CONNECTIONS: A wireless tangle in Berkshires’ futureMore Info
About Connections: Love it or hate it, history is a map. Those who hate history think it irrelevant; many who love history think it escapism. In truth, history is the clearest road map to how we got here: America in the 21st century.
On Feb. 22, 2018, Anthony Lepore from CityScape Consultants Inc. made a presentation to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. It concerned wireless infrastructure.
For more than 100 years, the Berkshires was described as “the perfect combination of sylvan and urban” culture in the country. Now, in the 21st century, that description may cease to apply.
Wireless infrastructure is needed to talk on the phone, surf the net, email, Snapchat, tweet, stream and more. The wireless tower and the base station are familiar. The tower is that enormous structure “built for the sole or primary purpose of supporting any Commission-licensed or authorized antennas and their associated facilities.” A base station is an extant structure at a fixed location – the roof of a building, for example – that supports equipment for wireless transmission. The small cell, however, may be unfamiliar.
Lepore predicted that, soon, all communication and entertainment will be streamed including first-run movies, daily delivery of newspapers, refrigerators that call grocery stores, home security and driverless cars. There will be no more cable or satellite TV, or DSL. What there will be are small cells everywhere; that is, elevated telecommunication structures near you – very near.
To have all that stuff, driverless cars and communicative refrigerators – stuff that, perhaps, you never thought of or craved – you need the next generation of wireless service known as 5G. 5G requires use of an extremely high frequency band which, in turn, requires many new facilities on shorter poles called small cells. The poles are 50 to 500 meters apart. That means a pole every 164 to1600 feet or, depending on population density, a pole every seven to 12 houses.
It is reminiscent of the battle between William Stanley, Westinghouse and Edison. J.P. Morgan gave Thomas Alva Edison $25,000 to develop electricity. Edison believed in direct current. Young William Stanley believed in alternating current. He sought support from Westinghouse, was rebuffed and developed it himself here in Berkshire. That story ends with “the Patent Wars.” For our purpose, the point is this: Direct current required an electrical “station” every few blocks – possibly the same seven to 12 houses. Alternating current, like the lower frequencies, could travel much further.
The image that occurs from our past is New York City in the 1890s. Electricity and telephones were new and necessary. Both required wires strung from poles. With increasing demand, regulations slow to keep pace with reality, the AC/DC battle unresolved and potential profits dancing before the eyes of entrepreneurs, New York looked like a jungle – not of leaves or vines but of wires. There were wires that connected something to something else, and wires that connected something to nothing else but were speculative. The same could happen with 5G.
Today, we live in a world of regulations, so the future will balance nature and process, clean air and quick communication, health and profit, sane planning and speculation – right? Perhaps not. According to Lepore, Congress included a small paragraph in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 –Section 6409(a); saying:
- “…a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station”
- Congress said it only applied to collocation, removal or replacement of existing facilities that did not “substantially change” the physical dimensions of existing structure
Congress did not define “substantially change” or “collocation.” The FCC report that did was 155 pages long and took two years to write. So in 2018 we found out that municipalities have ever-decreasing rights and abilities to control the placement or the design of this infrastructure, must act very quickly – in less than 60 days – or permission for the structure will be “deemed to be granted.” Evidently the big ugly is coming with precious little to prevent it.
Some are moved to ask: Which would you like more – a tree and patch of grass or a refrigerator that talks to the grocery store? However, one fears the answer. This is a country that coined the phrase “progress is our most important product” and never questioned it. Now, evidently, if they want to come here, we cannot oppose it; we cannot say “will you please go away now.”
The greatest aid to preservation since the founding of this country has been poverty – lack of money to tear down and build new. The single greatest defense against progress is sparse population – too few people in an area to make it profitable. Isolation has been another promoter of status quo. Maybe the Berkshires will squeak by, be passed over and allowed to maintain that balance of sylvan and urban, culture and countryside. Then Lepore said the nine words that burst the bubble: “A profit center is being defined as seven houses.”