They are cleverly blended with the surroundings in the shape of trees and poles so they are not easily identified. But when you have the tower decked in your company’s colours and standing out like a sore thumb, don’t expect people to ignore.
Although it has been scientifically proven that the aftereffects of electromagnetic waves from telco towers are minimal vis-à-vis electric pylons and television and radio towers, perception is entrenched.
The stop-work order by Ipoh City Council is, therefore, justified. For once the council is getting its priorities right. Hopefully, it will remain that way, as pleasing ratepayers is part and parcel of the council’s responsibility.