Ask just about anyone what they think of a cell tower and the response is predictable. "Well it's not exactly beautiful." Probe deeper and ask if people want one in their neighborhood and the response is also predictable. "Probably not."
But a cell phone tower could be coming to a neighborhood near you if the companies can pass legislation now pending at the state Capitol. City officials like Ocala Mayor Gerald Ergle say the bill guts their ability to regulate where the towers go.
"They want to be able to expand their coverage at any cost," says Mayor Ergle.
In a rare coalition, environmentalists are joining the cities in the battle. Eric Draper represents Audubon Florida in Tallahassee.
"This is an assault on the environment, and an assault on neighborhoods. They would be able to put cell phone towers just about anywhere without public input, without environmental review," Draper says.
We found Bell South lobbyists meeting with the bill's sponsor, trying to move it in the Legislature's final days. They wouldn't talk with us, but bill sponsor Sen. Mike Bennett of Bradenton calls it a necessity.
“What this bill allows people to do is at any kind of an accident anywhere they can dial 9-1-1 on their cell phone and emergency people would be able to locate them within 50 feet or 100 feet," says Sen. Bennett.
At a news conference, the cities say they didn't buy the EMS argument. They say the 9-1-1 argument is just an excuse to erase restrictions all together.
The bill could come up for a vote anytime before Friday. Under the new legislation, cell phone companies would no longer have to prove they need new towers. That would leave local governments powerless to limit the number of towers and antennae within their borders.