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California Town Looks for Alternatives to Small Cell Installations

The town of Fairfax will study the viability of fiber network in place of new 5G antennas.

(TNS) — Amid a countywide public outcry, Fairfax officials have vowed to explore broadband options that do not include the installation of “small cell” antennas, which protesters say are a health and safety hazard.

On Wednesday, the Town Council unanimously appointed an ad-hoc committee to study the viability of a town-wide fiber-optic cable network as an alternative to 5G antennas. The move comes a week after the council voted 5-0 at a special meeting to adopt an urgency ordinance that prohibits small cell antennas in residential zones and requires 1,500 feet of separation between the devices.

“Most residents feel that they are being poorly served by the cable and DSL service that is available now,” said Mayor Peter Lacques. “And yes, many are concerned about the health and other risks associated with 5G. Fiber optic is far superior. It’s much faster, much more reliable. So if we can get fiber optic in as an alternative, we can avoid that potential impact on health and other risks.”

Large groups of people also have turned out recently at the county Board of Supervisors’ meetings and city council meetings in San Rafael, Mill Valley and San Anselmo to call for stricter regulation of the new technology. Opponents of 5G say there are adverse health and environmental effects that may be caused by exposure to microwave radiation emitted by the 4G and 5G devices.

Last month, the Mill Valley City Council adopted an urgency ordinance that prohibits new wireless telecommunications facilities in residential zones and requires annual EMF readings to ensure that wireless facilities are complying with federal and state laws. Fairfax modeled its ordinance after Mill Valley’s, and Ross adopted similar rules.

After receiving increasing pressure from residents, the San Anselmo Town Council last week beefed up its ordinance on a 5-0 vote. In San Anselmo, people within 300 feet of a proposed 5G antenna will be notified. If the applicant requests exceptions, the town is also entitled to employ an independent consultant at the expense of the applicant to evaluate exceptions.

“I would support the changes, and I would encourage us to go as far as we possibly can — even if it means defying federal law,” San Anselmo Councilman Matt Brown said at the Sept. 25 meeting. He explained that Californians defied federal law in legalizing cannabis, and he sees this as a similar fight against the administration.

“I don’t know what the safety gap is to avoid full-on war, but this is the beginning of a revolution and I wouldn’t mind taking the leadership role to defy the industry,” he said.

In an email to the county, Leland Kim, a spokesman for AT&T, wrote, “We maintain power levels at our antenna sites that are at or below, and most of the time far below, the limits established by government regulations. Expert scientists and government agencies responsible for health and safety have stated repeatedly that wireless antennas in compliance with FCC regulations do not pose health concerns.”

Heidi Flato, a spokeswoman for Verizon, wrote, “We ensure that all applicable federal, state and local regulations are followed. Emissions from small cells, which are low power, run at a small fraction of FCC-permitted levels.”

On Sept. 26, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules designed to speed deployment of small wireless facilities. The rules limit the review of new installations by local jurisdictions to 60 days for existing structures and 90 days for entirely new facilities.

In a report on the proposed rules, FCC staff stated “5G can enable increased competition for a range of services — including broadband — support new health care and Internet of Things applications, speed the transition to life-saving connected car technologies, and create jobs.”

The report estimates that wireless providers will invest $275 billion over the next decade in next-generation wireless infrastructure deployments, which “should generate an expected three million new jobs and boost our nation’s GDP by half a trillion dollars.”

The report notes, “Over the last few years, providers have been increasingly looking to densify their networks with new small cell deployments that have antennas often no larger than a small backpack.”

And it adds, “To support advanced 4G and 5G offerings, providers must build out small cells at a faster pace and at a far greater density of deployment than before.”

Because of that, Lacques said that the ad-hoc committee is on a fast-track to hopefully make a recommendation within six months. He along with Councilman Bruce Ackerman were appointed to the committee. He said they will likely explore a partnership with a company called Sonic, which would install the fiber-optic network. He said they would consider funding options for the project, including a possible utility tax for Fairfax residents.

Jess Lerner said she and several Fairfax residents have formed a task force to campaign against 5G installations. She is happy to see the Town Council take action, but she said more can be done.

“There are some outstanding issues,” she said, such as adopting rules for setback protections, or adding buffer requirements for mixed-use zones, among other issues. “There are the health concerns with the EMF output, fire hazard safety, seismic hazards, overusing utility poles, aesthetics. They made some progress, but we have a lot to do.”

©2018 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.