WINDERMERE – To the dismay of many local leaders, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill intended to streamline the application process for service providers to construct infrastructure for future 5G technology on public right-of-ways.
The Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Deployment Act is meant to limit a government’s ability to regulate the construction and location of wireless infrastructure, known as small cell devices, needed for 5G wireless technology.
The anticipated 5G tech will provide consumers with faster and higher-capacity data transmission for cell phones, self-driving cars and any future gadgets that rely on cellular networks.
However, although the faster cellular service would be welcome by most, the utility poles required to obtain it, Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn argues, will not be.
“When they call it small cell devices, they are not talking about the size of the device — what they are talking about is its range,” he said. “Small cell meaning the size of the cell that it covers. One of these poles only serves about two city blocks, so that means you have to these every two blocks. And they are allowed to construct them in our rights-of-way. We cannot dictate, we cannot control, we cannot charge and we cannot deny. But we can find issue when they make mistakes.”
And that’s exactly what Windermere leaders did when they received an application for a cell pole to be located in front of the Windermere Elementary a week after the bill went into effect.
Because of discrepancies in the application involving the height of the pole, and a request for verification on the planned size of the device, the town denied the application for the time being and asked to renegotiate the location, as is permitted under the state statute.
“The documentation said it was a 40-foot pole but then in other documents within the application package, they said would be 36 feet,” Bruhn said. “So we told them: You need to clarify the height. ... They said we are going to move Duke Energy’s pole and install our pole and share it. But we discussed with Duke and they said they would not approve that and that if they were to replace and share that pole that 36-foot pole would need to be 50 feet. That’s not good.”
The act also requires governments to waive certain permit application requirements and forbid governments from adopting ordinances that regulate the placement or operation of the facilities.
Local officials believe the bill and its limitations threaten the Home Rule, and, further, allows for the placement of unattractive poles. Further aggravating local officials is the issue of how many poles they need to permit at one location. The poles, allowed to reach up to 50 feet in height, are not shared by different providers. One can have several poles clustered together belonging to different providers, creating what might be a visual blight to an otherwise charming town or city block.
“People should be outraged,” Bruhn said. “And they should hold their state legislators accountable for this.”
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected]