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Why Some Cities Aren’t Adopting 5G

By: Kayla Matthews on September 16, 2019

Most of the discussions about 5G centers on how it's superior to older Wi-Fi standards and will help people access online content faster and with less latency.

Much is also said about how the 5G network supports high-tech advancements, such as enhanced connected devices and more responsive virtual reality experiences. However, some people aren't excited, and they're saying they don't want to make the necessary upgrades.

Health Concerns Make Residents Balk

One of the often-mentioned fears is that 5G technology could cause health problems. More specifically, since 5G is new, researchers aren't sure if the radiation from that network could harm people in ways 3G and 4G networks didn't.

In the San Francisco Bay area, residents don't want to wait to find out. That's why city council members in Mill Valley, a small town just north of San Francisco, voted unanimously last year to block 5G small cell towers in residential areas. The local legislators made their decision after getting significant public pushback from people living in Mill Valley. They reportedly received 145 letters critical of 5G and only five from supporters.

Since the city council's vote was for an urgency ordinance, the new rules went into effect immediately. They do not impact 5G equipment going up in commercial districts, but some people in the industry say local laws like these will make a nationwide rollout more challenging.

A couple of particularly vocal critics helped stoke public fear that the emitted radiation could pose a cancer threat. However, the majority of people agree that 5G is not a health risk. Even so, some residents hesitate and use local lawmakers to bring momentum to that stance.

The uncertainty about 5G also extends beyond the United States. Activists in Brussels, Belgium, successfully stopped the implementation of 5G antennas there. The opposers say they aren't against the technology, but want assurance that 5G antennas won't cause cancer. They're assuming it's dangerous unless science proves otherwise.

Antennas Interfere With Aesthetic Value

People are also up in arms because they don't like how the 5G network requires more cell towers than older systems did. They assert that the equipment takes away from the beauty of cities and neighborhoods. Some individuals are also upset that they don't have any say over the placement of the towers.

Denver, for example, reportedly has more than 120 antennas. There, a barbershop owner said she was taken aback when a small cell tower was installed right in front of her establishment with no warning. The area's public works department insists it has a process for notifying people about tower placement. However, while it influences some aspects of the antennas, it cannot control the total number in the city.

Some residents and businesses started protesting by putting signs in their windows. So far, the action has not halted the installation of the equipment. However, it shows that telecom companies and local authorities must be mindful of how people may react.

People are upset in Cincinnati, too. Some raise health concerns. Others say even if individuals don't fret about 5G being dangerous to well-being, the towers could be close enough together to detract from property values. One resident says she heard the cell towers could be placed every three to 10 homes.

Other people are against the changing aesthetics because they can't see the new network's value. They point out that the 4G network isn't giving them trouble, and they'd rather keep it.

Some Cities Feel the Effects of Federal Bullying

Another issue sparking 5G protests is that some local leaders feel the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is roping them into adoption by leaving no other choice. In 2018, the FCC restricted the power of local governments to make decisions about the rollout. That's all part of the organization's intense push to introduce 5G as soon as possible.

In September 2019, though, a court ruling concluded that the FCC wrongly tried to bypass environmental and historical site preservation reviews when erecting 5G cell towers. Environmental activists and Native American tribes viewed that decision as a victory.

Although the FCC's power over municipalities remains, some cities are working with their limited reach. In Chico, California, the city council voted to delay enacting an emergency ordinance that would let the town choose where the 5G small cell equipment could go. It will revisit the matter this December.

If the ordinance passes, small cell equipment must be at least 12 feet from sidewalks and installed on street lights to be less conspicuous. When speaking on the matter in an article from the Chico Enterprise-Record, City Manager Mark Orme noted, "It’s a matter of fed and state law trying to take the place of what city and state can do."

Voting for the emergency ordinance may be a way to take back a bit of control. He explained: "(FCC authority) really puts the city council in a predicament. This is the best we can do to have that defensive position. That’s the unfortunate reality we’re in."

Friction, but Not Bans

In most places against the 5G network, residents and legislators made progress in delaying, but not preventing, implementation. Only time will tell how successful the opposing cities will be in permanently stopping 5G from arriving.


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