Small Cell Shenanigans

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• In Bellingham,

I’ll start this article with the two most laughable things to come out of the recently released documents for the telecom discussions this Monday. Most of the discussion in this article will center around this document released by public works yesterday which looks like it was proofread by Verizon and signed off by Ajit Pai himself.

1. Remember how public works, and by extension our council, has been saying that the existing public network and infrastructure is not usable, even though they lost track of parts of it and many other things I’ve written about before? Well that is funny because in the document, they specifically talk about how they are going to let “some wireless companies that have approached them” lease the public infrastructure for use for small cells. So it turns out it’s useful after all.

2. The period for commenting on the small cell ordinance ended at 8:00 am on July 18th. These documents were put up after that. So they literally informed the public that the commentary period for this small cell ordinance was over after they had already closed it internally. In a classic Linville administration move, they will have most of the discussions about all three of their telecom items on Monday, July 23rd at 1pm when the public is not allowed to comment. These include Municipal Broadband, Dig Once, and the Small Cell Ordinance.

Then at 7pm, they will give members of the community only 3 minutes each to talk about it. Since all of the items are related,that’s only 1 minute per item. They still have not met with any impartial experts about any of this and there is no way to know what information they actually reviewed from communications they’ve received from the public. They are trying to sneak through legislation before we can react. That’s part of why they are doing it in the summer time. The fact that the problems we have with performance and spectrum were artificially created by the big telecoms, doesn’t bother them at all. The fact that your current phone should perform about 10 times better than it does and last for at least twice as long, doesn’t phase them in the slightest.

Of course, as I wrote about last time, none of this would matter so much if we had a Dig Once Policy and other conduit to use to guarantee competition and address virtually all of our social and economic concerns, but as it stands right now, the government was less than honest about our existing infrastructure partially because they were ear marking it for use by Verizon. How dare the public ask them for details on infrastructure the public owns!

While the new small cell document does not mention their previously suggested complete removal of a land use policy, a ludicrous move that there are plenty of reasonable compromises around as I wrote about here, there are also no real rules holding the companies to any standards on behalf of our communities. They are more along the lines of strong, but unenforceable, suggestions since federal preemption can be argued against any of them once a site is established. They are following the federal standards for small cell deployment whether it makes sense or not, and they copied me on an e-mail to let me know they were doing so. They did not mention possible health concerns, and don’t even require the wireless companies to attend meetings. They instead encourage them to do so on an informal basis as if they are royalty.

The fact that when we build vertically, as we are, a horde of small cells might be outside of a child’s window doesn’t bother them at all. The fact that there are simple solutions to safeguard the inhabitants of a building that has small cells outside of it, is something they will never consider, because it effects their owners’ bottom line. Remember, the only guarantee we have from the big telecoms to the safety of these devices are that they emit low-radiation. Of course, as we cluster more of them together, there will be a cumulative effect. There is simply not enough research into what the cumulative effects of millimeter waves are. Remember how the petroleum companies said the same thing about lead in gas and the natural gas companies say the same thing about fracking?

As I said before, I’m not totally anti-wireless. I’m about 60/40 on the 5G issue, but there is no reason in 2018 that we can’t be 100% sure of the effects of this technology at higher levels. Like will be present in a cluster, some of these clusters may be so large they are pretty much towers in their own right. Are you so sure that the big-telecoms aren’t lying about the safety of these devices that you want your kids to live next to one? They also lower your property value.

The fact that Bellingham isn’t a great environment for wireless because of the many drawbacks of 5G wireless in an environment like ours, doesn’t seem to register with them either. Basically, Verizon said jump and they said, “how high?” That’s right, pick a council member, they are 100% on board with allowing the big anti-net neutral, anti-first amendment telecoms to set up a virtual monopoly on a “first come first serve basis” using our public infrastructure.

How do we fight back? We show up on Monday at 6:00 pm outside of City Hall and speak out at the 7:00pm meeting. We need a real Dig Once Policy as I outlined in my aforementioned articles. It’s the foundation we need to ensure real communications freedom in the future and bring Bellingham into the modern era.

To reinforce my point, above is a picture of what a small cell installation may actually look like after it is established. If our government follows federal law and refuses to stick up for our citizens, an established small cell site can be expanded just about any way the wireless companies see fit. If we try to fight it, post installation, they will just argue federal preemption against our arguments. Our government has shown us many times that they will not fight big corporate interests to protect our people. Better solutions, like Distributed Antenna Systems, were never looked into by our public works department even though they had the information. They cost the big telecoms slightly more, but are way better for the community. Still, we aren’t concerned about what the community wants. We’re concerned about what Verizon wants.

Keep in mind that the Federal standards our local government says they have to follow have been resisted by other communities. Why? It’s simple, they were created by the most corrupt, un-American FCC in our nation’s history. It’s disturbing that our local government wants to support this FCC and it’s anti-first amendment big telecom corporate owners. All so they don’t have to give us a better, inexpensive, solution that pays for itself like public fiber. Remember, you need fiber to do everything else telecom related well, including wireless. Public fiber would guarantee real choice, net-neutrality, lower costs, create new jobs, and provide many other benefits as I’ve outlined before.

One last thing. You know what performs way better and is 100% safe. Fiber! I know, I sound like a broken record. In some good news, the Whatcom Democrats now support the establishment of a municipal fiber network and a Dig Once Policy.

About Jon Humphrey

Citizen Journalist • Bellingham • Member since May 23, 2017

Jon Humphrey is currently a music educator in Bellingham and very active in the community. He also has decades of professional IT experience including everything from support to development. He [...]