5G is Pitting Politicians Against Carriers. It’s Unclear Who’s Right.

The promises of 5G service are many. The Financial Times have referred to its speeds – which are reportedly 100 times faster than current LTE – as a “game changer for humanity”. But, it turns out that some politicians have found a way to seemingly exploit 5G carriers to charge exorbitant fees. The question is: based on what we know about 5G coverage, do they have a right to?

Do they have reason to harbor justified skepticism, and to bleed carriers who purport to be helping us by putting more cell towers than ever in direct proximity to the populace?

Here are the promises of 5G. Disclaimer: they’re wild.

“5G will have an impact similar to the introduction of electricity or the automobile, affecting entire economies and benefiting entire societies,” Qualcomm CEO Stephen Mollenkopf said in 2016.

Though the technology is not scheduled, by most estimations, to be fully run out until 2019 or 2020, that hasn’t slowed the hype train. The modern consumer cannot get enough speed when it comes to refreshing their Instagram feed or connecting with Ubers. But the promises of 5G range far beyond mere mobile and internet speeds; after all, it is akin to the introduction of electricity.

Listen to the hype men, and you’d think that Tesla himself would bow at the feet of 5G.

There’s the narrative that autonomous vehicles will be made possible only with assistance from 5G. It will, they say, fundamentally change the way that roads are navigated.

‘“At some point we can all imagine a world of cars communicating with each other and red light will become useless,” he said, suggesting, for example, that connected cars plus 5G will lead to fewer traffic jams — thanks to the added layers of connectivity as connected cars speed through connected cities.’ (Tech Crunch)

There’s also been talk that remote devices connected to the Internet of Things, from medical devices to critical information gathering sensors in smart cities, will be aided directly by 5G. In many respects, it seems as if the technology is spoken of as all good with no downsides.

But it’s not all good, and it’s fair to talk about it.

5G towers are a far cry from the legacy cell antennas that are typically placed approximately 45 miles apart. There is talk of having 5G towers on every street corner.

‘The wireless industry is in a race to roll out 5G service. The network is supposed to be up to 100 times faster than current data speeds, but it requires cellphone tower equipment to be closer to users than before. Wireless companies in the U.S. say they'll have to install about 300,000 new antennas – roughly equal to the total number of cell towers built over the past three decades. That's causing outrage and alarm in some neighborhoods, as antennas go up around homes.’ (CBS News)

CBS News has also acknowledged that there are health concerns about these towers, and considering their proximity to the population, these warnings need to be heeded. The jury remains out, but there’s enough reason to call concern fair. After all, do you want a cell tower in your front yard? Consider the question honestly, then consider how much weight you put on those studies that purportedly prove these towers are safe.

‘"This will cause cancer," Baron said. She was one of several people who raised health concerns about the radiation emitted by the equipment at a government hearing last month.

Cell phone equipment does emit radiation but research on its health effects has been inconsistent. According to the National Cancer Institute, "A limited number of studies have shown some evidence of statistical association of cell phone use and brain tumor risks… but most studies have found no association."’ (CBS News)

Many communities remain uncomfortable with the uncertainties surrounding 5G, and would expect their representatives in government to fight on their behalf to learn the truth, and if possible, prevent the installation of cell towers near schools, near their yards, etc. That seems to be what is happening, though politicians also seem to be leveraging seemingly inevitable installation to get what they can out of carriers from a financial standpoint.

Keep in mind that 5G antennas will be ten to 100 times more prevalent than legacy cell towers, depending on the area. Politicians cannot help but see these towers, which cell carriers are absolutely intent on installing, as high-frequency dollar signs.

Typically, electric utility companies charge carriers $20 to attach cell receptors to their poles. Municipalities, which own many of the poles and sites where 5G carriers are seeking to attach their antennas, are charging considerably more. They can do so because competing carriers will pay the price for rights to place towers on a certain street corner or neighborhood.

‘New York City has set a minimum $4,200 annual rent for each cell pole attachment in Manhattan… San Jose…wants annual rents between $750 to $2,500,’ according to the Wall Street Journal.

While this inflated price being charged by municipalities is thought to increase the likelihood that 5G towers don’t make it into some neighborhoods, it’s fair to ask if that is a bad thing. Though the FCC is attempting to limit fees to approximately $40 per pole, as they’ve done in Oklahoma, or $270in Texas, there are plenty of individuals fighting the installation of 5G towers in their own yards who relish the idea of cities being allowed to charge whatever they’d like to carriers who want to install their 5G towers.

After all, we do still live in a capitalist society, don’t we?

Believe it or not, plenty of people will praise their politicians for charging prices that could actually decrease the likelihood that 5G towers will populate their neighborhoods and street corners. Many, if not most, people get along just fine with their 45-mile-apart cell phone antennas, and are not comfortable with the idea of having a high-frequency-emitting tower spaced only hundreds of feet apart.

So, while the narrative is pushing these politicians as greedy, almost Mafioso-types, it has to be considered that some people have another word for such tactics: benevolent. It really is a matter of perspective.

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