City council approves agreements for small cell facilities

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Small cell facilities, which aim to expand the city's 4G coverage, will be installed on telephone and light poles and other rights-of-way approved by the city. (Photo/Cody Mello-Klein)
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By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]

City council approved five-year agreements with two major telecommunications companies – Verizon and AT&T – to permit the installation of small cell facilities throughout the city at Saturday’s public hearing.

Small cell facilities are designed to provide increased wireless and 4G coverage in smaller, more densely developed areas, while also creating infrastructure for the eventual deployment of 5G coverage. The facilities would be installed on telephone and light poles that have been approved by the city, according to the city’s license agreement.

“Verizon is eager to invest in building a robust small cell network that will greatly enhance wireless service capacity and meet the increasing demand for mobile data,” Jeff Ott, real estate manager for Verizon, said at the public hearing. “Alexandria businesses, residents, visitors and commuters depend on this enhanced service and connectivity during normal communication use and emergencies, especially in critical services such as fire, police and ambulance and hospital calls.”

The approval of both agreements comes in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 regulations regarding small cell installation, which pre-empted, or overrode, local and state regulations. The FCC’s new regulations took effect Jan. 14, 2019.

(Read more: Council to vote on 5G cell facilities, Virginia Paving Company at public hearing)

“We never like to be pre-empted. We like to have pretty broad authority in this area,” Mayor Justin Wilson said. “I think the reason the federal government did that was certainly to expedite deployment of 5G, and they didn’t want local governments to get in the way of it.”

The new federal regulations limit the fees a locality can charge companies and the time a locality can assess small cell applications. In response, 24 cities have filed three separate lawsuits against the FCC. Councilor Mo Seifeldein said his decision to abstain from both votes was due to the ongoing litigation of the FCC’s rules.

Public health concerns surrounding small cell facilities have also persisted as telecommunication companies have started to enter into similar agreements with cities across the country in anticipation of the 5G future. But Paul Dugan, a registered engineer in Virginia, said that such concerns are unwarranted.

“The upper limit ground level exposure around a small cell is on the order of less than 2 percent of the FCC’s general population exposure limit,” Dugan said at the public hearing. “There’s nothing to suggest the introduction of these small cells is going to elevate the composite electromagnetic exposure around these facilities.”

Both agreements passed 6-0, with Seifeldein abstaining from both votes. After approving the agreement with AT&T, councilor Del Pepper implored both companies to collaborate with the city as much as possible as they move into the 5G future.

“I just want to urge you all to work very closely with the city,” Pepper said. “In Alexandria, we have an opinion on everything, as you may know, right down to the last curb and last curb cut.”

(Read more: The unsung hero of the ’24 Senators)

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