The rush to install 5G, or fifth-generation, wireless technology has turned into a nightmare for one Florida community, and now they have a warning for Southwest Florida.
5G will allow for faster downloads and response times. Unlike previous generations that rely mostly on giant cell towers to work, it uses “small cell” equipment (the kind that can fit on a light pole). It also relies on shorter, higher frequency waves, which will require more equipment to be installed closer together.
But Miami-Dade County Commissioner Eileen Higgins says the 5G process has been anything but exciting.
“It’s been a bad rollout,” Higgins said.
Because of the rush to install 5G before Super Bowl LIV next year, Higgins says spray paint litters the sidewalks, poles are installed haphazardly, wires are dangling, and walkways are left sloppy or unrepaired all over Downtown Miami.
“What we have here [are] telecom companies that are using this as an excuse to mark their territory,” Higgins said. “At some point in time they’re going come up with an excuse for the west coast, ‘oh season is starting we need to do it all now before everyone returns.’”
Higgins says she has been fighting for months to get all this fixed, and she thinks Southwest Florida is next.
In 2017, a new state law signed by then-Gov. Rick Scott forced communities to open their right of ways and utility poles to 5G equipment. Now among other restrictions, cities and counties cannot require companies to collocate or install equipment on existing poles. Overall, they have little say on where companies install. In 2019, Governor Ron Desantis signed another law related to 5G that further restricted municipalities.
The Florida League of Cities, including Naples, is suing the state over this. You can read the full lawsuit here.
“As local government, we have to approve their permits in 30 days, even if we think the location is terrible,” Higgins said.”
But she says companies can blend 5G equipment into the community if they want to.
“If we didn’t know that was there, we would’ve never have noticed it. It’s perfect,” Higgins said, pointing to 5G equipment mounted on a building and barely visible from the street. “So some companies are trying to install these in a neighborhood sensitive way, and others not so much.”
Meanwhile, Naples and Collier County have done something Miami didn’t. They outlined design standards, like requiring companies to camouflage 5G equipment.
City of Naples Traffic Engineer Allison Bickett says so far it’s been a smooth process.
“They were very great as far as making modifications and submitting those back in,” Bickett said.
Although no 5G equipment is up in Naples yet, Bickett says they’re currently reviewing applications and drawing up plans.
Higgins says she hopes the rest of Southwest Florida learns from Miami’s mistakes and sets up design standards. She also wants the state to step in.
“I don’t think our legislators really knew how bad this was going to be on the street,” Higgins said.
Full responses from municipalities on 5G build-out
WINK News reached out to cities and counties in our area to see where they are in the 5G installation process and whether they have instituted design standards. Below are their responses.
A county representative provided permits numbers as well as the following information via email.
“The county permits the use of the county maintained rights-of-way and the applicant handles the installation through the permit process which includes county staff’s review of the developer’s permit application for assurance that the project meets the established regulations. Once the permits are issued, and construction commences, county staff inspects the construction of the permitted improvements to make sure that the installation meets the approved permit and any conditions of approval.”
A city representative provided permits numbers as well as the following information via email.
“I have received your inquiry regarding the current status of the small cell towers within the City of Naples to accommodate 5G. The Streets & Stormwater Department has received several applications to date. We have approved 3 of the applications at this time. The permitted locations are at or near, 1222 Gordon Dr., 60 12th Ave. S. and 14th Ave. S. We have been working with providers for multiple locations (2 formally submitted & 2 drafts submittals) but still awaiting responses to our comments. The City has adopted aesthetic standards that are in our Ordinance under Appendix D.
“We also require a bond when we permit the towers. For the three locations that have been permitted, the applicant had several meetings, conference calls and made multiple modifications to work with the City to achieve the best possible outcome for the community. These locations have not been installed to date but we anticipate they will be constructed soon. The towers are to be fabricated to match the decorative lighting poles already in place and be as aesthetically pleasing as possible.”
“Due to regulations associated with the small cell towers, we have a strict timeline to follow so when we have been contacted about the possibility of an upcoming application, we have asked if we could receive a draft copy and proposed locations in order to start discussions on what may be best for the community.”
A county representative provided permits and a registration, as well as the following ordinance.
In an email, a city representative said:
“We have not seen any requests to install 5G.”
Randy Cerchie, director of the Lee County Department of Transportation, spoke with WINK News over the phone. Cerchie said the county has received 70 pre-permits and issued 18 permits for 5G as of October 9th, 2019. He explained that the County has asked companies to send in pre-applications and so far the process has been smooth.
In a series of emails, county representatives said:
“We receive applications from private-sector cell companies and we have a process in place to review and issue permits in our right-of-way. The private companies install the 5G at the permitted locations.”
More info/timeline/standards related to permitting:
Florida LEGISLATURE passes House BILL 687 which became a Florida Law on July 1, 2017, describing the rights and regulations applicable to 5G / small cell technology.
- Lee County passes Ordinance 17- 22 to comply with the new State Law on December 5, 2017.
- Florida Legislature passes Senate Bill 1000 to clarify language and removes the ability to assess fees to small cell providers, becomes State Law on July 1, 2019, then incorporated into Florida State Statute 337.401.
- Lee County Attorney’s Office is in the process of revising the Administrative Code to comply with Senate Bill 1000.
In accordance with our understanding of Bill 687, Lee County reviews and issues Small Cell permits in our Right-of-Way as follows:
- No poles that interfere with traffic control systems.
- No poles within the clear zone, vision corners, or that adversely affect pedestrians or public safety.
- No poles that interfere with ADA accommodations.
- No materials that fail to comply with FDOT Utility Accommodation Manual.
- Must comply with applicable State and Local codes. (Building & Electrical)
- Must comply with objective design standards. (Streetscaping)
- Proposed pole shall not be higher than the existing utility poles in the area.
The ‘objective design standards’ a local government are permitted to enforce for small cell facilities in ROWs has been limited by the recent legislation to the following:
“A new utility pole that replaces an existing utility pole to be of substantially similar design, material, and color; Reasonable spacing requirements concerning the location of a ground-mounted component of a small wireless facility which does not exceed 15 feet from the associated support structure or A small wireless facility to meet reasonable location context, color, camouflage, and concealment requirements, subject to the limitations in this subsection; and A new utility pole used to support a small wireless 4. facility to meet reasonable location context, color, and material of the predominant utility pole type at the proposed location of the new utility pole.”
A city representative provided permit information, but did not specify whether the City of Fort Myers has created additional design standards.
In a series of emails, a city representative said:
“The regulation of these services is outside the purview of the City of Cape Coral. The Federal Communications Commission regulates nationwide communication services and develops the rules, guidelines and licensing requirements to govern these services. There is a section on the FCC website addressing the 5G technology: www.fcc.gov/5G.”
“Many municipalities across the country have filed lawsuits against the FCC regarding the agency’s implementation of the 5G network services, specifically as it relates to limiting a local government’s authority to regulate the use of its public right of way. This is not an option for Cape Coral since the state Legislature enacted a new state law this year whereby local governments have almost no say in where or how 5G equipment (antennas) can be placed in their community.”
“The City hasn’t received or approved any permit applications for 5G towers in the City’s right-of-way. A permit is required if a company wants to install a 5G cell tower on City-owned right-of-way property.”
Full responses from wireless providers and companies on 5G build-out
WINK News also contacted wireless providers and companies installing 5G equipment about Commissioner Higgins concerns. Below are their responses.
CROWN CASTLE FIBER LLC:
In an email, a company representative said:
“We are working hand-in-hand with wireless carriers and our partners in local governments across Florida to ensure that communities in the sunshine state are among the first to be able to take advantage of the economic and social benefits of 5G.
“We can speak to the quality of our work at Crown Castle. Our small cell node deployments are performed in full compliance with local regulations, and we adhere to
the rigorous aesthetic standards set forth by each community we work in. There are examples of our deployments available for you to view on our website—from Miami to Orlando and other markets across the U.S.
“Our positive working relationship with local government partners is also well chronicled. We invite you to watch the following television interview with Orlando’s mayor where he talks about his city’s successful partnership with wireless carriers and infrastructure builders to expedite 5G deployment in a responsible, aesthetically pleasing way.”
In an email, a company representative said:
“Thanks for reaching out to check with us on this. After consulting the local team in Florida and relevant suppliers, I am not aware of any of Sprint’s deployments causing concern with the county commission.”
In an email, a company representative said:
“Thanks for reaching out, and for your interest in 5G. I’d like to first clarify that, in Florida, we have announced – and subsequently launched – 5G in Panama City only. We have not announced any other Florida markets, including Miami and Ft. Myers.
It’s also important to note that, while small cells are foundational to 5G, they are also a critical part of our 4G LTE network. In fact, we began implementing our 4G LTE small cell (densification) strategy across the nation in 2013 and have continued to use them to improve network coverage and capacity since.
We have been working closely with local, state, and federal officials across the country to enhance our 4G LTE network and also to roll out the next generation of wireless technology. As part of those efforts, we are committed to doing proper restoration after our work is completed.”
WINK News also contacted AT&T and T-Mobile, but we did not receive a response as of this publication.