Cell tower contracts generate more than $100,000 for Southeast Missouri State University

Monday, March 7, 2011
Southeast Missourian/Fred Lynch Academic Hall (File photo)

It may not be much in the grand scheme of a $120 million operational budget, but Southeast Missouri State University's contracts with cell phone providers generate in excess of $100,000 a year.

It's revenue that helps fund technical operations on campus and other expenses, while helping cell phone users around Southeast Missouri stay connected. And it's part of a growing revenue stream for public and private entities.

In the 2010 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Southeast collected $102,870 in fees from contracts with six wireless service providers, according to Kathy Mangels, Southeast vice president for finance and administration. Nextel and AT&T appear to be among the companies leasing space on the tower behind Kent Library.

Mangels could not provide all of the names of the lessees, and university telecommunications director Rodger Chisman did not return phone calls from the Southeast Missourian on Friday.

Mangles said the relationship with the cell phone companies goes back a long time. And the money the contracts generate contributes to the university's overall operating budget.

"It's less than 1 percent, but it provides funds to help fund technological upkeep of the tower that we need for our radio operations," she said. "Part of it goes to the general budget. Not all of it is dedicated to one purpose."

A Federal Communications Commission cell tower map shows at least 10 wireless sites in the Cape Girardeau-Jackson area, located at the highest points in the metropolitan region -- like atop Southeast's campus.

The towers are generating revenue for cash-strapped communities, schools, even churches nationwide, although some argue wireless service providers are getting the better part of the deal and tower opponents say everyone is paying for what they see as a proliferation of eyesores filling up the American landscape.

According to CTIA-The Wireless Association, a not-for-profit that represents wireless companies, there were more than 251,000 cell sites in the United States as of late last year, an increase of nearly 5,000 sites from the previous year. With the boom in wireless devices, meeting capacity will take many more towers.

A school system in Montgomery County, Md., is expected to earn $700,000 in lease payment from cellular companies. Epiphany Lutheran Church in Lake Worth, Fla., approved a cell phone tower, with an agreement that stipulated that T-Mobile turn the tower into a 100-foot tall by 30-foot wide cross.

In October, the Cape Girardeau City Council approved an ordinance granting a special-use permit to Good Shepherd Lutheran Chapel and Wireless Asset Group LLC to construct and operate a telecommunication tower and fenced compound at 1904 W. Cape Rock Drive. The company went through a lengthy governmental application process, in part making sure the tower was not constructed on American Indian burial grounds. More than 25 tribes reviewed the application.

Cell phone providers have received plenty of complaints from those in communities not thrilled about giant towers in their backyards, like the contentious battle last year in Missouri City, Texas -- eventually won by the wireless provider.

Finding appropriate cell tower space has become a cottage industry for one Missouri professor.

Neal Lopinot, associate research professor and director of the Center for Archaeological Research at Missouri State University, and his staff have conducted dozens of archaeological surveys and field research for wireless providers in Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. He recently received two awards totaling $21,694 from Bureau Veritas North America Inc. for surveys at 15 proposed cell tower construction sites in Kansas and one near Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.

"These studies are undertaken to ensure that no significant archaeological or architectural properties listed on or potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are impacted by the construction of the cell towers and access roads," Lopinot said in a release.

With so many cell towers going up, Lopinot expects to be busy for some time.

"I'm beginning to think the place is going to be saturated with it," he said.



One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

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