Subject: Communication tower and antenna sites on public lands
Policy: PL 4.10.02
Compiled by – Branch: Crown Forests and Lands Policy Branch
Section: Crown Lands Policy Section
Date issued: April 26, 2021
Replaces directive title: Communication Tower Sites on Crown Land
Number: PL 4.10.02
Date issued: April 1, 2018

1.0 Introduction

Communication tower and antenna systems are regulated under the federal Radiocommunication Act which is administered by the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

Proponents seeking to install communication tower or antenna systems must comply with technical and safety requirements of different federal regulatory agencies such as ISED, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), and Health Canada.

Proponents are also required by ISED to engage the relevant land use authority in meaningful consultation and address relevant concerns. The Province of Ontario as represented by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (The Ministry) is considered a land use authority for projects proposed on public lands administered under the Public Lands Act (PLA).

The Ministry recognizes the social, economic and emergency management benefits associated with the maintenance and expansion of an integrated telecommunication network throughout Ontario. To facilitate the orderly review and development of communication towers and antenna systems on public lands, this policy provides overall guidance and direction and is applicable to the broad range of communication tower and antenna systems proposed for and situated on public lands.

This policy is consistent with the government’s broad non-tax revenue principles for the establishment of fee rates for the use of public lands administered under authority of the PLA

2.0 Goal

To provide clear and consistent policy direction on the review of requests to locate communication towers and antenna system sites on public lands, and to prescribe the fee structure for these sites.

3.0 Objectives

The objectives of this policy are to:

  • ensure review of communication tower and antenna system sites on public lands is harmonized with the federal government guidance to land-use authorities
  • ensure fairness, equity and consistency in the review of communication tower and antenna system applications on public lands
  • provide a standardized and consistent approach to allowing the use of public lands for communication tower and antenna system sites and the collection of fees associated with this use
  • encourage the co-location of communications facilities by the private sector to minimize environmental and social impacts to the public land base and
  • provide a fair return to Ontario for the use of public lands

4.0 Review of tower and antenna systems on public lands

The identification of a suitable location for new communications tower and antenna systems is generally based on network coverage within a specific geographic location, including locational and technical factors, such as line of sight and distance to the nearest network tower.

The federal government (ISED) has responsibility for locational approval of radio and wireless communication facilities including:

  • establishment of new towers or modifications to existing facilities
  • public consultation and notification of a new tower or antenna location
  • aeronautical safety
  • radio frequency field emissions
  • application of the federal Impact Assessment Act

Telecommunication companies wishing to establish new towers or antennas must:

  • consult with the Ministry where applicable and follow any reasonable land use consultation process established by the Ministry
  • consult with Transport Canada where applicable to ensure antennas and tower structures comply with painting and lighting requirements for aeronautical safety
  • ensure that communications facilities operate in a manner that complies with Health Canada’s limits of exposure to radio-frequency field emissions
  • if necessary, undertake an impact assessment to comply with the federal Impact Assessment Act
  • provide to the Ministry information of any co-location agreements entered into

It is the responsibility of the applicant to obtain the required approvals from the federal government and provide the Ministry with documentation as required.

Prior to submitting a request to establish a communication tower or antenna system on public lands, an applicant is encouraged to pre-consult with the local Ministry field office to identify and scope any land use issues or environmental and social constraints that may affect the location or development of the tower or antenna system and related infrastructure such as roads. Co-location of new communications facilities proposed by the private and public sector with existing, complementary towers and antenna systems is recommended, to reduce the overall impact on the public lands base.

The Ministry will review a request for a new communications tower or antenna system site consistent with legislative, policy, procedural and public consultation considerations in accordance to ISED publication CPC-2-0-03 — Radiocommunication and Broadcasting Antenna Systems.

The Ministry will also consider whether the lands proposed for a new communication tower or antenna system are needed for public safety radio system by the Ontario Government. Where nearby towers already exist, the Ministry may recommend that the applicant consider entering into a space sharing agreement with the owner of the existing tower. This supports both federal government (ISED) and MNRF policies to encourage co-location and minimize the number of structures and associated environmental and social impacts to the public land base.

The Crown has a duty to consult and if appropriate, accommodate Aboriginal communities where an activity has the potential to adversely affect existing or credibly asserted Aboriginal or treaty rights protected under Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1982.

Both the federal and provincial government may have duty to consult obligations associated with their roles in the review of project proposals.

5.0 Use of public lands

A standardized approach to the establishment and collection of fees for the use of public lands by telecommunication towers and antenna systems provides fairness, equity and consistency for the telecommunications industry. To achieve this, a multi-site agreement formalized through a licence of occupation, will be the standardized form of permission for communication  tower and antenna sites.

A typical tower or antenna system will occupy an approximate area of 2.0 hectares, not including the access road which will vary in length depending on terrain and other physical constraints. The location of the access road is to be included on the reference plan and authorized through the agreement, but will not form part of the site size calculation.

5.1 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)

To support a more efficient business relationship with the telecommunications industry, Memorandums of Agreement (MOA) will be considered by the Ministry for those telecommunications companies with more than three tower or antenna system locations.

The MOA agreement is optional and is different from the permission agreement referenced in section 5.0 above which is required to provide permission to use public lands. The MOA is utilized to document the business relationship between the company and the Ministry and provides efficiencies in invoicing and administration. The MOA is not intended to enable deviation from this policy regarding fee rates. The MOA is complementary to the multi-site agreement and would generally have a term of fifteen (15) years which may be renewed or extended.

5.2 Multi-site agreement

A multi-site agreement will apply to all new tower and antenna sites on public lands. A schedule is prepared for each individual site subject to the terms and conditions of the agreement. As new sites are approved, a schedule describing the lands is added. As a site is decommissioned and removed from active use, the schedule is deleted, subject to the terms of the agreement regarding removal of improvements.

Subject to mutual agreement between the Ministry and an individual company, existing permissions for existing tower or antenna systems can be converted to the multi-site agreement. These documents may be allowed to continue by the Ministry, provided that the fee revision occurs in accordance with the fee rates prescribed in this policy.

5.3 Ownership and disposition of public lands occupied by towers and antenna systems

The Ministry will maintain title and ownership of all public lands which are occupied by communications towers or antenna systems except where disposition of said public lands by sale to the tower or antenna system owner by the Ministry is determined to be in the best interests of the public.

These situations would include public lands:

  • declared surplus to the Crown as part of an asset review process or
  • occupied with tower sites or antenna system sites operated by other public agencies where administration and control may be transferred by the Ministry subject to a reversionary clause to the federal government, other provincial ministries, or federal or provincial government agencies entitled to hold land, by use of a Minister’s Order under Section 37.1 of the Public Lands Act.

6.0 Fees

A zonal approach is used to establish the fee rates for towers and antennas on public lands. These zonal values provide a fee rate for each site within a geographic area and are more specifically identified in Table A – Communication tower and antenna fee rates and accompanying maps.

To ensure a fair return to the Province for the use of Crown resources, fee rates for all communication tower sites in all zones and all rate categories will be kept current by applying an increase of 2% per year on a compounded basis, effective January 1, 2022.

An additional administration fee is charged for the issuance of new agreements, consistent with directive PL 6.02.01 Administrative Fees for Public Land Transactions. This fee will not be charged when the agreement is amended to include or delete tower and antenna locations.

6.1 Co-location fees

Opportunities for co-location between companies are encouraged to reduce the number of new towers and antenna systems and the associated environmental and visual impact. Where a company receives a request for co-location from another company or agency, or where an affiliate of the company proposes to co-locate to generate revenue to the prime user, the prime user shall give notice to the Ministry. The prime user is also required to pay an increased fee to the Ministry equal to the zonal value for that location in which the tower is situated or according to the non-cellular or non-revenue producing rates as applicable. Additional antennae placed on the tower by the prime user or its affiliate, which does not produce revenue, is not subject to the additional fee.

6.2 Non-cellular fees

The Ministry recognizes that some small scale non-cellular telecommunication companies provide services to a smaller more dispersed market base and hence face unique business challenges.

The Ministry will consider a non-cellular rate for these communication facilities, provided that the companies provide evidence that these facilities are required to support non-cellular communications.

6.3 Non-revenue producing tower and antenna sites

The Ministry occasionally receives requests from municipalities, school boards, local fire and police and the natural resource sector to construct a communications tower or antenna system for internal operations specific to their operational needs. These facilities are classified as non-revenue producing and are subject to an annual fee as per Table A which recognizes the non-commercial nature of the use. Multi-site agreements will be standardized for these sites.

The Ministry also receives requests from some companies who request a multi-site agreement to construct a tower and then lease space to other telecommunications providers with the primary goal of adding the maximum number of wireless network operators as users. In this case, the tower owner company operates as an independent asset owner and not as a telecommunications provider. The tower owner does not generate revenue from telecommunication services. Instead, the tower owner is enabling many network operators to co-locate on the same tower.

As such, the towers are classified as non-revenue producing for purposes of this policy and the tower owner shall pay the applicable fee for any co-locations as described in section 6.1 Co-location fees.

7.0 Definitions

In this policy,

“agreement” means, for purposes of this policy, a licence of occupation issued by the Ministry to allow communication tower and antenna systems to be located on public lands.

“communication tower” means a tower or structure built to support equipment used to transmit communication signals.

“cellular communication” means a form of communication technology that enables the use of mobile phones and is based on the geographic division of the communication coverage area into cells, and within cells.  Each cell is allocated a given number of frequencies (or channels) that allow a large number of subscribers to conduct conversations simultaneously.

“co-location” means the placement of additional antennae(s) on an existing communications tower by another company or affiliate.

“fees” includes the annual payment sometimes referred to as rent made by telecommunication companies for the use of public lands.

“non-cellular communication” means other forms of communication that are not cellular communication.

“telecommunications facility” means any facility, apparatus or other thing that is used or is capable of being used for telecommunications or for any operation directly connected with telecommunications and includes a transmission facility.

“telecommunication tower or antenna system” means an exterior transmitting device or group of devices used to receive and/or to transmit radio-frequency signals, microwave signals, or other federally-licenced communications energy transmitted from, or to be received by, other antennas. Antenna Systems include the antenna, and may include a supporting tower, mast or other supporting structure and an equipment shelter.

“reference plan” means a plan of survey prepared by a licensed Ontario Land Surveyor, that references existing survey fabric, and deposited in the local Land Registry Office.

8.0 References

8.1 Statutory

8.2 Directive cross references

  • PL 4.02.01 Application Review and Land Disposition Process Policy and Procedure
  • PL 4.10.03 Utility Corridors on Public Land Policy and Procedure
  • PL 6.01.02 Crown Land Rental Policy
  • PL 6.02.01 Administrative Fees for Public Land Transactions

Table A - Communication tower and antenna fee rates

YearBush zoneRemote zoneRural zone (sites up to 0.033 hectares)Rural zone (sites over 0.033 hectares)Population centreNon- cellular rateNon-revenue producing rate

Rates in all zones and in all rate-categories are increased by 2% per year on a compounded basis effective January 1, 2022. Amounts to be rounded to the nearest dollar.

Zone definitions (refer to maps):

Bush zone refers to that part of northern Ontario situated within the Ministry’s Red Lake, Kenora, Fort Frances, Dryden, Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay, Nipigon, Cochrane, Wawa, Hearst, Chapleau, Timmins and Kirkland Lake administrative districts. A typical tower or antenna site would be 1.6 to 2.0 hectares in size, subject to final site plan and survey.

Remote zone refers to that part of northern Ontario situated south of the Bush Zone and situated within the Ministry’s North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie administrative districts. A typical tower or antenna site would be 1.6 to 2.0 hectares in size, subject to final site plan and survey.

Rural zone refers to that area of central and southern Ontario situated south of the Remote Zone and situated within the Ministry’s Kemptville, Pembroke, Bancroft, Peterborough, Parry Sound, Midhurst, Aurora, Guelph and Aylmer administrative districts. A typical tower or antenna site would be either up to 0.033 hectares or over 0.033 hectares (typically 1.6 to 2.0) hectares in size, subject to final site plan and survey.

Population centres refers to all communities within Ontario with an urban/suburban population greater than 30,000. A typical tower or antenna site would be either 0.033 hectares or 1.6 to 2.0 hectares in size, subject to final site plan and survey.

Tower and antenna site zones map – Northern Ontario

This map depicts tower and antenna site zones in the northern portion of Ontario north of the city of Sault Ste. Marie. The map shows the bush zone and a portion of the remote zone.

Enlarge Tower and antenna site zones map – Northern Ontario

Tower and antenna site zones map – Southern Ontario

This map depicts tower and antenna site zones in the southern portion of Ontario including and south of the Ministry’s Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and North Bay MNRF administrative districts. The map shows the rural zone, the remote zone and a portion of the bush zone as well as the population centres.

Enlarge Tower and antenna site zones map – Southern Ontario