At the City Council meeting on Monday, Sept. 23, Rosana Ferrante from ExteNet Systems responded to questions about the company’s petition to install small-cell antennas on 10 utility poles along five city streets with the goal of expanding T-Mobile network connectivity.
The exact locations of the proposed sites are 431, 573 and 642 Broadway; 141 Chelsea St.; 45, 180, 275 and 493 Ferry St.; 301 Main St. and 132 Union St.. The initial 10 sites are part of a larger vision that would include 41 sites throughout the city. The installations would only benefit customers of the T-Mobile cellular network.
Headquartered in Illinois, ExteNet provides communications infrastructure to major cell providers in order to help them meet the increasing wireless connectivity needs of their customers. Small cells consist of radio equipment and antennas that are attached to utility poles and streetlights and are used to transmit data to and from wireless devices. Unlike the cell towers found on rooftops and along highways, small cells are installed every few blocks.
“Instead of going bigger, it’s getting smaller and closer to the customer,” said Ferrante.
According to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, small cell technology is expected to explode in coming years, from 13,000 units in 2017 to 800,000 by 2026. This year alone saw a 550 percent increase in small cell installations, which are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
With a copy of the petition in hand, Councilors expressed concern on a number of fronts, including appearance, potential health risks, precedent, and benefit to Everett residents.
Councilors Fred Capone and Wayne Matewsky requested to see one of the cells in person before voting.
“There are things the size of refrigerators on top of poles on Elm Street and Abbott Avenue,” said Councilor Matewsky. “I wouldn’t want this in front of my house.”
He also mentioned he was concerned about potential radiation coming from the small cells.
“I want to know what the health hazards are,” he said. “I don’t need [radiation] affecting my health.”
Ferrante explained that ExteNet complies with the emissions regulations set by the FCC.
“It’s important that the public know that this is a low radiation threat,” she said.
But Councilor Rosa DiFlorio was still wary.
“How much radiation is really coming out?” she asked. “Because I think that a little bit here and there adds up to a lot.”
The councilwoman also worried that saying yes to T-Mobile would set a precedent for other wireless behemoths like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon to descend on the city asking for installations.
“They’re all going to be coming in,” she said.
The city of Palo Alto, California, is all too familiar with this scenario. It was recently forced to overhaul its cell antenna rules after being flooded with applications from wireless companies seeking to install cell antennas throughout the city.
Councilor DiFlorio argued that this was not a decision to be taken lightly and that she wanted Council to have the chance to research how other cities have approached the issue before taking action.
“We don’t want slow phones,” she said. “But we have to do a study and see what other cities are doing.”
Councilor Peter Napolitano requested that ExteNet provide data on the number of T-Mobile customers in Everett.
“It’s important to know how many of our residents would actually benefit from this,” he said.
ExteNet originally applied for approval for the small cell installations in Everett on August 29. FCC guidelines stipulate that the project must be approved within 60 days from application. Ferrante said the company is willing to cooperate with the City in order to reach the deadline.
Council ultimately decided that the petition warranted closer examination before bringing the matter to a vote. The petition was moved to the next meeting of the Committee of the Whole where the Council will thoroughly review all 41 proposed sites. Representatives from ExteNet as well as the City’s Legal Department will also be invited to that meeting.