By Dianne Feinstein
Originally published in The Mercury News
As the United States looks forward to advancements in wireless communications – the so-called 5G revolution, which will bring improved broadband speed and reliability – we often emphasize the health, safety and economic benefits.
But one aspect of 5G we can’t ignore is how the potentially intrusive physical deployment of internet infrastructure will affect our cities.
If you look above our streets, you’ll see telephone poles across the country loaded down with wires, transformers, fuses, insulation and more. The 5G roll-out will only add to that equipment, and bring with it added safety risks to our communities.
Local communities must also play a central role in deciding how and where 5G providers install their gear.
San Jose, for instance, charges utility companies a fee to install their equipment then uses the proceeds to expand internet access in underserved areas. This program would connect 50,000 households in the next 10 years. New FCC rules, however, would put that plan in jeopardy.
In January, a pair of FCC rules took effect that allow telecom providers to install heavy equipment with little or no say from local jurisdictions.
These rules, ostensibly intended to fast-track the 5G rollout, preempt state and municipal regulations over how wireless companies may attach 5G transmission devices to light poles, traffic lights and utility poles.
They also dictate how much local governments can charge wireless companies to review proposed 5G equipment deployment and the rent paid for the privilege of using public infrastructure.
The new 5G network will need new antennas to work, adding to the network of antennas our current cell technology already uses. This means we’re well on our way to a dangerous situation in which cities are clogged with 5G antennas on public infrastructure, all with little input from cities themselves.
Unless Congress repeals these new FCC rules, citizens and local governments – and potentially public safety – will get steamrolled by big wireless companies.
The new FCC rules give cities and counties just just 60 days to review a wireless corporation’s application for the installation of 5G equipment. If a decision is not reached after that time, the FCC rules tell a reviewing agency that it must automatically approve the request.
Sixty days is hardly enough time for cities to properly review health, safety, environmental and aesthetic effects of a given deployment, particularly when you consider that a single request may contain hundreds of applications. Moreover, the new rules cap how much cities can charge to install this equipment, even if it’s well below the cost for cities to do this work. In effect, the new FCC rules will enable the largest wireless companies in the country to use public assets and money to subsidize the updating of their private telecom
What’s worse, wireless companies won’t bear the responsibility when things go wrong. Attaching 5G cells that are the size of mini-refrigerators to city poles will make poles less stable. When poles come down, they pose significant risk for physical harm, property damage, blackout and even wildfires in dry regions. And under FCC rules, cities and residents would be on the hook for that damage.
We shouldn’t be asked to subsidize private commercial development without any local oversight. In order to prevent big wireless companies from sidelining cities and counties, Congress must act.
That’s why we introduced the Restoring Local Control Over Public Infrastructure Act. This legislation would return control over the 5G upgrade to local governments where it belongs and where it has historically rested. This bill is supported by more than 170 cities and municipalities in California alone, as well as mayors from across the nation. Without a doubt, 5G technology is vital to the economic future of our country and key to our global competitiveness. But it must be implemented in a way that incorporates the feedback and oversight of local communities.
I hope my colleagues in the Senate will join my effort to allow local governments to have the final say on how 5G is deployed in their communities.
Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate.