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Mobile Carriers Calling God for Coverage

"Here is the church. Here are the people. Where is the cell tower? It's in the steeple!"

This spin on the old nursery rhyme isn't too far off the mark these days.

As mobile carriers work to expand coverage in residential areas, they often bump up against local zoning restrictions that prohibit cell towers. A creative bunch, mobile providers continue to cook up stealth strategies to situate towers. What's the hot new location? One word: Churches.

Friends in the Northeast recently shared details about a current cell-tower brouhaha within their congregation. T-Mobile came knocking, offering $1,800 per month for five years with a 10% annual increase thereafter, to situate a cell tower on their church grounds. That's a nice check for the collection plate. However, given aesthetic issues and its concern for irking the neighbors, this church may pass on the deal. Many others, though, are rushing to cash in.

As the "Tools for Ministry" section of the national United Methodist Church (UMC) Website ("Chur ches sell steeple space as hiding spots for cellular antennas.") notes:

"For generations, church steeples have served as conduits to God, symbolically reaching heavenward, providing a visual reminder of the size and power of the church, and calling congregations to worship with the sound of bells. These days, the steeple may also include an antenna to relay cell phone calls."

Yes, but do these steeple sites offer a wide selection of ring tones? Some find those church bells so passé.

"We see this as a benign way for many of our churches to enhance their revenue,” said Mike Hickcox, UMC's New England Annual branch, in the article.

SteepleCom, a firm that works to bring churches and mobile carriers together at the altar, counts over 800 churches as clients. The payouts to congregations range from $500 to $4,000 per month.

Now that cable MSOs are making a leap into mobile with Sprint, could they be the next ones knocking on parish doors? (See Sprint-Cable Group Weighs New Wireless Options.)

— Michael Harris, Chief Analyst, Cable Digital News

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