City Council Newsletters
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We appreciate Council Member Kozachik's attention to this issue, he does far more than we can say of any other City Council Member, unfortunately for that, he also takes the brunt of the criticism and stands to be corrected many times over on some very serious counts, detailed here:
Another utility-related item that is on our agenda is the process we’re seeing followed by small cell pole providers. It’s largely governed by State law. And it’s not working.
The purpose of the poles is for the home WiFi we’re now relying on, and also for first responder communications.
So, the study session request isn’t saying we don’t need or want the technology. It’s about process. That is, cell companies are just showing up in peoples’ front yards with heavy equipment ready to dig, having engaged in zero advance discussion with residents about optional locations.
In 2018 the State Legislature passed a law that removes us from much of the conversation over the location of the small cell poles if they’re in City right of way. It also says that if we don’t issue a permit within a specified time, the application is assumed to have been approved. The breakdown is outreach to neighbors.
Two homes hidden in the background behind the barricades that are blocking the right of way. This AT&T site is taking place with no outreach whatsoever given to the property owners who live around the area.
The detention basin AT&T has selected was a part of a $500K federally grant funded water harvesting project the Garden District worked on for over 7 years. It’s safe to say that the residents are less than thrilled to hear it’ll soon be the home of another small cell pole.
We’ll have this discussion and see what leverage we can impose on the companies who are asking for our business. Similarly, TEP will be on an upcoming agenda. Nobody I’ve heard from is anti-technology. But everyone I’ve heard from doesn’t want our City to continue down the road of being one utility pole after another along our rights-of-way.
More work took place last week on the installation of some small cell poles. As with each of these, there’s no public notice, no public engagement prior to arriving with the heavy equipment, and no discussion about the propriety of the location identified by the contractor. In this case, it’s AT&T. Verizon, T-Mobile, and the others you’re familiar with are each doing this the same way.
Why? Because they can. The State legislature passed pre-emptive legislation a few years ago that says local voices are relegated to looking at things such as ensuring they’re keeping Rights of Way passable, but beyond that, we’re to issue a permit for the work. If we don’t within a certain time frame, it is assumed the project is approved.
The work you see being done in these pictures is taking place in a water detention basin and pedestrian pathway in which the Garden District invested sweat equity, time, and nearly $500K of Federal grant money, over a 7 year period. One morning last week, they awoke to find trenchers, shovels, and a backhoe working in the basin. As you can see, little regard was given to them driving over the top of landscaping the Federal project had funded, and residents had established through lots of hand watering.
Allie Potter from KVOA did a nice job of covering the work. As she pointed out, the workers wouldn’t go on camera, and in fact, bolted when the KVOA crew arrived. I had a stop-work order issued, but that’s temporary. I had it on the M&C agenda for tomorrow – it was bumped to November 4th. We’ll see what constraints we can place on staff, so there’s at least some opportunity to dialogue with the companies.
This is a diagram of the work planned for the detention basin. They’ll bore under Pima, install a fiber connection box on one side, and this pole goes up across the street
Here’s one in real life as it goes into place:
This should not happen to homeowners without any notice or conversation.
I did have one conversation with an AT&T rep last week. He called from Phoenix to see what all the fuss was about. At the end of the conversation, his takeaway was simply that they lobbied for the legislation, so they have ‘consistency’ from one jurisdiction to another across the State. What’s consistent is that they want your business, but they don’t want to have to talk to you about where they place the poles. There will be thousands of these things going up as companies move to 5G. If the State won’t recognize the mess they’ve unleashed, we need to fight for your voice at the local level, to the extent we can given the constraints in place. More to come on this one.
Similarly, the cellular companies have successfully lobbied the State legislature and pretty much eliminated our local voice from the location of the new small cell poles you see going up around town – perhaps even in front of your house. If you see Blue Staking happening in a Right of Way, the odds are it’s in preparation for laying fiber to connect a new small cell pole. They're about 35’ in height. And when build-out is complete, there will literally be thousands of them scattered around the City.
I’ve shared pictures of the work these things involve in previous newsletters. The companies have been given the right by the State to simply pick a spot and show up with their heavy equipment and start excavating. In midtown, we’ve seen them dropped in the middle of water harvesting basins, directly in front of homes, and always without any public conversation before the locations are selected. Verizon, T-Mobile, ATT – they want your business. What they don’t want is for you to participate in deciding on the location of their poles.
During the study session item I requested on this, I asked for 2 things to be done. One is for the Mayor to pen a letter on behalf of each of us and send it to the State leadership. The message; we want our local voice back. Amend the law and eliminate the local pre-emption. In addition, our transportation department issues a permit for each of the poles. We cannot simply refuse to issue the permit. There’s a meter built into the State law and if we haven’t issued the permit by the time it runs out, it’s assumed the permit was approved. What I asked was that “the first thing out of transportations mouth” when they get a permit request for one of these is ‘have you worked with the Ward office and residents?’ Staff will now alert each Ward office when they get a permit request for a small cell pole. We can’t stop them, but at least with that we will have some time to reach out to the company to discuss possible alternate sites. Moving the new pole 50’ in one direction may preserve somebody’s view of the mountains.
In both the TEP and cell pole items I knew going into them that our options are limited by State law. And yet, just rolling over isn’t in my DNA. My staff and I will continue advocating for the changes I’ve outlined above. We appreciate your being alongside us throughout.
You may wake up tomorrow and find this in front of your house, in the public Right of Way. It’s the beginning of the installation of a small cell pole.
And according to State law, it’d be totally legal, and there is nothing the City can do about it. That’s why I need you to consider writing to all of our State legislators and let them know the mistake they made when they caved into the cell company lobby and eliminated our local voice.
I had this in front of the City Council last month and got a commitment from our transportation department folks that they’ll contact the Ward office as soon as they receive a permit to install one of these small cell poles. But by that time the company has selected a site and the permit is simply to approve what they’ve already decided on. We need a voice way back in the process before the location is a done deal.
Small cell poles are 35’ tall. The ‘advantage’ to them is that they’re smaller than the cell towers you see around town. The disadvantage though is that because they’re smaller, there will literally be thousands of these things scattered in residential areas all over town. This is not solely a Ward 6 issue. No matter where you live in the City – or outside City limits, this will affect you.
The Bill is HB2365. It gives cell companies extremely broad freedom to install these poles. Here’s just a sample of the language in the Bill:
G. SUBJECT TO THIS SECTION AND THE APPROVAL OF AN APPLICATION, IF REQUIRED, A WIRELESS PROVIDER SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT, AS A PERMITTED USE THAT IS NOT SUBJECT TO ZONING REVIEW OR APPROVAL, TO COLLOCATE WIRELESS FACILITIES AND CONSTRUCT, MODIFY, MAINTAIN AND OPERATE UTILITY POLES, WIRELESS SUPPORT STRUCTURES, CONDUIT, CABLE AND RELATED APPURTENANCES AND FACILITIES ALONG, ACROSS, ON AND UNDER THE RIGHT‑OF‑WAY. SUCH STRUCTURES
The key is that these poles are not subject to any zoning review or approval. We can’t regulate them. I’ve been asking people to write to get our local voice reinstated in the site selection process. That may well mean the whole Bill gets redrafted. Clearly the cell company lobby is influential. If this is an issue for you, please let the State legislators know now. They will be meeting in December to begin putting legislation together for the upcoming session.
Small Cell Poles 12/07/2020
Last week I met virtually with several members of the Verizon management team. The topic was how we get a voice in their pole site selection before it’s all a done deal. Also included in the meeting were some of our Transportation Department leadership. I’d describe it as having been a productive exchange.
Right now, many of you are painfully aware that you can wake up in the morning and find this at the corner of your block. It’s the construction of a new small cell pole. There will be thousands of them scattered around the City. The companies do not have to alert you as to location, timing, work plan, or any of the items I generally cover with contractors and residents when we do pre-construction meetings. Thank the State legislature for the fact that we have no voice.
Right now, Verizon has identified all of the sites they’re planning on installing poles for the rest of the year. Currently, they conduct ‘preliminary site selection’ meetings with City staff only for poles going into historic districts. I’ve asked for those meetings to take place for all poles, and for them to be expanded to residents as well as staff. We got part of the way to that solution.
Verizon will be submitting their proposed 2021 ‘Build Plan’ in January. That is the preliminary look at where they want to place poles during the next calendar year. They’ve committed to passing that list along to me, letting me go through it and pick out the locations that merit a preliminary site conversation with our office, and with you. There will be some planned for major arterials that won’t affect residents. But the Verizon management said where I pick out those that will be sensitive; they’re, totally up for a meeting before the site is finalized, and making sure the location isn’t going to cause some of the issues we’ve recently seen. They’re not required to do this, so I appreciate their willingness to invest that extra step and being a good corporate community partner.
I’ve asked Transportation staff to now reach out to the other providers and get us scheduled for meetings with them as well. It does a little bit of good to have one provider agreeing to this. But that’s negated if 3 or 4 others just continue along the same path they are on now. So, some progress. Hopefully, the Verizon competitors will see them leading in this and follow suit.
The state legislature will be meeting in the caucus soon to decide which bills to include in the upcoming session. Returning local voices to this issue must happen. Let your State legislators know this is a big deal locally.
12/28/2020 And I also asked for a study session item on the small cell pole issue. We’re making modest progress with a couple of the providers, but the ultimate resolution will have to come from the State legislature.
As many of you know, we’ve been fighting a series of brush fires related to the installation of small cell poles in midtown neighborhoods. The issue is not whether they provide a service people are after. They do. The issue is where the poles are going and what voice ‘we the people’ have in choosing the site. Per state and FCC rules, our voice is severely muted. I’ve asked Paul Durham to co-sign onto another study session agenda discussion about this problem. I believe we have options that haven’t been suggested yet.
In 2017 the state legislature passed HB2365. It’s consistent with the FCC rulemaking on small cell poles in that it gives very much free rein to cell companies when choosing sites for their antennae. If you read through the FCC rules, they camp on the notion of making sure the rollout of 5G technology is not hindered in any way by local regulations. It’s the telecommunications analog to the 1960’s ‘space race.’
I took a close look at 2365 and found these two sections. The first is the definition they put into law of a ‘utility pole’.
18. "UTILITY POLE" MEANS A POLE OR SIMILAR STRUCTURE THAT IS USED IN WHOLE OR IN PART BY A COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE PROVIDER OR FOR ELECTRIC DISTRIBUTION, LIGHTING, TRAFFIC CONTROL OR SIGNAGE OR A SIMILAR FUNCTION. UTILITY POLE DOES NOT INCLUDE STRUCTURES SUPPORTING ONLY WIRELESS FACILITIES.
Reading further in 2365 comes Section 11-1802. Here’s Section G, where it clearly says a wireless provider has the right to collocate on existing utility poles. That right is not subject to any zoning review or approval.
G. SUBJECT TO THIS SECTION AND THE APPROVAL OF AN APPLICATION, IF 36 REQUIRED, A WIRELESS PROVIDER SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT, AS A PERMITTED USE 37 THAT IS NOT SUBJECT TO ZONING REVIEW OR APPROVAL, TO COLLOCATE WIRELESS 38 FACILITIES AND CONSTRUCT, MODIFY, MAINTAIN AND OPERATE UTILITY POLES, 39 WIRELESS SUPPORT STRUCTURES, CONDUIT, CABLE AND RELATED APPURTENANCES AND 40 FACILITIES ALONG, ACROSS, ON AND UNDER THE RIGHT-OF-WAY. SUCH STRUCTURES 41 AND FACILITIES SHALL BE CONSTRUCTED AND MAINTAINED AS TO NOT OBSTRUCT OR 42 HINDER THE USUAL TRAVEL OR PUBLIC SAFETY ON THE RIGHT-OF-WAY OR OBSTRUCT 43 THE LEGAL USE OF THE RIGHT-OF-WAY BY OTHER UTILITIES. EACH NEW OR 44 MODIFIED UTILITY POLE AND WIRELESS SUPPORT STRUCTURE INSTALLED IN THE 45 RIGHT-OF-WAY MAY NOT EXCEED THE GREATER OF TEN FEET IN HEIGHT ABOVE THE 46 TALLEST EXISTING UTILITY POLE THAT IS IN PLACE AS OF THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF
So the question becomes, ‘why haven’t we been told this, and why aren’t the cell providers looking to existing utility poles for collocation?’ I raised the question with some of their decision-makers last week and have not heard back yet. For me, it’s the game-changer we haven’t been told about that has always been in the tool kit.
Here are some images of what this collocation looks like. These are pictures I found from other cities. With some imagination, they almost look like coconut trees, without the foliage. Maybe we call this initiative Project Coconut.
There are specs for having this done even within the TEP guidelines. Here are a couple of links:
Embedded in that material, you’ll see everything a cell provider needs in order to move ahead with claiming their spot on an existing utility pole.
This could be the final configuration. While it’s not real attractive, it’s also not an additional pole, TEP meter box, and Century Link trench across the front of your house. And the Verizons of the world have the right to select a pole, not subject to any zoning restrictions.
I suspect the cell providers haven’t offered this up as a solution because there will be fees associated with collocating on a utility pole. The rules address that as well. Neither utility companies nor the city can impose a fee that’s more than any other user would have to pay. In other words, nobody can jack up fees to make the option unattractive. And if TEP points to a safety issue, the FCC has addressed that as well with this rule:
Where a utility pole isn’t available, there are other options we’ll be addressing on the 23rd. We can and should be requiring ‘one-touch’ poles so when they’re replaced, the new ones are prepped for wireless. The same is true for when anybody opens the ground for trenching. Stub out and prep for fiber. It follows the old carpentry rule; measure twice, cut once. If there’s trenching happening, do all of the work once to avoid more disruption later on.
It’s really draining to have to play the game of 20 questions, only to eventually get to that exact question that holds the key. The discussion on the 23rd now has some tools we will be expecting to be implemented – by all parties involved – so the front of your house isn’t trashed out with a series of these poles.
Our study session on cell poles is tomorrow. I have some ideas that will require the cooperation of city staff, the telecom providers, TEP and the fiber companies. Right now, I’m being told that AT&T and T-Mobile have the attitude that they don’t need to engage with anyone. According to law, they’re right. You can thank our state legislature for that. But each of my constituents is their potential customer. Pay attention to how this goes so you know which companies to support – or not.
While this mess is unfolding in many of your front yards, the state legislature continues to demonstrate how tone-deaf they are to the whole issue. Even as we’re wrestling with how we gain a voice in siting decisions, the state is considering yet 2 more bills that preempt city authority on this issue.
Right now, we can charge a fee to a telecom company for trenching in our right of way (ROW) and laying their fiber. We can’t discriminate and charge one kind of company one fee and different fees for a different sort of use (fiber vs. electric, for example), but we have the right to charge a fee based on linear feet they’ll be using the ROW. HB 2108 contains this new language:
So if this passes, the state is saying we not only have no voice in where they trench and install their systems, we cannot even treat the cell companies the same as we treat any other company when they use our Right of Way.
HB2711 relates to installing antennas on private property. This will completely take the city’s voice out of locating an antenna on private property. Here’s the language they’re adding to state statute if this passes:
The ‘Authority’ they mention would be the city. And if the state is preempting us from being a part of these arrangements, the ability of a neighborhood association or HOA to craft terms related to the installation of poles is similarly preempted.
If there was a way to get some of these poles installed in front of some legislators’ homes, that might help change the course of the conversation. Failing that, I’ll try to move the local needle on Tuesday.
Progress on the cell pole issue. This is a photo I shared with M&C at last week’s study session. Note the wooden stake, two street signs and a TEP utility pole all bunched together. The cell pole is slated to go where the stake is located, ignoring the option to collocate on any of the other 3 existing vertical elements. That phrase ‘vertical elements’ becomes key as you read on.
And this is what we end up with in our residential neighborhoods.
What has not been happening is any discussion of using city-owned street signs, light poles, or the utility poles owned by TEP. Everyone has simply been picking the location in the public Right of Way (ROW) and moving on.
It’s important to note that the only telecom provider who has even engaged with us on finding a solution is Verizon. Neither AT&T nor T-Mobile have shown any willingness to sit down and talk. According to state law, they don’t have to. And according to how the free market works, you don’t have to buy their product.
At the study session I was able to get movement on a city ordinance that requires the telecom providers to demonstrate they’ve exhausted every other possible site location prior to landing on the one in front of your house. We cannot compel them to choose another site, but the city has also not been forcing a more creative conversation.
During one of the meetings, I was involved with after the study session I learned one of the reasons Verizon has not been proposing street signs or other city-owned vertical elements is that they’ve been told the city won’t allow collocation. That’s changing. And it’s yet another layer of the onion we’ve had to peel back as this process unfolds. If the city has been limiting their options, we aren’t in a real great position of pointing fingers at the telecom group.
The other very important party in this is TEP. I’ve shared this before, but here’s the state law once again that says telecom providers can select a utility pole, and the utility cannot say ‘no.’
G. SUBJECT TO THIS SECTION AND THE APPROVAL OF AN APPLICATION, IF 36 REQUIRED, A WIRELESS PROVIDER SHALL HAVE THE RIGHT, AS A PERMITTED USE 37 THAT IS NOT SUBJECT TO ZONING REVIEW OR APPROVAL, TO COLLOCATE WIRELESS 38 FACILITIES AND CONSTRUCT, MODIFY, MAINTAIN AND OPERATE UTILITY POLES, 39 WIRELESS SUPPORT STRUCTURES, CONDUIT, CABLE AND RELATED APPURTENANCES AND 40 FACILITIES ALONG, ACROSS, ON AND UNDER THE RIGHT-OF-WAY. SUCH STRUCTURES
If you’d like to read the whole bill, google HB2365.
Every piece of legislation related to these poles is intended to get the 5G system up and running as quickly as possible. The state laws and FCC rules restrict local jurisdictions from putting any roadblocks in front of telecom companies. Similarly, the section of 2365 I cite above appears to do the same when it comes to public utilities putting up roadblocks. But in fact, they are.
Before one of the telecom companies can collocate their antennae on a utility pole, I’m told they need what’s called a Master License Agreement (MLA.) That, in some jurisdictions has taken 9 months to a year to negotiate. In addition, I’ve learned that even with an MLA, the utilities are placing restrictions on which of their poles they’ll allow an antenna to go on. That is not at all consistent with the spirit of the law that says the city can’t slow down the process. Utilities are currently being allowed to stand in the way of the 5G rollout, at the expense of trashing out the city ROW. I’ve reached out to state legislators and asked that to be looked into.
TEP tells me they’re ‘in the room’ now with both city staff and telecom companies. During conversations I’ve had with city staff, it has now been made clear that telecom companies must not be restricted from at least presenting to us options that include city-owned vertical elements. Nothing is off the table for consideration at the start of the conversation. And before you end up with one of these poles in front of your house, we’ll have considered all of those options.
We don’t have a year to wait on TEP and each individual telecom company to negotiate an MLA. And the state statute needs to apply equally to the utility as it does to us. If we can’t toss up roadblocks, neither can they. And the city needs to open all of our vertical elements (light poles, street signs, traffic control devices, etc.) for at least consideration. Verizon tells me they replace existing utility poles in other jurisdictions. That must be an option here, too. I’ll keep you posted.
Small Cell Poles 03/08/21
Once again, here’s the troublesome text from state bill HB2365. It’s why we continue working for a solution to the 5G cell poles you’re seeing pop up in your neighborhoods.
Last week I reached out to Verizon again – the only telecom company who’s so far willing to even engage – and asked for a meeting to consider yet another option. This picture on the right is of some ‘cactus’ that are fabricated in a way that a cell company can install their pole inside, hiding the plain metal pole. I’m not at all happy when the birds chew holes in my saguaro, but in this case, the holes are intentional, so the cell pole can function from the inside.
The reason I know Verizon won’t be caught by surprise when they open my email is this photo:
Three guesses where that cell pole/saguaro is located...up in Scottsdale. Why is it that we get the ugly, 35’ tall steel poles, but they feel Scottsdale deserves this sort of consideration? And I’m not suggesting we have a line of 35’ tall saguaro fake cactus in all of our Rights of Way. How about an annual lease agreement with private property owners to have a pole located somewhere in their existing landscaping? Like this photo of Scottsdale. And how about having the newly planted poles that you’re already seeing have something like this put into place retroactively to hide some of the ugly?
Last week Verizon agreed to a collocation on an existing Stop sign in a Palo Verde neighborhood location. Two other possible Stop signs didn’t work out due to underground utilities preventing them from digging the foundation for the new pole. This sort of incremental ‘progress’ is going to end up with our city being filled with utility poles, while the conversation up in Scottsdale seems to be more appreciative of the aesthetic value of their community.
It’s yet another layer of the onion I’ve peeled back. I’ll let you know how the conversation goes.
Back in 1973, Motorola introduced the first ever cellphone. It was called DynaTAC. This is a picture of the thing – like a brick laying on your shoulder.
The guy in the picture is Martin Cooper. He was directly involved in the design of the phone, and in fact made the first ever phone call on it. He called his competitor at AT&T to rub it in. Motorola had figuratively landed on the moon first. It took another 10 years before cell phones were commercially available.
Now Motorola isn’t a player. But from the 35’ tall poles you see popping up around the city you know AT&T still is, as are Verizon and T-Mobile/Sprint. They’re all out bidding on what’s called ‘spectrum.’ In really layman’s terms, they’re competing for room on the dial, like a radio station does. But the cell companies are bidding on room out in the airwaves they want to license in order to carry their smartphone and other cellular products. In late February, the three high bidders were:
Verizon - $45 billion dollars for 3,511 spectrum licenses
AT&T - $23 billion dollars for 1,621 licenses
T-Mobile - $9 billion dollars for 142 licenses.
There was a total of $81B spent by cell companies trying to get access to spectrum licenses. Now we’re fighting so they don’t use what is obviously significant revenue potential to ruin the aesthetics of your neighborhood – your front yard.
I like Martin Cooper’s perspective. He was aghast at the amount of money being spent on these licenses. He estimates that roughly 40% of students in this country don’t have access to broadband wireless. The technology exists to provide that for around $10 p/month. The spectrum sold to those 3 companies will be used to connect us to things. To more devices. Cooper feels spectrum should first be allocated to companies that are committed to delivering access to people, and to bringing down costs. I agree. Call it the internet of people, as opposed to the internet of things.
The Arizona state legislature will have committee hearings this week on more restrictions to local voices. I sent Representative Victoria Steele this statement to be read into the record:
When the legislature passed HB2365, it gave license to telecom providers to freely select locations for their ‘small cell poles’ without any requirement for consultation ahead of time with residents whose homes will be impacted. The Bill prevents cities from compelling any contact with residents. The notice property owners receive is literally the arrival of a back-hoe and trencher in front of their home. At the conclusion of the work, a new 35’ tall cell pole, with a 4’ tall electric meter box and a 5’ tall orange and white PVC ‘warning post’ sit in the Right of Way immediately outside homes throughout residential areas, all over the state.
At my request, the City of Tucson recently approved moving ahead with an Ordinance that will compel telecom companies to demonstrate they’ve at least explored all possible alternatives before deciding on their final choice for their pole. This means utility companies must sit down and discuss collocating on existing utility poles (a use already called for in HB2365,) and cities must make infrastructure such as street lights, traffic control devices and street signs available for collocation. The Ordinance is intended to force all parties to explore all options prior to simply choosing the location that is the easiest one to facilitate, but the one that brings the most egregious impact on residential property owners.
Even with our local Ordinance, telecom companies may elect the location that brings the worst impact on property owners. The state legislature can resolve this by simply returning to local jurisdictions the authority to deny permits, suspend the 75 day ‘shot clock’ and allow sufficient time to bring all parties to the table to explore options that will allow a successful rollout of the 5G system, but preserve the aesthetics and property values for residents throughout the state. Simply put – return our local voice and authority.
Once again, here’s the troublesome text from state bill HB2365. It’s why we continue working for a solution to the 5G cell poles you’re seeing pop up in your neighborhoods. We need our voice back.
Last week I shared two thoughts with Verizon. One is the idea of hiding their poles inside fake cactus. This is a picture of one that already exists up in Scottsdale:
Some of you have already begun nudging the utilities in this direction. This is handiwork from a Sam Hughes neighbor. And while it’s not the full 35’ Verizon pole, the 5’ orange and white PVC Century Link post is a nice start.
In the U.K., Vodafone (one of their local telecom carriers) is installing mobile antennas on the underside of manhole covers. Like this -
There’s no need for ruining the landscape in front of your house, and no above-ground eyesores. The kits are all below ground.
There won’t be one single solution to this, but I’m giving them options so that when we sit down together again, there’ll be much more in the conversation than just me and residents pleading to move a 35’ tall pole a few feet one way or another so it’s not the only thing someone sees when looking out towards the mountains.
Some of the eligibility criteria include households receiving Medicaid or SNAP benefits, households approved for free or reduced-price school food programs, or those who can document a substantial loss of income related to the pandemic. There’s more, so connect in one of the ways I’ve listed to see if you can save yourself some cash on getting digitally connected.
Not all the cell company news is bad.
I took part in what I hope will be a meeting that’ll transition this 5G cell pole rollout from one in which we’re operating from a position of supplicant to one in which telecom providers and other utilities are at the table having serious talks about site selection. The meeting involved representatives of Verizon, TEP, the Ward 3 staff, the city manager, and other city staffers.
The main takeaway from the meeting is that Verizon and TEP will be working in earnest to complete a licensing agreement that will open up utility poles for the collocation of 5G antennas. The city will open street lighting, existing stop sign locations, and other vertical elements we have control over. And TEP will work with the telecom providers to open up as many utility poles as possible, so these things go behind our homes, not in our front yards.
Finally, the city is finalizing a manual that we’ll use to guide the location of the poles to the extent we’re allowed to by law. It’ll include things such as distance requirements between poles and between other ‘vertical elements’ such as street lights. For example, check out this picture.
I don’t have a wide-angle lens on my phone, so you can’t see the other cell pole that’s about 50’ to the east of the one on the right-hand side of the shot. So we have the street light, traffic control device, and 2 small cell poles all within 100’ of each other. That's visual pollution with a solution.
We’re making some progress. I want to give Verizon credit for being the only telecom provider that has been willing to meet and work for solutions. AT&T and T-Mobile have been on the sidelines. I’m hoping to change all of that through the changes we’re making.
Thanks to the Arizona Daily Star editorial board for printing this Guest Piece in the Sunday paper. Please contact your cell provider and TEP and express the importance of their continued involvement.
Under the cover of their own internal bureaucracies and legislation bought with big corporate dollars, the telecom and electric industries are ruining the aesthetics of our residential neighborhoods while at the same time decreasing homeowner property values.
The systematic rollout of 5G “small cell poles” was facilitated by both federal and state regulations. But as consumers, we are not without an ability to effect change.
Industry has sold the Federal Communications Commission and state legislatures throughout the nation a present-day analog to the 1960s “space race.” The notion that we’ve got to be first in the international rollout of 5G has resulted in legislation being adopted that ignores the impacts thousands of 35-foot-tall steel cell poles scattered throughout residential neighborhoods will have.
In Arizona, not surprisingly, our state legislature passed HB 2365, a bill that severely limits the kinds of local actions we can take that might either slow down the site selection process or compel the selection of sites that respect the character of our residential neighborhoods.
My recent exchange with telecom and TEP representatives is illustrative of how industry fails to take seriously the impacts they’re causing.
Under current Arizona state law, the city can impose reasonable restrictions on how close cell poles can be to other “vertical elements.” For example, we can require cell poles be no closer than 150 feet from street lights or other cell poles.
What we cannot do is compel a specific location for a cell pole. Outside of the very general spacing guidelines we can implement, the companies are permitted by law to point to a spot in the public right of way and claim that ground for their pole. Under HB 2365, if the city delays issuing the permit for 75 days, the permit is assumed to have been approved.
That same state law, however, specifically lists existing utility poles as allowable sites for the collocation of new cellular antennas. If the telecom company says they want to use a utility pole in the easement behind your home, according to state law, TEP cannot say no.
But here’s the game that’s being played:
TEP requires a Master License Agreement with each telecom provider before allowing collocation on their poles. That’s not a part of state law — it’s a TEP imposed requirement. We’re under a 75-day approval time limit. TEP says negotiating the MLA would take nine to 12 months. In addition, TEP has placed “design specifications” on their poles, leaving the utility with the ability to reject collocation on a given pole. That is contrary to the spirit, if not the letter of state law.
During my recent exchange with the industry representatives, I was told TEP had not received any requests for collocation. When asked why, the telecom representatives said there wasn’t any point because they didn’t have the MLA, and the specifications for using poles were so restrictive that few, if any, would even be approved by TEP.
Residents are the collateral damage of this industry game of internally imposing requirements that effectively take all options off the table — except for placing poles in front of your house. They’re playing a game of following the path to approval that requires the least effort on their part. Homeowners are paying the price.
I reminded industry representatives that my constituents are their customers. Please reach out to your telecom provider and to TEP and demand they expedite a licensing agreement and that they do whatever is necessary to open up for consideration all existing utility poles for collocation. Cellular antennas belong in the easements behind your house, not outside your front yard.
In last week’s newsletter I shared the Guest Piece I wrote for the Star. In it I made several references to TEP and their involvement in the 5G rollout. I’m now advised that the utility didn’t like the bad press, so they’ve written a response. I welcome that – at least they’re finally acknowledging a role. That’s the first step towards getting all parties to the table for solutions.
With respect to collocating small cell equipment on their poles, in their response editorial they said they had “approved the only such request we’ve received (Verizon) to date the following day.” And that they hadn’t done so before because “they haven’t asked”. That’s the shifting of the burden back to the telecom industry that I called them out for during the joint TEP/Verizon Zoom meeting I hosted last week. The Verizon request came last week a day after that meeting. And the reasons nobody has bothered to make requests until now are that there is no Master Licensing Agreement with TEP, and the TEP specifications are so restrictive that the cell providers have told me there’s no point in even asking. Here’s the reality – because of all the public activity we’ve generated on this issue, everyone is now at the table looking for solutions.
In their editorial TEP also said they’ve got a history of allowing ‘telecom’ providers space on their poles. If you paint with broad enough strokes, you can hide the flaws in a disingenuous statement. In this case they’re referring to Cox and cable providers. That’s not small cell providers, so the statement was intentionally self-serving, and not on point. But as long as they raise the issue, this picture is what is being allowed to happen in our residential areas:
TEP comes in and increases the height of a pole and Cox is then allowed to leave their lines on the orphan pole next to the new one. Now we’ve got 2 poles with this aesthetic clutter. Cox has some statutory period of time to remove their lines before TEP removes the orphan pole. But that is simply not happening. If TEP has any question about that, I’d welcome a stroll through any number of midtown neighborhoods so I can point out where literally dozens of these conditions exist. And what we don’t need is a small cell pole going in next to this mess.
Someone drew the analogy in this fight for the aesthetics of our neighborhoods to David vs Goliath. I prefer the image of Lemuel Gulliver in Lilliput. Lots of us working together getting control of the situation.
I know – there’s satire and a bunch of other meanings in Jonathan Swift’s writing – it's the image of lots of ‘little people’ getting involved, and effecting change that I like.
So some good change did happen last week. TEP and Verizon have agreed to collocate a Verizon array on one of the utility poles north of Grant by Doolen Middle School. Also last week I took part in an introductory meeting with Cemrock and Verizon. That’s the company that hides vertical elements in fake trees and cactus. They’re talking. And we finally met with AT&T and opened dialogue with them. I’m hoping that leads to a better outcome on a proposed pole over in El Monetvideo. Right now AT&T has proposed this site:
That tree doesn’t need a 35’ tall cell pole as a neighbor. You can see all the utility poles in the background. We’re working on a better outcome.
The issue is only going to increase in intensity as more poles are proposed by more companies. As I’ve told each of the utility representatives – our intent is not to fight state law. We don’t have that authority. Our intent is to compel a conversation among all parties that leads to consideration of alternatives superior to the ones now being selected. It’s unfortunate that TEP didn’t like the press I gave them, but if the result is more robust and direct conversations on this issue, then it was worth the ink.
Each week I’ve got several meetings with people related to the rollout of the 5G small cell poles. They’re not ‘small.’ But they are rolling out. And periodically, I get people asking me to sign onto a proposed citizen-led 5G local ordinance, much of which is focused on the city setting limits on RF emissions. Since I get an email or 2 per week advocating that I take the lead on that ordinance, I want to share here that we do not have the local authority to regulate RF emissions. While the state has taken our voice out of certain elements of the 5G process, it’s a federal law that prohibits us from regulating based on RF. Here’s the citation from FCC rules:
(iv) No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radiofrequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions.
Pursuant to federal case law, this prohibition applies to the regulation of operations of personal wireless facilities as well.
The way that ties into the Arizona state prohibitions is that we cannot deny a permit unless the proposed site fails to comply with our local codes. Since the FCC says we cannot regulate based on RF emissions, we can’t place that into our local code.
A part of my work on this last week was to discuss with the city manager and others a utility specification manual that’s being put together. It’s getting quite the pushback from the utilities. Even things such as limiting the distance between ‘vertical elements’ such as street lights, utility poles, and proposed small cell poles. They don’t want to be constrained. The fact that they’re all finally at the table is a good sign. Two months ago, it was us fighting one location at a time. The conversation has broadened.