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Report: High Mobile Broadband Demand Led to Tower Worker Deaths

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Could our collective thirst for mobile data be responsible for the death of dozens of people? According a report by ProPublica and Frontline, the answer could be a resounding "Yes," with a lot of the bloodshed attributable, partly, to the launch of the iPhone.

Aggressive, unrealistic mobile rollout schedules force the maintenance men who service cellular towers to ignore safety regulations in order to complete tasks in a timely basis, the report says. As a result, cellular workers comprised over half of all tower-climbing fatalities over the past nine years, surpassing the fatalities from workers on television, radio, Internet, microwave, and government communication towers -- combined.

Tracking down which carriers' towers were responsible for the most fatalities was no easy task, as all the major companies delegate tower maintenance tasks to contractors, and all but Verizon use complex, multi-layered chains of contractors.

After some extensive digging, ProPublica found that the vast majority of the deaths occurred on AT&T-owned cellular towers; 15 of the company's contractors died between 2003 and 2011. By contrast, five T-Mobile contractors, two Verizon contractors and one Sprint contractor died during the same time frame.

The majority of AT&T's fatalities occurred between 2006 and 2008, when the company was rushing to absorb Cingular's network and compensate for the overwhelming demand generated by the iPhone's launch. Eleven workers died during the rush.

The Register reports that AT&T hasn't had a cell climber die since 2011, however, and the company released a statement noting that "Our contracts with these companies require strict compliance with state and federal laws and regulations."  

Image credit: TheBusyBrain/Flickr