ANC6B Residents Fault DDOT on 5G Cell Installations
by Larry Janezich
Installation of new infrastructure for 5G (fifth-generation cellular wireless) has been under the radar of most residents whose blocks will be affected until recently, when telecommunication companies AT&T, Verizon, and Crown Castle sent out letters notifying neighbors of the pending installation on certain blocks. The three companies plan to install 7000 of the cells attached to light and utility poles over the next five years – 10% of the 71,000 light poles in the District. There are currently 26 small cell installations scheduled for ANC6B; most of them appear to be located near the US Capitol, the location driven by the density of users. Some have described the devices as refrigerators attached to light poles.
The DC Department of Transportation is supporting and authorizing the project, but has left it up to the companies to inform the residents directly affected. That information, for the most part, that has not penetrated to a neighborhood level until now. Suddenly, with the installations imminent, there are public concerns about health, safety and aesthetics.
About 50 Capitol Hill residents showed up Wednesday night for a special ANC6B meeting to hear telecommunication representatives explain 5G and to answer questions. DDOT declined an invitation to attend the meeting.
The companies are desperate for additional capacity, they say, not only because of the advance in technology, but also because demand is degrading the quality of 4G cell phone service. The companies have selected installation locations according to guidelines established by DC’s Department of Transportation (Public Space Committee), and submitted applications for installation to that agency, which will give final approval. Industry reps say that once DDOT signs off on a location, it’s pretty much a done deal. Residents who asked about what recourse they had to oppose a selection got little satisfaction from industry pledges to remain open to resident’s concerns and feedback.
The major concerns raised by residents last night were health and safety, and aesthetics, with the most questions raised about the former. One attendee said she had small children, and “everybody on the block is very concerned about it.” Industry reps sought to assure attendees that the amount of electromagnetic radiation produced by the new small cells is “a mere fraction of what is allowed” by federal regulations.
Many residents at the meeting had only recently learned about 5G, and faulted DDOT for not doing a better job of informing the public rather than leaving that task to the telecommunications industry. Several residents complained that numerous calls to telecommunications reps were not returned. For its part those industry representatives said that they wanted to be more transparent and identify the individual poles where they intended to install equipment, but DDOT had dictated the content of the form letter which excluded that information. Part of resident’s frustration was that there was no one present who could talk about what impact combined plans of the three companies would have.
Commissioner Jennifer Samolyk got pledges from the company representatives to attend another meeting in September. Samolyk said she hoped DDOT would attend the September meeting, agreeing with one resident that “DDOT needs to give us the big picture.”
Here are some links to additional information:
DDOT Website on Small Cells – https://ddot.dc.gov/smallcell