5G arriving with faster speed, increased concerns

Americans like their high-speed wireless, and the faster the better.

To meet that demand, telecommunications companies are readying to roll out 5G technology. As its name suggests, 5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks, created to increase data speeds and support emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, smart homes and virtual reality, as the Village of Hinsdale explains on its website.

Wireless access for homes and enhanced mobile services are likely to be the first applications using the new 5G technology, with the first mobile devices providing 5G connectivity expected to become available in 2020.

Sounds good, right? The problem for some residents, however, is that 5G antennas’ smaller size and more limited coverage area than previous technology mean they require a dense network of closely-spaced antennas to ensure a line of sight between the antenna and the user or another antennae. While the federal government and a majority of states have cleared a regulatory path for this deployment, citizens across the country are working to block installation out of health fears related to exposure to radio frequency emissions and the adverse aesthetic impact of a proliferation of new antennae and poles.

Last year, the Federal Communications Commission acted to remove regulatory barriers to advanced wireless communications services, including limiting state and local government’s regulatory authority over small wireless infrastructure located within the public rights of way and capping fees for use of publicly owned utility poles for the installation of telecommunications equipment.

Even before the FCC’s move, then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act that prohibits jurisdictions from working to “prohibit, regulate or charge for the co-location of small wireless facilities.” Municipalities like Hinsdale can establish design standards for the equipment and request that existing poles be used to avoid additional ones going up. But as village officials have stated, small wireless facility applications must be processed within 90 days or the permit will be considered granted.

Responding to the rollout

Hinsdale is not the only area community grappling with 5G, of course. Last month Western Springs Village President Alice Gallagher wrote letters to the sponsors of the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act in the Illinois House and Senate, sharing residents’ concerns and requesting that the act be amended to give municipalities greater regulatory control over installation.

“The (Western Springs) village board is at a loss to address resident concerns regarding the potential health risks associated with mass implementation of the wireless facilities in our neighborhoods. Understandably, many of our residents worry that the increase of radio frequency emissions will negatively impact public health,” Gallagher wrote. “We have done some research on our end to identify potential risks, but have not found reliable data that answers the specific question: ‘Will the mass implementation of small cell wireless facilities in residential neighborhoods be harmful to the public?’ Therefore, we request your help in identifying the resources you relied upon to allay public health concerns when sponsoring the bill.”

The Village of La Grange has reportedly already received permit applications from Verizon to install 5G equipment.

Verizon this week launched a website to address the concerns of Hinsdale residents, stated Verizon Public Relations Manager David Weissmann in response to an inquiry. Found at https://improveyourwireless.com/hinsdale, the site touts the less intrusive design of small cell equipment.

“Small cells are a fraction of the size of traditional communication facilities, use a fraction of the power and serve a much smaller area than traditional cell sites. The reduced size allows the small cells to attach to existing utility poles and light standards with little aesthetic impact,” it reads.

Regarding health fears, Verizon contends that research concludes radio frequency emissions from small cell equipment pose “no known health risks” to people.

“And advisers to the World Health Organization have specifically concluded that the same goes for 5G equipment,” the site states. “In fact, the (radio frequency) safety standards adopted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission are even more conservative than the levels adopted by some international standards bodies.”

But Illinois Sen. Suzy Glowiak (D-24, Elmhurst) believes more analysis is needed. She said her staff is currently drafting legislation to establish a task force charged with studying the issue. Glowiak acknowledged she was compelled to take the step after hearing the chorus of constituents’ concerns.

“When enough people start calling my office, it makes me pause and say we need to really consider that,” Glowiak said. “What is the real science and what is the real data? I want to know if there are possible dangers.”

She envisions the task force membership drawing from various sectors of the community.

“I just really want to know the facts, and I want to give good recommendations to the General Assembly moving forward,” she said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean