5G Issues Heat Up - RI Groups are Raising Concerns

Friday, March 15, 2019


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Rhode Island residents are raising concerns regarding the implementation of 5G technology in the state, from impact on human health and the environment, to how it will look in communities, after the Rhode Island General Assembly approved legislation in 2017 to allow for its installation -- and the FCC launched its latest 5G auction this week amidst national controversy.  

In Providence, historic preservationists and residents are questioning how 5G will physically impact the environment. 

“Since the beginning, cities have given utility companies a piece of the public right-of-way. This was necessary to extend electrical, gas and other services to the intended users. In the past, the most obvious result of this was the electric poles and wires that march down city streets or alleyways,” said Brent Runyon with the Providence Preservation Society. 

“As we've seen with electrical transformers, utility companies are coming up with new things to put onto the right-of-way and there's been no discussion with the public about how this would affect the character of our communities," said Runyon. "It is reasonable to expect them to work with the City when they are considering placing a transformer in front of some buildings, though perhaps not all. An example is the one they put underground at the Old State House on Benefit Street.”

The City of Providence said that is still in the planning stages to consider 5G technology in the city. 5G stands for fifth-generation cellular wireless, and the initial standards for it were set at the end of 2017, according to PC Magazine (read more here). 

“While the emerging technology presents great opportunity, the City wants to ensure that its deployment is reflective of our digital equity and public infrastructure priorities,” said Emily Crowell in Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office. “At this point, we’re in the process of developing a Request for Information (RFI) for a small-cell plan. Submissions will be reviewed and help guide implementation options. There have been no ‘community forums’ hosted by the city at this point.”

5G Moving Forward — and Residents Raise Concerns

This week, the Federal Communications Trade Commission (FCC) 24 GHz auction for the millimeter-wave spectrum for 5G began on Thursday.

“The FCC last month identified 38 qualified bidders for the spectrum, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. But a couple of familiar names were missing: Cox and Frontier, who had initially applied but did not make the final cut,” reported Broadcasting & Cable

The auction, however, started amidst national controversy. 

“The FCC said the auction, scheduled Thursday, will proceed despite protests from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, as well as two committees in the U.S. House,” reported the Washington Post. “For months, the FCC, supporting the interests of advancing 5G wireless technology, has sparred with NOAA and NASA, which have fought to protect the wireless radio frequencies or ‘spectrum’ along and adjacent to frequencies weather data is passed.”

“Apparently, rushing 5G is far more important than accurately predicting hurricanes and 3-5 day weather patterns,” said Rachel McIntosh, who grew up in Cranston — and recently presented before the Rhode Island Island General Assembly “Special Commission to Study Intentional Manipulation of the Global Environment Through Geoengineering.”

McIntosh, who along with others shared their concerns at the February 26 meeting at the State House, said the issue of 5G was among the number raised by a growing group in Rhode Island that has concerns about the impact of technology on the environment — and personal health. 

“What’s more amazing is the requests come from NASA, the Commerce Department, weather scientists, and even the Defense Department,” said McIntosh, of the national concerns raised around the latest 5G auction. 

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PPS' Brent Runyon

Support — and Opposition — in RI

According to the release at the passage of the 2017 legislation -- and signed into law -- the language “allows wireless service providers authorized to do business in the state to install the small equipment necessary to establish a 5G network in Rhode Island alongside existing infrastructure such as poles, public rights of way or buildings. It does not give providers the ability to install anything on private property without the permission of the owner. While the work is subject to normal building, electrical and public right-of-way use or work permits and any other permits that would normally be required of communications service providers, the law ensures that no new laws or fees are set up to limit or discourage wireless service providers from installing or maintaining such a network, and requires that state and local agencies respond in a timely manner to applications for such permits." 

“Having the most up-to-date, high-speed communications networks widely available throughout Rhode Island would be a huge selling point for the kinds of startups and growing firms that are the future of our economy and can offer Rhode Islanders high-paying jobs,” said Senator Lou DiPalma at the time. “This legislation is a way to position our state to add state-of-the-art communications capability to the many advantages we already offer businesses, including strong higher-education institutions, close proximity to Boston and New York as well as major highways and transportation infrastructure.”

Those who have concerns — including Runyon and McIntosh — are looking to address them at the municipal level. 

“The most important thing to get across with 5G, is it’s up to the municipalities,” said McIntosh. “The Governor says she is going to be lead on it, but people can go right to their town hall and say we don’t want these towers and 5G.”

Providence resident Linda Getgen said at this time, her concern is focused on how the technology will look in neighborhoods.

“My immediate concern is about how it would be installed,” said Getgen. “It seems that old technology is never removed and new technology is simply added to the jumble of wires, cabling, and boxes already on houses and telephone poles.”

"With 5G and other new technologies, especially one that requires many more transmitters and that has potential health effects, it is reasonable to expect an even more robust discussion," said PPS Executive Director Runyon. "For a private company like Verizon, which isn't regulated by the PUC, to expect cities to waive all review of new infrastructure in historic or non-historic areas, is ridiculous."

Updated Friday 8:47 AM


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