The council is interested in imposing labor standards on subcontractors that would install the equipment necessary to make Syracuse one of the first cities in the country to have 5G wireless connectivity. But can it?
(TNS) — City lawmakers have delayed a decision on whether to allow Verizon blanket authority to install a high-speed 5G data network in Syracuse, N.Y.
Common Councilor Bryn Lovejoy-Grinnell objected to a planned vote on the item Monday afternoon. That objection automatically tables the item for two weeks.
Last month, Verizon and City Hall drafted an agreement that would allow Verizon to install hundreds of small cell towers on city-owned light poles. Those towers would have the capacity to carry a 5G network, which allows for increased connectivity across wireless devices, including cell phones. Syracuse would be one of the first 5G cities in America.
But the plan has run into intense scrutiny from the Common Council, whose members have repeatedly raised concerns over health and safety issues, labor agreements with Verizon and federal policies that dictate 5G deployment.
Councilor Lovejoy-Grinnell said she had unanswered questions about the agreement and that waiting another two weeks wouldn’t mean the city loses out on the new technology. Since the proposal came in the midst of the council’s lengthy budget review, there hasn’t been enough time to address all the council’s questions, she said.
Mayor Ben Walsh said 5G is an important part of the future of Syracuse’s economy. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he said his administration will not stop pushing to make it happen.
“I am disappointed, but I’m also undeterred,” Walsh said. “We feel like we went above and beyond in terms of trying to answer the questions raised both by our constituents and the councilors, but clearly some questions remain so we’ll focus on addressing those as well.”
During a study session Monday, Lovejoy-Grinnell pressed a city attorney for answers about labor standards in the proposed agreement. She wanted to know if the city could require Verizon to reveal the subcontractors it used to install the small cell towers, and whether the city could include labor standards for those contractors.
Joseph Barry, 1st assistant corporation counsel, said he didn’t believe federal law would allow for that. He also said new federal rules wouldn’t let Syracuse impose labor standards in the agreement, because that would be considered an impediment to 5G deployment.
Lovejoy-Grinnell and Councilor Khalid Bey were skeptical of Barry’s answers.
“I would not want us to vote on your guess about what the law requires or allows us to do,” Lovejoy-Grinnell said. “Do you think you could use additional time...or are you certain about your answer?"
“In my opinion, this is an area the council cannot regulate,” Barry replied.
Lovejoy-Grinnell wasn’t satisfied with his assurance. She said answers Barry gave in a previous hearing about 5G weren’t completely accurate and she wasn’t convinced his opinion Monday was accurate either.
“I’m certain with my opinion, and that’s kind of my final opinion,” Barry concluded. “You’re always welcome to get a second opinion."
Also raised was the issue of whether the city could legally ban 5G. Other cities, such as Portland, Ore., have passed laws attempting to stymy 5G installation. The Portland council demanded the Federal Communications Commission update its research on the health impacts of 5G before installation could begin.
Some cities have tried to ban 5G. Barry said he didn’t believe those bans would hold up in court, since the FCC has limited a city’s ability to regulate or slow-walk 5G deployment.
A vote on the Syracuse 5G agreement will be tabled until at last May 20, when the council meets next.
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