5G is the next standard for wireless services and is currently expected to launch sometime in the year 2020. The 5G technology will provide faster data transmission, and very stable connections, to cell phones, tablets, and other wireless devices. Current demands for data cannot continue to be supported by the current 3G and 4G systems, largely due to the distance between network transmission systems. Unlike the large “cell towers” we are accustomed to seeing spread out here and there, 5G works off of many dozens, or hundreds, of “small cell” structures placed much closer together.
5G may result in a fantastic service to the consumer, however, it is creating many concerns for cities and counties. The huge number of transmitters that will be necessary to create a 5G network requires quick and affordable places to locate the antennae. Currently, the telecom companies are pushing to have access to existing city and county structures such as light poles, water towers, telephone poles and public buildings. To expedite access to these locations, and to save the hundreds of millions of dollars the construction of facilities would cost, the telecom industry has been pushing for local and federal legislation granting to them the right to locate their 5G antennae on public structures. This “right” would not require the telecoms to seek approval from cities/counties to use their property, or such approval would be a mere formality, nor would it require the payment of any compensation to the cities/counties, or any compensation required would be nominal.
Cities and counties have long held the ability to regulate and control public property, as well as the activities of business and individuals, through its police powers. The police powers are designed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public, protect taxpayer dollars spent on public structures and facilities, and protect community aesthetics and property values. For example, overloading light poles with antennae, and other equipment, can cause them to become unsafe in many ways. Further, to connect the 5G systems to the same light pole would require tearing up surrounding roads or sidewalks which can create unsafe conditions and, with the volume of anticipated 5G systems being installed, overwhelm cities/counties trying to oversee the process.
5G is an enticing, important and highly demanded service that will be coming soon, in some form or fashion. Often overlooked is the impact it may have on local communities and governments. This issue is considered one of the most important issues for local governments and will be playing out for the next couple years. Ideally, telecom giants, federal and state legislators, and local governing boards will come together and find a mutually agreeable solution.