By JOHN T. WARD
A year after a big new cell tower popped up in the middle of Little Silver’s business district, to the shock of many residents, two new borough council members hope to head off any similar, or even smaller, jolts in the future.
They introduced a proposed law Monday night that would give the borough some say over telecom carriers wishing to install new high-speed wireless equipment in town.
The proposed ordinance would require notice to neighbors when new telecom equipment is to be installed, such as the recently installed repeater atop a pole alongside Route 35 in Shrewsbury. Below, Little Silver Councilman Chris Healy. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
It would require telecom carriers to apply to the borough for a license, at $500 per installation, for equipment to be mounted in the public right-of-way, whether underground or on utility poles or towers. And every property owner within 500 feet of each installation would have to be notified in advance by certified mail.
It is not intended to bar new equipment, Holzapfel and Healy said.
“Given the uproar in town about the lack of notice for the last cell tower, whether legitimate or not, we wanted to put something out there so that there is notice and people know what’s going on,” Healy told redbankgreen. “I think that will be an effective way not to let anything else slip by the residents.”
“We wanted to do something that has teeth but can still be reconciled with federal law and at the same time give folks information they need, and that frankly we need as a borough, too,” said Holzapfel, who chairs the council’s new telecommunications committee. “It’s not an ordinance that says we’re shutting the doors to any telecom facility.
“We tried to be as forward-thinking and aggressive as possible, while respecting the boundaries that are placed on us by federal law,” Holzapfel said.
Verizon Wireless, which spearheaded the construction of the 105-foot tall monopole tower behind borough hall last year, did not respond to redbankgreen requests for comment.
While the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 says that local governments cannot prohibit the installation of wireless equipment, it does allow them to maintain oversight of how public rights-of-way are utilized, including the placement of “small-cell” wireless gear, Healy said.
The carriers “certainly have broad authority to determine where to place equipment,” Healy said. “This ordinance would not prevent that from happening. It just adds a level of protection so residents know that it is happening.”
At present he said, telecoms can install equipment on poles “without telling anybody” other than the pole owner, he said.
The ordinance, Healy said, gives residents “an opportunity to learn about the technical details so they can make decisions on what it is they need to do or not do in light of that.”
Healy said the ordinance anticipates the need for repeaters used by telecoms in fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology. Unlike the sometimes controversial cell towers that current wireless systems use, 5G uses microcells, “placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts,” according to the New York Times, which said in March that the technology could result in “hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — more” cell stations across the United States.
From the Times:
To get their way, the telecom firms have lobbyists working state legislatures, advocating laws that restrict local oversight of 5G. Since 2016, 13 states have passed bills that limit local control, and several other states are considering similar laws. Wireless companies are also lobbying Congress, which is considering several bills on the issue.
And the [Federal Communications Commission], under the leadership of Ajit Pai, its Republican chairman, has strongly encouraged weakening regulations to accelerate the deployment of new 5G technology — including reducing the role of local governments.
Healy, though, said that he and Holzapfel are “essentially trying to make folks aware of the fact that the technology is changing, and because the technology is changing, there is a likelihood that this cellular technology could be in their back yard, or in their front yard.”
It’s not about health concerns, or aesthetics, he said. What people do with the information “is entirely up to them. But Mike and I both ran and won back in November on the idea that we needed to keep residents better informed, so this was our first effort at doing that.”
But the ordinance goes beyond notification. Carriers would have to submit engineering plans, financial statements and information on each tree or structure that the installation work would remove, relocate or alter. A new license would have to be obtained every five to seven years, or in the event the carrier merges with or is acquired by another entity.
Under the ordinance, the borough administrator is charged with making a determination, within 90 days, of whether the license is to be issued.
“We’re trying to do as much as possible within the guidelines that the federal powers that be set for us,” Holzapfel said. The proposed “just says ‘you have to give us information.’ And candidly, if the telecom carriers have a problem giving basic and realistic information as a condition of getting a license to put equipment on borough property for the next however many years, I don’t know what to say about that. I’m sorry it’s not the rubber stamp they want it to be, but it’s not prohibitive.”
Here’s the proposed ordinance: LS telecom ordinance 050818