FRONTLINE and ProPublica explored the hazardous work of independent contractors who built and serviced America’s cellular infrastructure as it expanded. (Aired 2012)
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The smartphone revolution came with a hidden cost. Tower climbers install and service cell phone antennas, ascending hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand feet. Nearly 100 climbers were killed on radio, TV and cell towers in the decade before the documentary was released — a rate that at the time was about 10 times the average for construction workers. Reporters at FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigated 50 cell-related deaths in this 2012 documentary.
While some cell phone tower climbers said they were under pressure to cut corners, layers of subcontracting made it difficult for safety inspectors to determine fault when a tower worker was killed or injured.
“Cell Tower Deaths” was a FRONTLINE production with RAIN Media, Inc., in partnership with ProPublica. The documentary was written and produced by Travis Fox. Martin Smith was senior producer and correspondent. Reporting was by FRONTLINE’s Ryan Knutson and ProPublica’s Liz Day. The series senior producer for FRONTLINE in 2012 was Raney Aronson-Rath. The executive producer of FRONTLINE was David Fanning.
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Funding for FRONTLINE is provided through the support of PBS viewers and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Additional funding is provided by the Abrams Foundation; the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Park Foundation; the Heising-Simons Foundation; and the FRONTLINE Journalism Fund with major support from Jon and Jo Ann Hagler on behalf of the Jon L. Hagler Foundation, and additional support from Koo and Patricia Yuen.
High Rate of Deaths for Tower Climbers - 00:00
“Free Climbing” Cell Phone Towers, Contractors & Workplace Safety - 5:35
3G & Smartphones Lead to Rush to Upgrade Cell Phone Towers - 11:51
“Money Versus Safety” in Cell Phone Tower Industry - 20:35
Credits - 30:28