5G tech sparks excitement but some concerns

Better, stronger, faster – the new 5G (Fifth Generation) technology promises a lot.

With ultra-fast speeds, barely-there buffering and the capacity for more connectivity in the same space, proponents emphasize that what used to take hours in the wireless world will take minutes, and what took minutes will now take seconds.

Also on the table with 5G: scientific marvels not possible with current technology may become a reality – including 3D holographic imaging of people, virtual reality treatments that allow physical therapists to work with patients anywhere in the world, video games that don’t require any physical game system, and other mixed-reality and advanced collaboration abilities.

It’s been described by American theoretical physicist Michio Kaku as “technology that changes the landscape … a paradigm shift … a game changer.”

And of course, all major nationwide cellphone carriers are vying to be at the forefront of availability.

AT&T began with a rollout in 12 cities – including Jacksonville – and recently turned 5G on in nine more cities – including Orlando.

While not yet in Florida, Verizon has implemented it in 10 cities, with 20 more planned this year. More implementation is planned throughout the next two years.

If it sounds like a large “but” is in order right about here, that would be correct.

While the new technology has spawned excitement among many, there are concerns for some, particularly among local officials who worry that home rule rights are being set aside to promote a faster, easier rollout for telecommunications companies.

Indialantic Vice Mayor Stu Glass, who was also selected by the Florida League of Cities to serve as chair of the Committee for Utilities, Natural Resources and Public Works, says new laws may leave some people saying “not in my backyard.”

“Everybody wants faster, cheaper, and better – but they may not like how they get it,” Glass said.

In order to have 5G in a community, micro cells must be placed throughout the town, and because there is some difficulty with 5G penetrating buildings and objects, a good amount of micro cells are required.

“5G is the big promised land – in theory,” Glass said. “It is a mini cell service with very fast speeds, but for it to work, a lot of them have to go up.”

And where they go is of concern for some.

In 2017 the Florida Senate passed a bill that served as an implementation guideline for 5G in the state.

“It was a good thing and all 412 municipalities in Florida were on board,” Glass said. “But then another bill was passed that takes away some of the home-rule aspects of the previous one, like where they go, how fast they must be permitted, and how much they will cost, and we have lost our ability to tailor the implementation to our needs as a community.”

Telecommunications companies argue that allowing individual municipalities to have too much say in too many aspects of the implementation would create a mountain of red tape and drastically delay the availability of 5G to the communities.

Although the bill was opposed by the Florida League of Cities, the legislature passed it and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law this year.

Mini cells are about the size and shape of a small mini-fridge. For now, cell towers will remain in place while telecommunication companies determine where in each town the mini cells should be placed, under the guide of state law. Nesting spots could include publicly-owned utility poles, municipal buildings, traffic lights, water towers – and perhaps even your yard.

Being able to decide where they go, how they look, how they are maintained and how much the carrier must pay to erect one are issues Glass says are unclear at this point and need to be investigated.

“The promise is that eventually they may do away with all those cables in many backyards, assuming what they put up doesn’t look worse than the wires,” Glass said. “But without more control, it essentially gives the keys to the kingdom to the providers.”

The League of Cities in three Florida municipalities have filed a constitutional challenge to the law.

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