The “illegal” MTN network rollout

MTN is avoiding questions about violating the eThekwini Municipality’s by-laws while erecting cellphone masts in the city.

Over the last few months, there have been numerous reports and complaints that MTN is not adhering to the by-laws when rolling out its cellular network.

The Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance has attempted to address MTN’s alleged illegal activity, claiming there are 123 illegal masts in the city.

In September 2017, the group received official communication that certain MTN masts did not receive planning permission, as required by the national Spatial and Land Use Act.

eThekwini’s legal department said later that month that it was aware of the issues around the masts and had stopped any new masts from going up.

It also prevented work on existing masts.

“They also do say that they have notified MTN about MTN’s obligations in terms of the law, so MTN can no longer claim ignorance about the illegality of their masts,” said the Durban Anti-Cell Mast Alliance.

Bribery allegations

Allegations that MTN paid bribes to an eThekwini official to put up cellphone masts around Durban, without following proper procedure, have also surfaced as part of the spat.

In March, the eThekwini Municipality confirmed there were MTN sites which were not compliant with the city’s by-laws.

City spokesperson Tozi Mthethwa said that while MTN may not have adhered to the relevant land use management protocol, “steps are being taken to ensure compliance”.

Despite numerous requests for comment on the issue, MTN failed to provide feedback on the alleged illegal masts.

Update – MTN comment

MTN executive Jacqui O’Sullivan has provided comment on the matter.

She said that MTN entered into a partnership with the municipality through the Disaster Management and Emergency Control Unit ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

Years later, this partnership was shown to be misaligned with another regulation of the department within the municipality – the Land Use Management Unit – in terms of the municipal approval processes.

At the end of February 2018, the municipality defined the ex post-facto process that MTN, along with all mobile operators, will be required to follow.

MTN said it is currently collating the information for that application. This involves:

  • Securing approval from the Civil Aviation Authority.
  • Securing an Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • Completing the Land Use Special Consent Application.

This process will involve public participation on sites identified by the municipality.

“It is clear that a lack of alignment must be resolved and MTN, along with all the operators that are using these camera poles for their masts, must be held to the same standards,” said O’Sullivan.

“If MTN sites have to come down, they will. If MTN sites have to be moved, that will happen. MTN will be entirely guided by the municipal process.”

“We hope to conclude this within the next 8-12 weeks and will then proceed with the Special Consent Application, depending on receiving the necessary external approvals.”

Now read: 3 graphs which show how expensive MTN’s data is

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The “illegal” MTN network rollout