First Deputy Governor’s War on Unsightliness Goes Mobile

In Chea Sophara’s war on eyesores, cellular phone companies may be the next casualties.

The first deputy governor of Phnom Penh finds the ubiquitous phone towers sprawling from the city’s rooftops un­sightly, and has written a letter to phone companies calling for them to stop building “to en­sure the beauty of the city” and to avoid accidents.

What’s more, he wants all the companies to invest together in one giant tower, to be erect­ed out­side the city on a mountain top somewhere, Chea Sophara said last week.

“I will not allow anyone to apply [for more towers] anymore,” he said. Towers are “so ugly on the roof of buildings.”

Those ugly towers, communications officials say, make telephone communication in Cam­bodia possible.

“If not in the city, it would be impossible to do,” said Trairat Kaew­kerd, general manager of Cambodia Shinawatra. “If you don’t want mobile phones in the country, you can do that,” he said, referring to the construction of one large tower.

Shinawatra has between 20 to 30 towers in the city, with ranges from 2 to 5 km. For coverage in some provinces, the company uses satellite links.

After conducting a study with the Phnom Penh’s department of urbanization and construction, officials from the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications will meet with telephone and other private companies to discuss a possible site for the all-encompassing tower, said Nhem Saran, a municipal cabinet official.

They want to ensure the tower doesn’t interfere with flights coming and going from Pochentong Airport, so the tower must be built at least 30 km away, said Sok Sambaur, director of the airport.

Telephone company officials don’t see eye to eye with the plan.

“It would be very hard to do that,” said Somchai Lertwset­theerakul, general manager of Cambodia Samart. “It is not only expensive, but it affects the coverage areas.”

His $5 million plan to expand in the city, from 16 towers to 22, would be put on hold.

Still, Chea Sophara insists, Thai­land and developing there have “really done a good job keeping the city nice by moving phone towers away from the city.”

Replied Somchai: “I am from Thailand. Bangkok has many, many more towers than Phnom Penh. Big, big towers.”

Trairat, also from Thai­land, agreed. “By the nature of the phones, you have to have a lot of towers in the city,” he said.

No one would speculate the cost of such a multi-company tower, including Chea Sophara.

Inside the government, other officials disagreed with the plan.

It is “impossible to build one tower on outskirts to serve for every company in the city,” said So Khun, minister of Post and Telecommunications, who also confirmed the one-tower policy is in the works. Neither is it possible for companies to build their own giant single towers, So Khun said.

After the gargantuan tower is built, Chea Sophara said, the city has considered removing the exist­ing towers that clutter Phnom Penh’s skyline.

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