Fairfax, Calif., Council Says More Time Needed to Craft 5G Rules

A significant outpouring of public comment after the release of a draft ordinance has town officials delaying the adoption of the new wireless antenna infrastructure regulations.

by Adrian Rodriguez, The Marin Independent Journal / April 26, 2019
Shutterstock/kriangphrom

(TNS) — Amid concerns that federal mandates usurp local authority, the fight for control over the hardware that transmits wireless Internet has reached an impasse in Fairfax.

After the fourth public hearing before the Town Council this week — this one lasting more than three hours — council members said they need more time before adopting new regulations for the installation of wireless antennas used for the high-speed network called 5G.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Mayor Barbara Coler said after the Tuesday special meeting. “After we released our draft ordinance last week, we received a lot of public comment [Tuesday] that we needed to consider and review.”

The battle for local control has been heating up across the county, as Larkspur, Mill Valley, San Anselmo, Ross, San Rafael and the county take on the issue.

The new technology operates on higher radio frequencies than older iterations of wireless. Those frequencies transmit data faster, but they don’t travel as far. As a result, more transmitters will be needed and they’ll need to be placed closer to the people using them — on telephone poles and light posts in the public right of way.

Despite the potential benefits, a group of Marin residents has formed a “5G-free Marin Task Force” to urge cities and towns to take a stand against the technology on the basis of health concerns. Opponents say that exposure to radio emissions comes with potential risks, including fatigue, headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, heart problems, learning and memory disorders, ringing in the ears and increased cancer risk.

Federal regulations, first adopted decades ago and fortified this year, limit the ability for local governments to restrict wireless infrastructure. Those laws, according to the Federal Communications Commission, are aimed at maintaining a free market for the communications industry.

Without local policies in place that set guidelines for companies hoping to set up the new hardware, municipalities have little ability to dictate where the equipment is installed and how it looks.

But federal law prohibits local governments from restricting wireless-transmitting hardware on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions. The FCC has determined what it calls safe levels of emissions, and says that technology that complies with its standards can’t be prohibited.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the jury is still out on the health risks of exposure to these frequencies.

In its draft ordinance, Fairfax staffers were proposing to require public notification within a 300-foot radius of a potential hardware installation site when an application is submitted to the town. The ordinance would also require an annual review of any installed hardware to track emissions. There would also be a 300-foot buffer around schools, child care centers and health facilities.

Andy Peri, a Fairfax resident and member of the 5G-Free Marin group, said they are pleased that Fairfax officials are listening to their suggestions, but want the ordinance to be bullet-proof.

“The telecommunications industry is putting the public at risk,” he said. “The towns, cities and the county need to do everything they can to protect the well-being of the environment and the people of Marin County.”

The Town Council is expected to open the issue again in June. If progress is made faster, the council could choose to schedule a special meeting in May, Coler said.

©2019 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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