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San Diego City Council Set To Vote On 5G Technology Antenna Regulations

This Feb. 25, 2019 file photo shows a banner of the 5G network is displayed d...

Photo by Manu Fernandez / AP

Above: This Feb. 25, 2019 file photo shows a banner of the 5G network is displayed during the Mobile World Congress wireless show, in Barcelona, Spain.

San Diego City Council is set to consider new antenna regulations for 5G technology at Tuesday’s meeting.

5G technology promises faster download speeds, less congested networks, longer device battery life and more augmented reality for mobile phone users. To make this possible new antennas need to be installed throughout the city.

Listen to this story by Lynn Walsh

The antennas, called small cell antennas, are a little larger than a lunch box. Greg Hopkins, assistant director of Development Services Department for the city, said unlike antennas for the current 4G technology, 5G antennas have to be clustered closer together.

“With 4G technology, the antennas can be half a mile to a mile apart,” he said. “5G operates differently.”

In October 2018, the federal government approved the acceleration of installing 5G technology across the country using small cell antennas. Hopkins said that forced cities, including San Diego to take action.

“We spent months working on revamping our approval processes,” he said. “With the old process it used to take us six to nine months to approve applications, but now we are required to review applications in 60 days for installation on existing poles and 90 days for installation on new poles.”

The city is allowed to regulate the visual impact and safety of the installation of cell towers and is proposing new regulations it says are meant to protect neighborhood aesthetics, especially in historic areas. This includes requiring antennas be painted to match poles and mounting brackets be concealed. The real goal though, Hopkins said, is to get as much of the equipment underground as possible.

Community groups are praising the proposed rules but some industry leaders say the city is moving too quickly. KPBS reached out to AT&T for comment on the regulations but did not receive a response. Verizon would not comment on the proposed regulations. This document explains the proposed regulations and includes photos of what the antennas could look like once installed. The local chapter of the Communications Workers of America is supporting a court challenge to the federal government's role in accelerating the installation of 5G technology. Read their stance in this document.

Hopkins said his department, which is the permit arm of the city, is already processing permits for this technology.

“Currently we have received about 1,400 small cell-related permits, which includes 5G but not all of them are 5G,” he said. “The companies are all trying to be the first ones out there, so we are getting quite inundated with permit applications. You will probably start seeing these on the street later this year or beginning of next.”

He said the city “probably won’t limit” the number of permits given but there are a finite number of light poles and traffic signals. In addition, some of the poles will not be approved for antennas to be installed due to safety concerns.

Companies can request approval from the city to install new poles for the antennas. The city, Hopkins said, has an “unmet needs” list which details where they would like new street lights to be installed. A company could use this list to install both a new street light and 5G technology if it gets approval from the city. He said there are “thousands and thousands” of locations on that list.

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Aired: July 22, 2019 | Transcript

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