WITH 5G COMES THE SMALL CELL TOWER INVASION
By Bonita Gooch, The Community Voice
Are you in the “can hardly wait” mode for 5G? With it, we’ve been told to expect lightning downloads, little if any buffering, along with many technology improvements we can’t even imagine.
However, if you really want to imagine something, imagine all the hundreds – and yes thousands – of new 5G “small cell” towers that will inundate your city’s skyline. Yes, that’s something that comes along with 5G technology.
Current cell towers are large and cover a several-mile radius. 5G cells are small and only cover a small radius. We’ve heard reports that their coverage distance could be as short as 100 to 300 ft. or possibly as far as 1,000 ft. For certain, most experts project there will need to be at least one 5G cell per wireless company, per city block.
The good news is the cells are small and they can be designed to fit on existing street light poles, that is if the city, who owns the right-of-way the poles are located in and operates the street light poles in conjunction with the local electric company, can agree on terms and conditions for their use.
If they can’t reach an agreement, no problem. Both the state and the federal government have put legislation in place that limits local governments’ ability to stand in the way of 5G progress. The feds recently granted wireless companies unprecedented rights to put towers in right-of-ways, and left cities with little power to do much about it.
The federal law requires cities to allow small cell towers in the right of way – that’s the area typically between the sidewalk and the street. Right-of-way is also an easement space that’s currently used for transmission lines, sometimes in alleys, behind houses or in larger areas often reserved for major utility transmission lines. So instead of hidden in out-of-the-way private locations, these cells will be right out there in front of you.
In Kansas, the state legislature took away the cities’ rights to encourage the sharing of towers. For nearly two decades, the City of Wichita’s policy had been to as much as possible encourage, and almost require, co-locating/ space sharing on towers. A new bill passed by the legislature flips that approach and now makes it so cities cannot ask or encourage tower sharing.
Wichita City Councilmember Brandon Johnson, whose district was shocked in 2018 by the installation of 105-ft. electrical transmission lines that no one quite expected to be quite so large, said this sounds “Dejavu[BG1].”
“We have 105-ft. transmission poles, these poles (5G) would be about 20 feet shorter than that, which is still taller than the 65-ft. poles that we have here. What does that neighborhood look like?” queried Johnson. “I think what the public doesn’t see is this is every 100 or 300 feet, that’s almost every pole on the block that would have this type of technology on it.”
The one oversight that wasn’t taken away from cities is the ability to control the design and appearance of the towers and poles. With their design policy, the City of Wichita hopes to make the small cell towers blend in as much as possible. Some of their design ideas are:
• Match the cells as much as possible to the color of the poles,
• Mount the cells as close to the poles as possible,
• Keep the wires as adjacent to the poles as possible and inside conduit that matches the color of the pole,
• Keep the overall height no more than 10% above the existing structure, and
• Where possible, place the pole near the sidelines of property, and not directly in front of the windows so that people are not looking out their window at this type of technology.
“This at least allows us to put in design guidelines,” said former Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell during a March 2019 meeting. “At least we get to put lipstick on this pig.”
“I hope that companies are sensitive to neighborhoods because that’s all we can do is hope, because our power to stop that is taken away from us,” said Johnson.