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  • By Lisa Brody

5G wireless’ future and community opposition

It became a national joke when former CBS anchor Dan Rather was assaulted in 1986, and the assailant asked Rather, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Today, as the world is battling for supremacy in technology, asking what's the frequency is no longer a joke – it's the connectivity which allows the world to operate, connect and compete. As almost everyone of us today has a smartphone – perhaps two, as well as internet access at home and work, and use computers, tablets, streaming services and cable, as well as a variety of constantly evolving technological innovations, the demand for wireless service continues to increase. Telecommunication companies all over the globe are in a fierce battle for supremacy of ultra-fast internet connections which can transform the way we access and utilize data, soon to be based in 5G wireless networks.

Yet, as these telecom companies convert their networks from one generation of technology to the next, local government leaders are finding themselves in a standoff with them over such issues as local control, over where new transmission devices can – and should – be placed, as well as the loss of large sums of revenue as legislation is passed around the country, including recently in Michigan, to cap the amount municipalities can charge for companies to install their devices on poles, antennas and other equipment.

If you're wondering what all the buzz is about 5G, you're not alone. Most of us don't know, and don't care, what network or system our devices are on, just as long as they work. 5G is considered the “fifth generation” of cellular network standards. It's designed to provide continuous high-density wireless service at a super-fast speed, without the delays or gaps that can sometimes occur in the current generation. If you've ever been watching Netflix, only to have it suddenly cut out and begin to spin as it resets, or discover as you're driving and find a phone call has dropped, that's because in the current fourth generation, or 4G, there could be some minor gap in service – in the “latency,” using industry parlance, which may be of a millisecond or more, but enough to stop the service and force it to reset.

Why is it such a big deal to improve upon what we have? After all, it's not really that big a hassle to have to call back, and Netflix (usually) comes right back on. But you and I aren't the real targets of the 5G upgrade. 5G, which is proclaimed to fundamentally transform cellular networks, is designed not just for our everyday wireless devices, but to provide for the seamless operations of autonomous vehicles, robotics working in factories, surgeons utilizing robotics as they perform precise operations, artificial intelligence, smart homes where appliances “speak” to one another, delivery drones, even unmanned military maneuvers. In each of these situations, and many others to come, the wireless delivery system cannot have a momentary blip – they can't just “cut out.”

Reliability is considered to be the hallmark of 5G, allowing networks to help power a huge rise in the “Internet of Things” technology – which is the forecasted technological advance – the next wave in the network of devices, vehicles and home appliances, including electronics, actuators and connectivity that will connect, interact and exchange data, permitting them to be remotely monitored and controlled. Imagine that Amazon Echo crossed with your Nest...and up their ability to remotely connect throughout your home from wherever you are. Yes, “The Jetsons” have arrived in your living room.

5G is focused on increased bandwidth – possibly up to a thousand times the current bandwidth per unit area, allowing for more devices to connect with those higher bandwidths for much longer durations. Its development is well underway, with initial launches planned to occur across the world in 2019, where it will work alongside existing 3G and 4G technology to allow us to stay online, no matter where we are in the world. It is expected to be launched in the United States, China and S. Korea by 2020, with the United Kingdom not far behind.

AT&T has announced they had begun providing 5G services in about 12 markets by the end of 2018, and they were continuing to work on advanced technologies to launch in about 24 metropolitan areas. By 2020, AT&T said it plans to reach 1.1 million locations with its fixed-wireless network. They said they had begun rolling out their Internet of Things (IoT) network by late 2017, in limited markets, which included Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In an ironic twist, Apple announced in early December 2018, that they would be sitting out the technology until at least 2020, so don't get excited to buy the latest iPhone to turn on your dishwasher from your office and begin operating a vehicle. According to Bloomberg, “Apple is taking a cue from an old playbook and waiting a year after its competitors launch 5G phones to offer it in its own device. The company reasons, according to the report, that waiting will allow all of the technical problems to get worked out and a larger market to form that it can take advantage of. Indeed, Apple used a similar tack with 3G and 4G technology and opted to wait a year or so after other handset makers offered the technology before it followed suit.”

Andy Choi, public relations manager for Verizon, said that so far Verizon has 5G service in homes in four cities – Indianapolis, Houston, Sacramento and Los Angeles, and expects to have mobile 5G service in 2019.

Choi does not have a timetable for Verizon's roll out for Michigan – but Rochester City Manager Blaine Wing does. He recently met with officials from Verizon, along with Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and state Rep. Mike Webber (R-Rochester, Rochester Hills), as well as with officials from AT&T, in order to hear their positions, “and so we could explain our concerns.

“Verizon is already at the stage of looking at communities and roll outs in waves,” Wing said. “They were already looking at it as if it was in the bag.”

“For us to hear back from customers, (we) hear back about speed, it's night and day – that it's a game changer,” Choi said. “The more that we connect ourselves with technology, the more there is an increase in infrastructure.”

As we look at 5G, we should look at how far we've come in a really short period of time. The first mode of mass wireless, 1G, was first introduced only 30-some years ago, in the 1980s. That iteration allowed us to make simple calls between mobile phones, with a data transfer speed of about .01 MB per second.

About a decade later, in 1991, 2G was introduced. Through its use of digital encryption versus analog signals, it provided greater security, as well as increased speed, at 3.1 MB per second. It transformed all of our methods of communications by allowing for regular, text-only SMS messages to be sent between regular, everyday users.

Just seven years later, in 1998, 3G came out and with it, the smartphone revolution. 3G allowed for mobile devices to be connected to the internet due to its higher speeds, which reached 14.4 MB per second.

The current standard came about in 2008, which is 4G/LTE. What was notable about 4G/LTE was a huge leap in speed to 300 MB per second, which has allowed for activities like gaming and high-definition media streaming.

5G offers the same fundamental features as its predecessors – cellular phone calls, text messaging, as well as internet connectivity – which is based and built upon the core of the 4G/LTE technology. The significant differences are bandwith, which is expected to reach up to 1 GB per second; decreased latency, or lags, which is expected to be less than a millisecond; energy efficiency; and greater network capacity.

According to cellular technology experts, it's all about the speed, whether to prevent interruptions in service to autonomous vehicles or for streaming services. Aman Grover, in the business and computer science department at Washington University in St. Louis, said, “to put it in perspective, a full 1080p HD movie is typically between 2 GB (gigabytes) to 3 GB. For potential applications like self-driving cars, which generate up to petabytes (1 million GB) of data at a time, this is a game changer.”

He also noted that 5G is forecasted to have tremendous energy efficiency. “5G will consume less power on devices, meaning longer battery lives, and perhaps by extension, less carbon waste from charging devices less often,” he explained. “With the rapid expansion of the Internet of Things, more and more devices are being designed for use on cellular networks, meaning that we need an infrastructural change to accommodate this (and future) demand.”

“One key goal of 5G is to dramatically improve the quality of service and extend that quality over a broader geographic area, in order for the wireless industry to remain competitive against the onset of gigabit fiber service coupled with WiFi,” said Scott Fulton III.

Comcast's Xfinity internet service is an example of gigabit fiber service.

Michael Watza, an attorney with Kitch Drutchas in Detroit who specializes in the telecom industry, does not believe the upgrades in the wireless industry rather than fiber has been a wise move for the industry.

“AT&T and Verizon, in particular, are deep in the wireless business, and that is not by accident,” Watza said. “They were initially in the wired business. They were encouraged to change their wired business to fiber, because everyone knew 30 years ago that they would need more access for this thing called the internet. Most of our global competitors built up fiber. They used their money instead to buy their competitors up – it was a money decision. We're now being sold as consumers that wireless is the solution to our consumer needs – it's not for data and information, because it's not compatible with fiber. It's okay with phones – but most people I trust say that you can't get the speed and access through wireless; you need fiber. This is a dodge to avoid the obligation to get fiber.”

Watza provides an example. “In 2015, in S. Korea, the students there got rid of all their text books and went all internet. All their homes were wired with fiber. All of Europe and Asia have invested in fiber.

“The analogy I make is (President) Eisenhower's investment in the U.S. highway system for trucking (in the 1950s),” Watza said. “The telecom industry has kept the feds, state and locals at bay, and have not allowed us to build up the information superhighway.”

“We throw around the phrase the 'fourth industrial revolution,'” Verizon's Choi said. “That's what we're on the cusp of. It's starting to blur the edge between the physical and the digital.”

Choi contradicts Watza. He noted, “With 5G, everything that can be connected, will be. There is low latency and extremely high speed, with continuous connectivity. It's how it will give constant connectivity to autonomous vehicles, robotics, biotechnology, A.I., where there is a need to provide data constantly and very quickly.

“We give the analogy, let's say you're on a congested highway that's not moving, and you can build three more lanes – that's what's happening with 5G. We're building additional lanes at higher speeds.”

Telecommunication companies would not be pushing as hard as they are, and spending the millions, perhaps billions, of dollars, to upgrade their systems to allow all of us to watch movies without our Netflix apps from pausing and having to upload more data to process. They're in a race with countries like China for artificial intelligence supremacy.

Artificial intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems that are able to perform and accomplish tasks that normally would require human intelligence. It is simulated intelligence that is performed by a machine, whether by a robot, a vehicle, a drone, or another entity. But a computer-driven machine can only operate as a human if data is inputted into its system by humans – in other words, if the machines are programmed to think, act and decide as a human would.

In the United States, telecommunication companies such as AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and companies such as IBM and others involved with artificial intelligence (AI) development are leading the way. Yet in China, the Chinese government supports AI companies, financially and politically. According to the New York Times, Chinese start-ups made up one-third of the global computer vision market in 2017, surpassing the U.S., largely because the Chinese government and companies have access to huge amounts of data, primarily because they have feeble privacy laws and no real enforcement of those they have.

Another huge advantage that China has is the growth of data factories, set in remote areas of China where labor and office space are cheap and plentiful. Former assembly line workers now work in these “new age” factories, often set in vacant industrial parks, where workers sift through data to “tell” a computer that a bagel is not a donut, and that a black hat is different from a white shirt, while they're both clothing. The result can help an automated cashier scanning items identify objects correctly.

In the U.S., automobile companies are working via AI to create a smooth transition of information via 5G technology.

“For autonomous cars to really thrive, a completely seamless mobile experience is a must so that cars can stay constantly connected while driving,” noted Ludivic Lassauce, director at Tata Communications' UCC, Mobility and IoT Business Unit. “The challenge will be to design IT architecture between the edge and cloud that can be deployed globally, while still allowing for localized technology to cater for different regions. Coverage, reliability and scalability must be optimized...Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be used to analyze the huge amount of data generated by driverless cars and the urban infrastructure that supports them, including smart road signs and traffic lights. Autonomous car networks and all of these potential spin-off technologies will only be made possible by borderless and robust mobile connectivity that supports a completely seamless experience.”

The means of transmitting this wondrous new form of technology and connectivity is what is causing consternation for leaders of many local communities, as well as some scientists and activists, who fear that exposure to increased amounts of radiation from transmitters and cellular devices are causing cancer, infertility and changing DNA.

Unlike 4G and other previous forms of wireless, 5G is a wide area technology, meaning it is deployed widely across cities and rural areas in order to connect anywhere. It utilizes infrastructure that is situated outside, unlike WiFi, which connects via a local router – at a business, a school, a venue, it is a technology that is primarily connected to indoors.

Unlike cable, which is installed underground, or previous wireless, which was able to be transmitted far distances by cell towers, 5G technology cannot travel long distances – only about 400 to 500 feet, which means that their devices must be installed every 400 to 500 feet, all throughout communities, in order to provide continuous service to smart phones, internet, AI, self-driving vehicles, and everything else they power.

Rather than a large cell tower tucked in the corner of a field or installed on top of a building, basically out of sight, transmission devices are “pizza box size” in industry parlance, and attach to electrical poles, telephone poles, light poles, antennas – anything they need to attach to. The “pizza box” devices have transmitters that can be up to 31 cubic feet in size – refrigerator size, and as a utility, can be placed in the right of way, or anywhere the company feels it is necessary.

City managers, township supervisors and other community leaders are enraged because AT&T and Verizon lobbied state senators last spring, and state House representatives during this lame duck session in late November, to permit the telecommunication companies to be able to place their devices in community rights of ways without any approvals of the municipalities. In a further slap to the municipalities, franchise, or lease, fees which the companies have paid for 40 years or more to lease access in the community, are severely constrained by the legislation, to $20 a year for a lease rate per site and a $200 permit fee for up to 20 locations.

In comparison, currently Bloomfield Township earns approximately $3 million annually from franchise fees. Outgoing state Rep. Mike McCready (R-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township) said that Independence Township believes it could lose $800,000 a year. “It's what runs their community TV, and it's part of their budget.”

The legislation, Senate bill (SB) 637 and its companion bill 894, which passed the Senate 33-3 in March, and the state House, 74-35, on November 28. It is currently on Governor Snyder's desk, awaiting his signature, which is expected.

“Investment in and the installation of small cells will serve Michigan customers in many ways. They will help enable faster wireless Internet speeds, provide more network capacity for things like streaming music or videos, improve wireless experience in places where large cell towers are not the best solution, and – most important to Michigan – help lay the groundwork for future technologies such as 5G and connected cars,” said David Lewis, president of AT&T Michigan, in a statement.

“Senate Bill 637 and the investment it will encourage are vital to building out Michigan’s broadband infrastructure and the legislature is right to take it up.”

Bill SB 637 will enact the “Small Wireless Communications Facilities Deployment Act” to prohibit an authority, state or local, from prohibiting, regulating, or charging for the collocation of small cell wireless facilities. It also prohibits an authority from entering into an exclusive agreement for use of a right of way for work on utility poles or the collocation of small cell wireless facilities – meaning that if one company receives a permit for a pole, all companies wishing 5G service can receive access to the pole.

The legislation does permit an authority to adopt design requirements or concealments that go along with a historic district, downtown district, or residential district – but cannot bar them. On December 3, the Birmingham City Commission approved a resolution that will require future permit applicants to comply with their design requirements in their downtown district.

“We're certainly opposed to the bill,” noted Birmingham City Manager Joe Valentine, stating that the city had been in conversations with their state Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester, Rochester Hills), who voted for the bill, and state Rep. Mike McCready (R-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township), who voted against the measure. “There'll be more of them more frequently on the street to boost their signal.”

A bipartisan group of representatives from Oakland County voted against the bill besides McCready, including Rep. Mike Webber (R-Rochester, Rochester Hills), Rep. Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills), Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy), Rep. Jim Tedder (R-Clarkston), Rep. Klint Kesto (R-Commerce Township), and Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods).

Incoming state House Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township) said she is also opposed to the legislation, because “looking at the legislation and how it was written, it took away the ability for our local governments to control how telecom companies can come into local communities and place and maintain their equipment.”

Incoming state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Bloomfield Township), who has served on the Birmingham Cable Board, noted the lost fees will have an enormous impact on programming for communities. “It is astonishing that they would agree to $20,” she said. “This is big companies taking advantage of us – but our legislature should know better. The fees don't even cover the cost of basic inspections by municipalities.”

“It's a lame duck disaster,” opined Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett. “Local governments got trampled on.”

The Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Township Association both chose a neutral advisory position, which John LaMacchia, assistant director of state and federal affairs for Michigan Municipal League, said “was not made in a vacuum. The negotiations were pretty intense, and very industry friendly. We achieved some movement toward some local government control, and had some gains.”

He acknowledged that he knew that some of their members would continue to oppose the legislation, but feels the ending bill was less problematic than the initial bill that was introduced.

“If you have a community trying to beautify itself, this works in opposition,” Valentine said. “There has to be a balance between providing the latest and greatest and cluttering the environment, and not making it ugly.”

Other provisions in the legislation are that it requires a community to approve or deny an application and notify the applicant within 90 days if the application were for a modification for a wireless support structure, such as an existing pole, or within 150 days if they are applying for a new wireless support structure.

Why that could prove onerous to a community is that with new devices needed basically every three homes or so, there will be hundreds of permit applications in each community.

Dennis Kolar, managing director of the Road Commission of Oakland County (RCOC) is mad as hell, and isn't afraid of letting everyone know it.

“Our opposition is to the bill and the requirements of the bill – and not to the improvement to the technology,” he said. “We're heavily involved in connected vehicles and autonomous vehicles. We work with all the auto companies, and are one of the lead agencies working with them locally. They (autonomous vehicles) have to work with our traffic signals. We're heavily involved on the local side.”

His – meaning RCOC's – issue is with SB 637. “It really gives the cell phone providers carte blanche to put their equipment in the road right of way,” Kolar said. “When utilities typically want to install something, they come to us and we charge them permit fees, installation fees, inspection fees and oversight. There's bond requirements. It's so the public doesn't get caught up in having to pay if they go out of business – we are the guardians of the public road.

“But SB 637 allows them to come in for a $200 permit fee for up to 20 locations,” Kolar continued. “They can hang their equipment on our signal poles – for $20 per pole – and we have no say. The bill also allows them to put up their own poles anywhere in the right of way, but that costs them more money, so they want to use ours. They're not cellular or solar, so there's no energy they need to connect to. We will not be reimbursed for our costs – so that will be borne by the taxpayers. So instead of fixing and improving roads, I will have to hire inspectors to make sure they're being done correctly, because it will be a mad dash to install on our poles.”

Kolar has one, and only one demand, he said. “Bottom line is we want to be reimbursed for our costs. We are the public.”

Kolar said RCOC had an agreement with Sprint for 250 locations at $1,000 per location per year, meaning they would have earned $250,000 – but with a ruling by the Federal Communication Commission in October favoring the telecoms, SB 637 has voided out the agreement and that rate after 90 days, and they will instead earn $20 per location – or $5,000.

“A month ago, the FCC said, we're giving access to the rights of ways for the AT&Ts of the world, but we're charging cable companies $3 billion annually (across the country) – that's the rent they pay to be in the rights of ways,” pointed out attorney Michael Watza. “That's not fair. So, they said, we're going to drop that rent for cable companies, too – or we're going to drop that rent precipitously.”

Phil Bertolini, chief information officer and deputy executive director of Oakland County, said, “SB 637 is taking away from our locals. The fee we're going to get won't even cover our costs. It costs the government money that will have to be taken from other programs. We'll have to hire engineers to inspect and regulate these poles, and if these companies go out of business, we're responsible for these assets. We believe the fair market should dictate what it should cost.

“These are billion dollar companies who can afford these costs – why are they only paying $20 a year for these assets? Are these savings going to be passed on to the consumers?” he asked rhetorically. “Who's going to pay for the losses in the communities?”

“The system is very lopsided,” Watza said, who is representing Bloomfield Township in its efforts against the legislation, calling AT&T a “500 pound gorilla.” “It only favors the industry and not the consumer. Losing the cable revenue from over 40 years for Bloomfield Township is a huge hole, about $1.5 million, that taxpayers will have to fill.”

“The loss of revenue is not as big a deal as that you cannot legislate somebody's property rights away,” asserted Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie, who has worked to galvanize opposition among other Oakland County municipal leaders. “It is about having a say where equipment goes in our neighborhoods. We work collectively rather than being mandated over where that placement will occur.

“This is all about money for the providers. They have said 'we shouldn't have to pay for putting this equipment in.' It's all about the bottom line – their bottom line. And from our standpoint it's all about protecting our communities.”

Savoie acknowledges the technology is improving and coming, and said that is not what he and other community leaders are against. “It's visual blight.”

Bloomfield Hills City Manager David Hendrickson concurred. “Certainly money is part of it, but it's the lack of local control, and it's the lack of keeping the character of Bloomfield Hills,” he said.

Savoie floated the idea of perhaps opening up areas for more “macro towers to communicate rather than having several devices on top of telephone poles above a bus stop where kids are getting on a bus,” he said.

Another concern about the increase in technology and installation of small cellular wireless devices is a growing community of citizens, scientists and medical professionals who are concerned about potential health effects of radiation.

Pamela Bratton Wallace, director of Safe Tech Forward, is a Rochester Hills resident who has been notifying municipalities of the increase in evidence of radio frequency radiowaves. “That's the radiation that comes from wireless,” Wallace said. “5G is a combination between radiowaves and millimeters. Essentially, most people don't know that most wireless products are never pretested – and it's a public health crisis. People can get very sick from exposure. Scientists and medical professionals are alarmed and banding together to inform people, because radiation is dangerous, causing deep cellular and permanent DNA damage.”

She said that individual exposure to radiation is currently “a quintillion (a 1 with 18 zeros) more than just 10 years ago.”

Wallace's concerns are not part of some radical fringe group. The FCC has not regarded any studies since 1999 – when there were only six cell phone subscriptions for every 100 adults in the U.S. Ninety-five percent of U.S. adults now have a cell phone, and globally, three out of four adults have cell phone access. In 2011, there were enough concerns regarding the potential harm of radiation that the World Health Organization classified cell phone radiation as a “possible” human carcinogen, and the governments of Great Britain, France and Israel issued strong warnings about cell phone use by children.

According to Mark Hertgaard and Mark Dowie in The Nation, “Like their tobacco and fossil fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products...Lack of definitive proof that a technology is harmful does not mean the technology is safe, yet the wireless industry has succeeded in selling this logical fallacy to the world. In truth, the safety of wireless technology has been an unsettled question since the industry's earliest days. The upshot is that, over the past 30 years, billions of people around the world have been subjected to a massive public health experiment: Use a cell phone today, find out later if it causes cancer or genetic damage.”

The primary health concerns of wireless radiation causing cancer is of brain cancer, infertility and altering of DNA.

“We know it causes cancer, infertility in men and damage to DNA,” said Frank Clegg, chairman and CEO of Canadians for Safe Technology and business advisor for Environmental Health Trust. “It's mostly brain cancer that we see, because that's where the phone is. There's damage to men's fertility and DNA changes, because they put the phones in their pockets. We're also seeing an increase in breast cancer in younger women from putting the phones in their bras – there is a direct line up of the tumors to the antennas that are put in their sports bras.

“We have epidemiological proof in humans, and scientific studies in rats,” Clegg noted, who said that he uses his own cell phone only sparingly – and when he does, he puts it on speaker mode. “It's irrefutable.”

Dr. Paul Héroux, professor of toxicology and health effects of electromagnetism, McGill University Medicine, said he has done his own scientific research over the last 20 years on human cells, “and I have seen what happens when you expose these cells to radiation.”

He said the results were “a clear proof of carcinogenicity at FCC levels – that the FCC allows.”

Héroux believes it is embarrassing evidence that the FCC has permitted wireless to grow as it has, “because we can't change the system. But we can reroute it to something safer like optical fiber to the home.”

The option to switch to fiber is unlikely – efforts by the large telecom companies to get legislation similar to Michigan's for access into rights of way has already been accomplished in over 20 other states, and the push for 5G is on. As state Sen. Mike Kowall (R-White Lake), a proponent of the legislation, said, “The time has come to move in this direction. Once we get past the funding, AI is a whole new frontier. That is where we are going to have full blown autonomous vehicles – when GM and Ford are willing to shut down electric vehicles and traditional assembly lines, you have got to believe there's something there. It's beyond our conception.

“The military can have the ability to run platoons down the road virtually blind,” he continued. “The goal with the military is to get supplies to the military in dangerous situations without anyone getting hurt. I've worked with the military on that – and they're fairly far along.

“So right now it's antennas, and later it will be satellites. It will be as different as we used rabbit ears with tin foil for TV reception to the internet.”

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