Verizon issues call to action for 5G deployments

Verizon small cell in Sacramento (Verizon)
Verizon is asking individuals to pressure local officials to ease restrictions on the deployment of 5G equipment. (Verizon)

Verizon kicked off an initiative that aims to pressure local and state lawmakers to remove or ease restrictions that could delay the deployment of 5G equipment. The nation’s largest carrier is asking individuals to contact local representatives and voice their support for the “immediate rollout of 5G wireless service in our community.”

The effort, which is called “Let’s 5G,” is being positioned as a platform for customers to learn more about what 5G can deliver, but it’s primarily an advocacy effort intended to drum up local support for the installation of new equipment in communities around the country.

“As we deploy this great new network, we encourage local residents, community organizations, businesses and others to help us. We’re inviting you to be a part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Ronan Dunne, president of Verizon’s consumer group, and Tami Erwin, president of Verizon’s business group, wrote in a post.

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The digital advocacy effort follows the same model that’s been used for decades by groups dedicated to environmental protection, consumer privacy and various issues of importance to nonprofits and other organizations from the full political spectrum. What makes this effort different is that it’s being led by one of the country’s most powerful corporations with a massive budget for lobbying lawmakers on its behalf.

RELATED: FCC Commissioner Carr talks infrastructure, spectrum and jobs needed for 5G

Verizon is by no means an underdog in this fight, but it hopes to convince a lot of people to join its effort and advocate for rapid deployment of 5G services. As one would expect, Verizon doesn’t address the regulations that are in place in communities around the country to protect residents, the environment and maintain local control over utilities. The “Let’s 5G” campaign is a promotional vehicle for Verizon to extol the benefits of 5G and expand its support base.

Verizon’s site addresses health concerns, but doesn’t leave much room for debate on an issue that’s followed the cellular industry for decades. “All equipment used for 5G must comply with federal safety standards,” Verizon writes. “Those standards have wide safety margins and are designed to protect everyone, including children. Everyday exposure to the radio frequency energy from 5G small cells will be well within those safety limits, and is comparable to exposure from products such as baby monitors, Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth devices.”

Beyond the health concerns, many municipalities want to maintain control over the character and general aesthetic of equipment that’s attached to utility poles and street lamps. The FCC has been decidedly in favor of wireless carriers on this point, issuing rules that update environmental review procedures and historic preservation rules to exclude small cells, which will comprise the bulk of 5G infrastructure.

Depending on who you ask, these small cells, which are about the size of a backpack, are either a sight to behold or a blight on the community that doesn’t blend into the environment. There are roughly 300,000 cell sites across the country today, but 5G is expected to require a 10- to 100-fold increase in cell sites.

Carriers like Verizon are trying to sidestep local control because they don’t want to pay to use the right of way or follow local law, according to Michael Mayta, CIO for the City of Wichita, Kansas. “What happens when I need to accommodate literally thousands of small cells for AT&T, T-Mobile, Cox, Verizon, Sprint, Comcast and any other third party who might want to get into this space?” Mayta wrote in an email.

“There will be so many of them on poles, street lamps and traffic signals,” he added. “We’ll run out of power or space, and it will be a major visual issue for the community. As is usual, each provider is thinking theirs will be the only ‘backpack’ that needs to be accommodated, which is far from the truth.”

Mayta also takes umbrage with the FCC’s position on small cells, arguing that local jurisdictions should be in control of these issues and that the free market will guide the eventual outcomes. “Cities will take care of this themselves or they won’t. Those that don’t get left behind. The federal government mandating rapid deployment onto local governments is a joke,” he wrote.

“We as a community understand how critical 5G will be for our economic health and are taking steps to embrace it, but in a manner that works for our community,” Mayta added. “We already met the requirements set out by the FCC, but being told by someone with no real understanding of our community or of 5G just leaves a bad taste.”

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