Town officials stood firm in regulating new wireless infrastructure as restrictively as possible, despite complaints from Verizon representatives that parts of the law are burdensome and of dubious legal status.
An order from the Federal Communications Commission that takes effect next week will force municipalities to allow the installation of small cell facilities — miniature antennas meant to lay the groundwork for 5G — on street poles in the public rights of way. The town is reluctantly rushing to pass design standards for the facilities, which it considers an overreach of federal authority.
Essentially, the town is powerless to reject the antennas. But regarding their height, notices of the radio frequency signal they emit and radiation reporting requirements, Assistant Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno said the regulations come “as close to the line of risk as we can get without risking too much.
“Where we can push that reasonableness line and require certain things,” she said, “we’ve done it.”
AT&T seems to be on board with the town’s regulations, but Sherman & Howard, counsel for Verizon Wireless, submitted a list of challenges to the councilors. A letter from Verizon’s attorneys begins by saying that the new codes are “overall … fair and balanced,” but it goes on to claim that in some respects they are just the opposite.
One objection posed was to the notification labels the town plans to post on poles that feature antennas, as a way to notify the public of radio frequency radiation (they also objected to the word “radiation,” instead suggesting “radiofrequency signal”). Verizon argued such notices violate the Federal Telecommunications Act, because the facilities meet federal requirements for safe exposure levels.
Nevertheless, some residents have expressed concern and even fear at the prospect of cell towers so close to homes and businesses. Devra Davis of the Environmental Health Trust has led the opposition, and she and a handful of others attended the council’s meeting Monday with anti-5G posters.
Research on the effects of radiation from 5G cell towers or any other towers is far from conclusive, but the council opted to include labels so anyone worried about their health can avoid the facilities and contact their owners.
“I just want to make sure people have a clear way to get information if they’re concerned,” Councilor Arne Jorgensen said.
Mayor Pete Muldoon suggested also explaining the radiation in terms of everyday devices — for example, whether the radiation is equivalent to a cellphone, Wi-Fi router or microwave.
“When you post just a number,” he said, “people aren’t going to know what that means.”
However, Muldoon emphasized that he supports the new regulations out of a belief in the importance of local control, not because he fears “that we are all in grave danger.”
Another of Verizon’s qualms was with the town’s request that it provide a non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation report for each antenna, to prove the facilities are not harmful. Verizon argued this also violates federal law, because the FCC would not license a facility if it did not meet safety standards.
Verizon also protested the town’s requirement that antennas be kept to a maximum of 30 feet. The FCC order allows them to be up to 50 feet, and Verizon said they need to be at least 40 feet “to deploy wireless services in residential areas where customer demand is greatest.”
“The lower the pole, the more poles are needed,” the letter to the council read. “The higher the pole, the less poles are needed.”
The councilors disregarded that as well, agreeing to leave the maximum height at 30 feet.
After a final reading of the regulations Monday, the council will enact them just in time for the FCC order to take effect.
Verizon and AT&T will likely submit applications for small cell facilities soon after.