PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tower companies are chomping at the bit as a multibillion-dollar industry in 5G technology is primed to roll out.
On Wednesday night, the Federal Communications Commission announced a plan to help roll that industry out quicker and cheaper. And when it does, companies will be seeking to use public rights-of-way for towers, antennas and accompanying infrastructure.
"When it is finally rolled out, the theory is you are going to have a pole every three homes. It is going to be a lot of infrastructure," attorney Anthony Lepore of Cityscape Consultants Inc. told the Community Development Board, members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and staff members of the Office of Community Development.
What the city of Pittsfield doesn't want is bulky equipment cabinets littering the sides of every Pittsfield street. The city doesn't want poles to be stacked with obnoxious looking equipment when the technology can look nice and be well concealed.
"They want to put it up cheap and fast. That is their goal. What we tried to do is create roadblocks to cheap and fast," Lepore said after helping to craft 14 pages of local legislation to guide the development.
The issue isn't so that straightforward as there is federal legislation involved that has been piled onto since the 1996 Telecommunications Act. But there are areas in which the city does have the ability to control — particularly when it comes to new towers.
"The goal of local government is to make sure the infrastructure is provided because everybody wants that service but also in a manner that is consistent with the neighborhood," Lepore said. "You have to design regulations that push them toward building this."
He said the tower industry has already been working to make it easier. Legislation backed by the industry was passed in 21 states taking away local control, he said, and such a bill has also been proposed in the federal government. But that hasn't happened in Massachusetts yet.
Lepore revamped the city's existing wireless communication facilities zoning bylaws so it is in a good place when the tower and technology companies come looking to expand.
The 5G technology is a wireless replacement for the miles and miles of copper phone and other types of wire carrying internet. The technology has a much higher frequency, pushing a massive amount of data to homes for livestreaming of media.
"The federal policy to get us off the copper phone lines and Fios. They want us all to be wireless," he said.
The proposed regulation of the city particularly puts a focus on aesthetics as well as builds a hierarchy of preferred options. Some of the new facilities will require both a special permit from the Zoning Board of Adjustment and a site plan approval from the Community Development Board.
It adds a significant amount of language and definitions of the new technology, which matches terminology in federal government rules, to protect the city from challenges. It discusses setbacks, heights, fences, concealing the technology, and more.
"You will have some flexibility when it comes to new infrastructure in terms of having approval or denial rights," Lepore said.
But, it can only do so much. The federal government's regulations have limited a city or town's ability to deny many deployments of the technology outright. Within the area the city does have control of, the city wants to make sure it has everything buttoned up right to avoid a project it doesn't want.
"It is all a carrot and stick approach because that is effectively all we can do," Lepore said.
The 5G rollout is still a ways off and city officials are looking to fine tune the regulations. Director of Community Development Deanna Ruffer suggested a workshop with Lepore, city staff, the ZBA, and the Community Development Board to dig into the details of the proposal. Community Development Board Chairwoman Sheila Irvin and ZBA Chairman Al Ingegni both agreed such a meeting would be helpful.
"This is not a tomorrow situation for you but it is in nine to 12 months when you will start seeing applications for this infrastructure," Lepore said.
There isn't a timeline quite in place for the proposed regulations to be given to the City Council for approval. The FCC's expected vote later this month is expected to accelerate the rollout and 10 cities in the United States are being piloted with the technology now.
Attorney Anthony Lepore is sounding the alarm on legislation allowing 5G technology to roll out. Lepore said states have been passing legislation that effectively removes a local municipality's say in wireless infrastructure placed in a right of way.
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