While the era of massive, NASA-sized satellite dishes is long past (unless you’re in a very old building, or have held on to an antique dish out of nostalgia), the advent of smaller apparatus—as well as rooftop cell phone towers—has brought challenges along with the convenience.
Satellite dishes—which, according to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, are legal in co-ops, condos and HOAs—have sprouted on the outside of many residential buildings in recent years, causing aesthetic as well as safety worries from concerned citizens, boards and management companies, and liability issues from insurance companies. The other exterior technology—cell phone towers—which have also popped up—can be a source of revenue for buildings which opt to allow them on their roof spaces—but they can also pose structural threats if not installed and maintained properly.
Cell phone towers—especially in New York City—are big business. In the United States, there are more than 190,000 cell phone towers—and there were only 900 in 1985, according to Airwave Management LLC. Airwave Management also estimates that more than 100,000 new cell towers will be constructed during the next decade. The average cost of building a cell phone tower is $150,000—but it’s worth it. The average yearly cell phone tower lease rate is $45,000 in the United States. Massachusetts has the highest cell tower lease rates, and they range from $91,000-$535,000, while New York comes in a close second. Their rates range from $30,000 to $535,000. Residential and commercial sites lease cell phone towers for average around $1,000 to $3,500 per month.
The major cell phone carriers ignored repeated requests for comments or declined to comment for this article.
Buildings and churches can hide cell towers on their rooftops. Typically, the cell tower company or wireless service provider would negotiate a lease for an installation site, and the company would service and maintain the tower. The building would benefit by receiving the rental income. This began in the 1980s, and there is much competition for cell phone companies to get into a coveted building, with some cell towers offering to buy out existing cell tower contracts and pay higher rent, since there are only so many buildings remaining sans cell phone towers.