Small Cell Guidelines to Be Tested in Georgetown

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For weeks, some Georgetown residents, including advisory neighborhood commissioners, have been warning the neighborhood not to be rushed into approving inappropriate guidelines for small cell facilities, the next generation of communications technology. Once approved, the guidelines will determine how thousands of big and small boxes, with a tangle of wires emanating from them, will be installed on utility poles and roofs throughout the District.

“The decision has already been made citywide to install small cell technology to be ready for the next generation of cell phones, the 5G,” said Joe Gibbons, who chairs ANC 2E. “We just have to advise which ones we like.”

At its Oct. 1 meeting, the advisory neighborhood commission approved a resolution with suggested guidelines, to be reviewed in the next few months by the Old Georgetown Board and the D.C. Public Space Committee, among other local authorities. For instance, the ANC asked review boards to demand that each carrier applicant supply full-scale mock-ups of its small cell installations, make real-time maps of pole locations publicly available and be required to submit yearly photographs of their installations to ensure compliance. On Oct. 2, Gibbons emphasized the need to keep Georgetown’s sight lines free from the clutter of small cell poles.

At the meeting, an official from Verizon, one of the four approved signatories to the master license agreement, presented sketches of its small cell poles, which soon will be installed as tests in a few locations around Georgetown. They could also be located on rooftops, a feature the ANC seemed to approve of.

A draft of the small cell design guidelines by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the National Capital Planning Commission and other agencies is available for public review. But some Georgetown residents are still concerned about the health impacts of small cell technology.

And others just don’t want them — at least not for a while. The 5G technology will require all current computers and mobile phones to be replaced, yet the technology is still in development.

The communications industry has eagerly moved ahead with the concept, however. On Oct. 3, during the three-day Atlantic Festival in D.C., experts eagerly supported 5G development as a way for the U.S. to stay globally competitive. Just the week before, the Federal Communications Commission approved limiting the fees local governments could charge 5G network providers. According to industry officials, limited fees would free up capital for companies to invest in building out their networks in underserved areas.

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