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The Debate Over 5G In Ithaca

Ithaca 5G WEB

ENDWELL, NY (WSKG) — The City of Ithaca Common Council continues to deliberate instituting code to regulate 5G facilities, as developers and providers roll out the new cellular technology.

Residents have raised concerns about the lack of city code to restrict where 5G facilities can be placed in the city and the impact they may have on nearby property values and aesthetics.

Some 5G infrastructure is small enough to be installed on the side of buildings or utility poles. Without code in place, they could pop up in residential areas of the city.

Last month, the Ithaca Common Council Administration Committee discussed the matter with Andrew Campanelli, a Long Island-based lawyer who represents municipalities restricting 5G deployment.

Campanelli was paid $8,000 by the city to draft a report suggesting provisions it could include in code to control where developers try to build out 5G infrastructure. He said the developers often target municipalities without many restrictions, so they can build far more transmitters than are needed in order to turn a profit.

"Why would you want to install 100 facilities when you can do it with three? The answer is simple. Site developers get paid to rent space on their facilities," Campanelli explained to the Ithaca Common Council Administration Committee last month.

"If they put up three towers, they get three checks a month, every month for 50 years. If they put up 100 facilities, they get 100 checks per month, every month for 50 years." He continued.

"So that's pretty much what local governments are up against."

Campanelli said the code could contain requirements that 5G facilities be set back several hundred feet from residential buildings, which could then force developers to place the infrastructure on towers, but it had to provide the process in which applicants could appeal to the city to bypass those rules.

He also recommended the city adopt wording to make developers prove extensively that there is a gap of 5G coverage and capacity in the area through drive tests and dropped call data.

While there seems to be support among those on the common council to revise the code, the reasons for doing so are varied and may influence just how onerous restrictions are when implemented.

Alderperson Ducson Nguyen said he does not think the 5G debate should be driven by a desire to protect property values or aesthetics. He said the priority should be to ensure people in the city have reasonable access to wireless data now and in the future.

"Our wireless service is fine in most cases,” Nguyen explained. “But I fear that we will lose out on opportunities for innovation if we're too restrictive."

Separately, council members have responded to concerns raised by residents that 5G facilities deployed near homes, schools or workplaces could have detrimental health effects.

"I am going to prioritize public health,” Alderperson Cynthia Brock said. “I am going to feel that there is really a limited public benefit to being saturated with 5G."

In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a report considering the findings of 120 studies and investigations on radiofrequency radiation (RFR), the type that is emitted from 5G transmitters, and all other cell phones, from the 10 years prior.

That FDA report found there is not enough evidence to support the claim that 5G can cause detrimental health effects when emitted at permitted levels.

“There is insufficient evidence to support a causal association between RFR exposure and tumorigenesis,” the report’s summary reads.

Campanelli, in his discussion on the revised 5G code with common council’s administration committee explained that, under federal law, municipalities cannot regulate wireless facilities based on health concerns as long as those facilities are compliant with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations.

He did note, however, that oftentimes municipalities he represents have tested facilities and found they are operating far above the levels permitted by the FCC.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.