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Society

Why mobile firms in Belgium can’t just install masts near your house

Photo/File  A satellite dish for signal transmission. Students at a school in Brussels recently skipped classes to protest against the erection of phone masts near their school.
Photo/File A satellite dish for signal transmission. Students at a school in Brussels recently skipped classes to protest against the erection of phone masts near their school.  

In the mid-90s cell phones in Belgium were still very much the preserve of the business executive and the yuppie, that determinedly upwardly mobile young urban professional.

I remember one such yuppie friend fretting that I had strayed into communicating non-essential information when I once borrowed his cell phone to make an urgent call; mobile communications costs were very steep then.

By the end of the 90s, however, cell phones had become more accessible to the man on the street, but were not yet as ubiquitous as they would become in the next decade.

For my part, I could not see the point to be reached at all hours of the day and night. I maintained a land line at home and argued that if you could not reach me at the office, you could reach me at home or the matter could wait.

And if it couldn’t, you could track me down to my favourite address for rest and recreation.

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I only became the owner of a cell phone when my good friend Terry got fed up of never being able to get hold of me during the weekend and bought me the phone, the line and the first load of air time.

The gift was not welcome; I was embarrassed if it rung when I was in public and resentful if I was in the bath or in the loo.

I soon lost the phone and was not sorry.

Then some friends talked me into hosting a Caribbean-themed party; I was to make my home available and they would bring the food, the drink and the music.

This is how I found myself meeting with Peter, the chief organiser, and the very youthful Trinidadian DJ who was to make the party jump and swing.

We met at a small pub just around the corner from my office and, before we got down to business, I excused myself to go and make a call.

I brought out my calf leather Filofax personal organiser, asked for small change from the waitress and headed for the telephone booth.

Upon my return that cheeky Trinidadian expressed surprise that I didn’t have a cell phone and wondered if I had electricity and running water at home. I bought my second cell phone shortly thereafter.

Back in Kenya, my own mother took to the device like a duck to water, adopted the jargon and would briskly explain that network problems—which she seemed to understand much better than I did—were the reason I could not always reach her.

My beloved Aunty Loise also adopted the technology but to this day holds her cell phone a good inch away from her ear, worried that emissions from the device might addle her brain.

It is now a decade since I disconnected my land line and I have become accustomed to making and taking calls on my cell phone under any circumstances.

So when the owner of our neighbourhood restaurant complained that three mobile telephony providers had installed masts atop the steeple of the church just up the road without consulting the local community, I really couldn’t see what his problem was and put it down to his penchant to grumble when business is slow.

Then students in the Anderlecht suburb of Brussels recently skipped classes to protest against the erection of masts close to their school and I learned that radiation emissions have been linked to increased levels of symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, sleep and concentration difficulties, as well as learning and memory problems in people living near the masts.

There are also suggestions that there may be an increase in cancers and heart disease.

Legislation on emissions in Brussels is very restrictive forcing providers to collaborate to ensure that limits are respected but, clearly, Belgians are not reassured.

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