5G, Fifth Generation, cellular service is the newest advancement in cellular technology. It requires new transmission towers “small cells” that differ from the large scale macro towers and the 74 existing fifteen foot 4G towers that exist in the French Quarter.

The four major mobile carriers –  AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile – currently roll in additional cell towers into the Quarter during heavy attendance events like French Quarter Fest, Mardi Gras, etc. to keep up with wireless demand. They say that these 5G towers are necessary to replace those towers and ensure quality service all year long. Notably, 5G waves do not penetrate walls, and will not service residents or businesses that operate indoors. This is for open air wireless usage only.

The carriers have proposed installing 100 new 35’ – 40’ 5G cell towers within the French Quarter Management District boundaries. AT&T and Verizon have submitted applications to the City and T-Mobile and Sprint (merged) have discussed plans for applying. In total, approximately 100 towers are proposed for the French Quarter. That would be one pole located at almost every intersection as 5G towers need to be located within 300 feet of each other and unobstructed line of sight to be effective. For full coverage in the French Quarter that could be 200 towers. 5G poles can incorporate 4G antennas, but they include two cabinets measuring 5 feet tall and 2 feet wide and deep. There might be an alternative that could look like a historic lamp post that could accommodate a 5G antenna. This is option is still being explored by the City.

In September 2018 “the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricted cities’ ability to regulate 5G infrastructure. Under the new rules, local governments face tight deadlines to approve or reject the installation of this new cellular equipment. The rules also put limits on how much money cities can charge wireless firms for the privilege of putting hardware in public rights of way.” [1]

“The new FCC. rules set a clock of 60 to 90 days for local officials to approve or reject installation requests from wireless carriers … The FCC also put limits on how much city officials can charge to deploy 5G cells, ordering that all fees must be based on costs. Companies like AT&T have complained that certain cities have assessed annual fees of up to $8,000 per 5G attachment.” [2]

Additionally, the FCC had issued an order in March 2018 eliminating environmental and historic preservation review of so-called 5G cell towers. On August 9, 2019, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled on an appeal brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and several Native American Tribes that the FCC had failed to adequately address possible harms of its deregulatory efforts and the benefits of environmental and historic preservation review. [3]

There are federal appeals to the FCC ruling. U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to dismiss the requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act or the National Environmental Protection Act. A challenge by dozens of cities and counties to a Federal Communications Commission is in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and is still pending.

The City of New Orleans will present on 5G Small Cell at the Vieux Carre Commission Meeting (City Hall, 1300 Perdido St., Homeland Security Conference Room, 8th Floor) on Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 1:30pm. I encourage you to attend to learn more.

[1] https://www.citylab.com/life/2018/10/fcc-5g-wireless-broadband-regulations-city-government/571921/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/business/5g-technology-fcc-rules.html

[3] https://ehtrust.org/federal-court-overturns-fcc-order-which-bypassed-environmental-review-for-5g-small-cell-wireless/

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