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Open Forum: Local government must have say over 5G deployment

May 15th, 2019

5G is everywhere. You can’t turn on a television or visit a website without seeing an advertisement for how 5G is going to revolutionize everything. And let’s be clear, it will. And we support it.

5G networks will provide breakneck data speeds and enable the newest advances in artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, augmented and virtual reality, and even remote surgery. The greatest benefits of 5G may yet be imagined but will be developed by startups and innovators, likely in Silicon Valley, in the coming years.

While we all agree that 5G will be revolutionary, first the network must be built. Where we want to go is not up for debate. How we get there is.

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The Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission has imposed a one-size-fits-all regulatory system that severely limits local communities’ authority over 5G infrastructure deployment.

The FCC rule ensures that big mobile carriers are winners. The losers are you.

Because the promise of 5G requires that transmitters be closer to devices than 4G, hundreds of thousands of “small cells” (and by small we mean the size of a refrigerator), are being placed on streetlight poles, utility poles, buildings and other public property in cities and towns throughout the nation.

These light poles and public property belong to you because your tax dollars paid for the construction, and your tax dollars pay for the maintenance. But with the Trump FCC’s plan, large companies get access to your taxpayer-funded property without paying fair prices to use them. What’s worse — your local government is powerless to fight it.

But there is a better way.

We’ve partnered to build grassroots support for federal legislation that will terminate the FCC’s unfair regulation and restore a balance of decision-making to local communities. The Accelerating Wireless Broadband Development by Empowering Local Communities Act of 2019, authored by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, overturns the FCC’s unfair rule that limits local governments’ ability to regulate the deployment of 5G infrastructure and ensure equitable service to residents.

We’ve spoken with many local government officials who share our concern, and rural communities are especially worried that big mobile carriers will neglect the needs of their residents in favor of prioritizing 5G deployment in cities, which will be more lucrative. More than 140 mayors and local government leaders and 130 public power utilities across 48 states have endorsed the bill, sending a clear message that the FCC’s rule must be overturned. In our region, the mayors of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, Santa Clara, Saratoga, San Francisco and Oakland all support the bill to re-empower our communities.

The need to overturn the FCC’s rule is immediate, as small cell sites have already started appearing all over towns and cities, and local communities don’t have any ability to steer them to locations that make sense, or to ensure that local taxpayers are compensated for the power, maintenance and construction of the infrastructure that is being used at their expense. When confronted with objections of residents to the location or aesthetics of these devices on public poles, local governments can only tell residents that their hands are tied by the FCC.

Additionally, local governments have no power to advocate for deployment that best fits the needs of their residents. For example, the FCC rule threatens the newly created San Jose Digital Inclusion Fund, which will close the digital divide for more than 50,000 San Joseans. The fund is the result of a partnership between telecom companies and the city of San Jose that directs revenue from fees paid by those companies to make way for laying the groundwork for 5G.

The FCC’s rule ensures industry wins big while local communities lose. The American people deserve a voice in 5G deployment, and we’ll keep fighting in Washington for a win for our local communities.

Anna G. Eshoo represents Palo Alto, Saratoga, parts of San Jose and communities in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the U.S. House of Representatives. Sam Liccardo is the mayor of San Jose. This op-ed ran in the May 15th edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

 

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