Churches And Cell Sites

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The Need for Church Cell Sites is Growing

Consumer demand for faster data traffic and seamless network coverage is still on the rise. We estimate that there are 400,000 cell sites nationwide of which 15,000 or so are located at churches.  Wireless carriers are building 5,000 to 10,000 new cell sites and cell towers each year.  Some of these will be placed on churches via a church cell tower lease.

A concealed cell site in a church bell tower.

This is happening for a few reasons:

  1. 5G requires cell sites and towers that are closer together to provide continuous service.
  2. As the number of wireless subscribers grows and data usage increases, more cell sites are needed to handle the demands on the network.
  3. One of the primary reasons cell phone users switch service (or churn to another carrier) is because of coverage issues. The carriers are constantly attempting to improve coverage in areas where they notice churn.
  4. Residential areas are where subscribers notice bad coverage the most. However, getting approval in residential areas for a new tower can be difficult. 
  5. Some zoning codes encourage the placement of cell sites at non-residentially used properties in residential areas. Examples are churches and schools. 
  6. Church cell towers can be a great alternative- either attached to an existing structure like a bell tower or steeple, or to a new concealed tower built into the church itself (like the one on the church in the photo above). 

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    How can we help?

    Wireless carriers find innovative way to utilize existing structures.

    Churches can often be found in residential communities where cell tower regulations make it all but impossible for new towers to be built. Because of this, an increasing number of churches are being approached to place towers on their property or install antennas and a cell site inside the steeples. Church cell phone tower installations are definitely more expensive than other cell phone towers. This is because they are more valuable to the carrier to begin with. Wireless carriers will not typically approach a church to install a cell site in a steeple unless they have few or no other options. This makes it even more important for church officials to understand and appreciate their unique negotiating position.

    Church Cell Tower Leases: Important Issues to Consider

    • Once you sign a cell site lease, you are committing the church to hosting that cell tower for 25 years or more. Thus, it is critical that churches consider what the impact might be on the church, specifically on the future redevelopment of the church itself.
    • Signing a lease for a cell site may subject the church to income tax on what is known as “unrelated business income.”  The three-part test for unrelated business income (which is not tax-exempt) is that it is a trade or business, it is regularly carried on, and it is not substantially related to furthering the exempt purpose of the organization. A cell site lease likely passed all three tests.  Please consult with your CPA on the treatment of cell tower lease income. 
    • It is critical to limit access to the church during standard religious events or ceremonies. 
    • If you are leasing your steeple to the wireless service provider, your attorney should insert language that the carrier will relocate their equipment if the steeple needs to be repaired or replaced. 
    • In some cases, it’s appropriate to require that the wireless carrier reimburses the church for maintenance costs related to the steeple or roof.
    • If the church is a historical place, the cell site design and construction should be carefully reviewed to make sure that the historical nature of the structure is not impacted. 
    Churches and Cell Sites

    How Steel in the Air Can Help

    Steel in the Air has assisted hundreds of churches with cell phone tower leases. We are familiar with the decision-making processes that many churches go through when making these types of decisions. We can help guide your organization through the difficult and often confusing maze of lease negotiations for church cell phone tower antennas. 

    We will provide fair market value from other communities that have leased space in their steeples or on their property for a church cell phone tower site.

    Best of all, while our experts help you evaluate the offer from the wireless carrier, making sure you receive the best rate you can, we’ll also work to craft a less one-sided lease contract that protects the church’s interest.

    If a wireless carrier has not contacted you, there really is not much we can do. Please see our Tower on your Property web page for more details.

    If you have been contacted or already have a cell site on your church property or in the steeple, please contact us, and we will be happy to help. If you like, we can also provide references from other churches that have benefited from our services. See our testimonial page.

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