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EDITORIAL: Greater Leadership Needed on 5G Deployment

It’s been nearly one year since Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, held the first public roundtable on the deployment of 5G in D.C. The marathon meeting held at the Wilson Building brought together ANC commissioners, neighborhood association representatives and private individuals, along with the D.C. Department of Transportation and the cellphone companies responsible for the deployment of the new high-speed technology coming to neighborhoods across the District of Columbia.

The consensus from that meeting and other community forums held since then is that 5G is welcomed. Consumers of the internet and cellphones are excited about the range of possibilities related to jobs, transportation, business opportunities, economic development and the delivery of health care 5G will provide. 5G is said to be 10 times faster than its 4G predecessor, with less lag time.

One year later, significant concerns remain about 5G in D.C. Residents want to know where and how the new small cell towers will be distributed, whether 100 feet apart on new and existing poles lined in front of their homes, or the preferred options including alleys, on rooftops or underground. Most importantly, what impact will the increased amounts of radiation emitted from the small cell towers have on residents, especially children? Cheh learned at her hearing that federal rule-makers have preempted local lawmakers from regulating 5G based on health concerns, so long as the towers meet FCC standards.

Council member Cheh admitted her lack of understanding of all of the ramifications surrounding the deployment of 5G nationally and its impact on D.C. Unfortunately, no members of her committee attended the meeting except Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, who stayed long enough to give an opening statement regarding his objection to placing more poles on the streets in his ward. Wards 2 and 6 are slated for the deployment of the highest numbers of cellphone towers.

We fully understand the enormous responsibility of balancing the introduction of cutting-edge technology, with the historic nature of the District’s infrastructure and very serious concerns of public health.

So why is it that other members of the D.C. Council are not taking a greater interest in this issue that affects every single constituent they serve? Why aren’t they leading discussions to better inform themselves and their constituents about the benefits and consequences of the deployment of 5G in their respective Wards? And why aren’t they taking swifter measures to learn what’s in their purview to legislate and move accordingly, before it’s too late?

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