Small Cell Plans Challenged

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It seems inevitable that small cell technology — variously pictured as big and small boxes with a tangle of wires emanating from them — is coming to utility poles in Georgetown, and soon. A town hall meeting to discuss its implementation was held on Thursday evening, Sept. 13, at the City Tavern Club.

The meeting, sponsored by Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, the Citizens Association of Georgetown and the Georgetown Business Improvement District, became heated at times.

All agreed that D.C.’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer clearly explained the why and how of its Small Cell Facilities Project. It was obvious that the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser is convinced that the technology will improve the quality of wireless service throughout the District. The project is meant to provide an efficient and streamlined process for providers to make wireless broadband communication accessible to all D.C. residents.

But there are five competing licensees, all with different devices and requirements regarding placement, including proximity of the equipment to homes. Some Georgetown residents thought the devices were ugly, too short (the ones reaching two stories high could be directly in front of bedroom windows) or too wide.

Some residents raised the specter of unknown public health concerns from the omnipresent technology.

“We just don’t want them” and “Tell the city ‘no,’” muttered several attendees at one point.

“We can’t,” said ANC Chair Joe Gibbons. “The decision has already been made citywide to install them to be ready for the next generation of cell phones, the 5G. We just have to advise which ones we like.”

But on Sept. 20, Gibbons and fellow Commissioner Jim Wilcox sent out a seven-page letter in which they urged the Commission of Fine Arts, which is to review the various design proposals, “not to be stampeded by industry’s 5G lobbyists into approving Small Cellguidelines that are inappropriate.”

The letter cites a Sept. 10 article in the Financial Times, pointing out that no existing smartphones or computers are even compatible with 5G and all will have to be replaced once the new technology is set up. It would seem that industry lobbyists are trying to get a placeholder in still-evolving technology.

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