Government, Human Resources, and Technology

City struggles with 5G wireless infrastructure rules

Officials will have to cooperate to maintain even some control over public right of way.

June 7, 2019
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A new ordinance relaxing municipal regulation on 5G wireless infrastructure faces opposition from both Grand Rapids residents and elected officials, but city staff argued compliance with the ordinance is necessary to maintain even a small amount of municipal control.

According to city documents, the Federal Communications Commission in January 2019 issued Order 133, which limits municipal control of the public right of way as it pertains to wireless service providers. The order was issued to promote the expansion of 5G wireless co-location across the U.S.

The state of Michigan then enacted 2018 Public Act 365 in March, which provides even more restrictive, uniform, statewide measures to encourage 5G development in Michigan.

The city of Grand Rapids has 90 days from the act’s effective date to conform to the requirements of the statute. Accordingly, the city had until June 9 to implement the necessary changes to fees and procedures.

Act 365 creates a number of conditions for agreements between municipalities and wireless service providers. The act prohibits exclusive agreements and ensures that any state-recognized telecommunications provider may submit an application.

There also is no limit to the number of applications the city may receive from any one provider. The city may require applications and permits. It also provides a limited set of reasons that an application may be denied.

The city also is limited in how applications must be processed under Act 365. Applications must be responded to in the order they are received, subject to specific timelines. For example, an application for co-location on an existing city pole must be processed within 60 days, whereas an application for a new pole or wireless support structure for co-location requires a decision within 90 days.

If an application is incomplete, the city must inform the applicant within 25 days, but the city only has 10 days to respond after an incomplete application has been re-submitted.

Act 365 also caps the rates and fees that may be charged. Application fees are limited to $200 for each small cell facility co-location application and $300 if the co-location requires a new utility pole. Applications for zoning approval are limited to $500 for a new or modified small cell facility and $1,000 for new wireless support structures.

Recurring fees for co-location are permitted but are limited to $20 per year for each existing city-owned pole being rented and $30 per year for each co-location existing upon it. If a new pole is erected on behalf of a provider, the city may charge $125 for its use.

The ordinance establishes this series of fees and requirements and further provides that those fees may be adjusted by resolution in the future, all as permitted by the act. The ordinance further states a preference for a type of installation that respects the public right of way as the default design unless there are extenuating circumstances.

The ordinance complies with the procedures and fees required by the FCC and state law. It also is consistent with a model ordinance drafted by Grand Valley Metro Council.

During the commission hearing, Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said she and the city commission actively opposed both the FCC changes and the state legislation.

Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong said the city will be in violation of Act 365 if it does not adopt these changes and will further lose the ability to regulate its right of way.

“Companies may decide that, ‘Well, we don’t have to pay the fees that are available,’” DeLong said. “Our fee structure that is currently in place, which is different from the fee structure that would be under this ordinance, would probably be challenged. So, it would limit the already very limited ability we have to regulate this industry.”

Third Ward Commissioner Senita Lenear relayed concerns from the public that there isn’t enough knowledge on public health consequences related to electromagnetic frequencies from a 5G co-location. She suggested the city issue a moratorium, giving it time to run due diligence on any potential harm expansion may cause to residents.

The city received 11 communications from residents in opposition to 5G expansion. One communication from resident Jeanine Deal expressed concern the move would not be beneficial to residents.

“Installing 5G antennas and small cell towers in residential areas is not required for public safety or national security,” Deal said. “It is necessary for faster download speeds so the telecom companies can compete with cable companies to stream videos and, to a lesser extent, to increase the capacity of smart devices and enable the internet of things.”

Deal also argued the radio frequency radiation emitted by these towers would be harmful to residents’ health.

“Human exposure guidelines for RF radiation used by the Federal Communications Commission are over 20 years old and address thermal effects only,” she said. “They ignore established nonthermal health effects and do not take into consideration long-term exposure to frequency modulated wireless radiation.”

Local resident Ayannah Raquel, in an email to the city, argued the expansion of 5G technology can have severe negative effects on local wildlife, which will in turn negatively impact the community and businesses.

“In order for 5G to be effective, there cannot be any blockage, which means removal of trees, bushes and plants, resulting in animals being pushed out of the cities and insect overpopulation due to no leverage with the food chain,” Raquel said. “This can result in infestation in homes and businesses, which can result in the interests of people not wanting to live in those areas.”

DeLong added the city lobbied hard prior to the passage of Act 365 but, ultimately, was shut down by the communications lobby.

“In this case, they won, so our ability to make a difference is limited, unfortunately,” DeLong said. “I’m not happy to be representing this item, to be honest, but where I come down on it is to preserve the little bit of control we have is better, and to maybe live to fight another day is better than issuing a moratorium.”

City Manager Mark Washington echoed the consequences of Grand Rapids not adopting the ordinance and added similar instances already have happened across the country.

“If we do not adopt this, the limited authority we have to develop our design standards — the maximum height of a pole and the size of some of the other technology — will be limited,” Washington said. “Even though we do not have 100% cost recovery for some of the administrative processing … if we do not adopt this (soon), we won’t recover anything.”

Washington urged city staff and residents going forward to create greater awareness around what people can do to manage the health and environmental concerns.

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