Is it a local issue or a state issue? With technology moving as fast as it has been and the “internet of things” taking over, the discussion around 5G, the next mobile wireless standard, is causing conflict whose resolution must be largely influenced by the question of reliability.
Albany wants to direct the siting of “small cells” over the objections of local governments, which want to retain that control. But here’s the thing: Local influence is valuable, as long as consumers don’t find that parochial concerns are interfering with a reliable signal. That’s the conflict that needs to be resolved.
Small cells are roughly 4 feet tall and weigh about 400 pounds. They serve the function of the tall “macro cell” towers but lower powered and can be placed atop utility poles. Those familiar cell towers can rise 90 feet tall or higher. The small cells have been called by wireless providers, “street furniture,” as they consider the devices to be unobtrusive.
Unobtrusive or not, cities, towns and villages want to direct their placement, or to keep them out altogether. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s budget proposals in the Legislature would take control of public rights-of-way away from local governments in favor of the uniform permit and review process across the state.
So, for example, the moratorium the Town of Amherst placed on new cell towers would be made moot. The town formed a committee to review its zoning codes and the committee drafted a new local law set to be reviewed by the town Planning board on Thursday. The Town of Tonawanda has also revised its codes over the last year and adopted updates. Again, the new state proposal would supersede this change.
This suits private carriers just fine. Verizon Wireless expressed support for the governor’s proposal. That approach would help the company meet customer demand for the latest wireless technology.
None of this is sitting well with cities, towns and villages. Groups representing local elected officials statewide, such as the Association of Towns and the New York Conference of Mayors, take issue with state control. Consider a letter last week sent by its executive director to Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan in which he warned that “this bill would usurp local government authority to address the public safety and aesthetic concerns related to the installment of such facilities by providing for default approval of wireless installations.”
The letter was cosigned by mayors from across the state, including Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. And on the national level, California Gov. Jerry Brown in October vetoed a similar industry-backed bill. Verizon, for its part, notes that 13 states have enacted an agreement like one proposed here.
Most people want whatever is the latest, fastest technology to get them where they want to go on the internet. That desire has to be balanced against a number of factors, including environmental, governmental, private sector and security concerns.