(TNS) — The battle between infrastructure needed for fast digital service and property rights may soon come to communities across Palm Beach County. Right now, it’s playing out in Tallahassee courtesy of legislation before lawmakers.
“It’s a ticket for multi-billion dollar wireless communication companies to come into a city and do as they please in city right of ways,” said Riviera Beach Councilwoman Dawn Pardo.
The brewing fight is over technological advances. First there was 1G wireless technology, for “first generation,” and as telecommunications technology evolved, 2G, 3G, 4G and 4G LTE came to be. Now 5G, a fifth generation network technology allowing greater connectivity at higher speeds for many more devices, is on its way.
To place the infrastructure needed for 5G service, a proposal pending in the Florida Legislature would limit state and local control of public rights-of-way where the 5G equipment is being installed
Senate Bill 596 sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, and House Bill 687, sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, would create the Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act and prohibit the Florida Department of Transportation and local governmental entities from prohibiting, regulating or charging for collocation of small wireless facilities in public rights-of-way.
Municipalities say the bill is one-sided, would take away their ability to control where 5G equipment is installed and totally favors telecommunications giants such as AT &T, Verizon and Sprint. The companies want the right to install their equipment on utility poles, light posts, signs and traffic arms in rights-of-way.
Pardo was one of about a dozen officials from cities and counties across Florida, including Miami, Fort Lauder dale and St. Peters burg, who spoke against the bill before the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities in Tallahassee on March 7.
Pardo told the committee the bill would eliminate residents having a say in the location of 5G facilities.
Currently, Riviera Beach requires “stealth designs” that are unobtrusive, and has other rules as well. The city doesn’t allow the equipment within residential communities.
“We have a couple of these wireless companies proposing to put towers in residential communities without any input from the public. This is unacceptable. This bill allows companies to put as many towers as they want,” Pardo said.
The proliferation of poles and equipment on rights-of-way would jeopardize public safety, entice kids to climb up the poles and create more debris when a hurricane hits, Pardo said.
Riviera Beach has spent a “couple million dollars” to bury utility lines, Pardo said, adding, “Then the next thing you know, we have these 100-foot poles in the middle of the sidewalk.”
Both bills have passed their first round in the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities and the House Subcommittee on Energy & Utilities.
While the bills deal only with “small cells,” the suitcase-size to small refrigerator-size building blocks of the 5G system, some companies are also submitting applications for poles as high as 120 feet.
The telecommunications industry says the upgrades are needed by 2020 to meet the demand for faster internet speeds, smart cities, driverless vehicles, instantaneous 3D downloads, the “Internet of things” where machines talk to machines, and more.
Houston-based Crown Castle, the nation’s largest provider of wireless infrastructure, sought to install 50 to 60 poles all over Riviera Beach, but in September 2016 the city passed an ordinance regulating them. The equipment boxes must be grouped together in a single location and spaced a minimum of 2,000 feet from each other unless technical documentation is provided by the applicant and approved by the city management. If more than six poles are to be located within one linear mile of a city block, the manager must notify the council.
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