5G technology and Block Island: Not a good fit

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 7:00pm

In 1979, the first generation (1G) of cell phone technology was rolled out in Tokyo, Japan. Its use was confined to car phones inside the city of Tokyo, but for the first time calls were switched over without the need for a human switchboard operator. Within five years, Japan had the first national 1G network. The evolutions from 1G to 4G technologies have widened the uses of handheld devices. 5G technology is expected to have the capacity to service everything from cell phones to smart street lights to driverless cars.

Because of its immense capacity, some have asked why Block Island is not waiting for the arrival of 5G technology to create the island-wide high speed network, rather than rely on the fiber optic cables that are inside the subsea wind farm cable and are dedicated for the town’s use. The question came up during a meeting of the Broadband Committee on Thursday, Aug. 22.

“Its bandwidth doesn’t travel very far,” said Jim Rogers, President of Mission Broadband, the company writing the request for proposals document for possible vendors that will install and maintain the broadband network. “You’ll need a lot of antennas.”

Given that Block Island is about 10 square miles in size, “to roll out 5G cell you’ll need 25 cell towers per square mile. That means 250 cell towers on Block Island for that 5G technology. I’m guessing this will be a problem for the island,” said Rogers.

“Yes, good guess,” said members of the audience.

There was also some controversy surrounding a vote taken by the Federal Communications Commission in September 2018 designed, according to the FCC, to streamline the costs and the deployment of 5G technology. The vote to approve was 4-1, with the lone Democratic Commissioner dissenting, stating that the new rules will “run roughshod over state and local authority.”

The ruling stated that in order to “meet rapidly increasing demand for wireless services and prepare our national infrastructure for 5G, providers must deploy infrastructure at significantly more locations using new, small cell facilities. Building upon streamlining actions already taken by state and local governments, this Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order is part of a national strategy to promote the timely buildout of this new infrastructure across the country by eliminating regulatory impediments that unnecessarily add delays and costs to bringing advanced wireless services to the public.”

But criticism of the ruling came about due to the fact that the FCC limited the amount of money cities and towns could charge carriers to install their small cell equipment, and to also limit the timeframe during which the deployment of the 5G technology could be reviewed by the municipalities. Existing technologies adapted to 5G use would have a 60-day review period and new builds would have a 90-day window for review.

This decision has already been met with legal challenges.

The President and CEO of the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a statement on the day of the ruling that said, in part,

“The U.S. Conference of Mayors conveys its strongest opposition to today’s final Order issued by the Federal Communications Commission. While The U.S. Conference of Mayors supports the nation’s efforts to win the race to 5G, today’s FCC action misapplies federal law to federalize local public property as part of its efforts to bestow upon a class of private companies special rights to access local rights-of-ways and public property.”

“Despite efforts by local and state governments, including scores of commenters in the agency’s docket, the Commission has embarked on an unprecedented federal intrusion into local (and state) government property rights that will have substantial and continuing adverse impacts on cities and their taxpayers, including reduced funding for essential local government services, and needlessly introduce increased risk of right-of-way and other public safety hazards… The Conference believes this aggressive, and surely unlawful, intervention will prove counterproductive.”