Small cell technology is taking cities by storm as cellular providers scramble to ready their networks for the long-awaited 5G rollout that is expected to enhance cell phone performance exponentially.
But some Everett residents and City Councilors are speaking out against the antennas that form the essence of this technology.
Small cell antennas are attached to utility poles and are used to transmit data to and from wireless devices. Unlike the large cell towers found on rooftops and along highways, small cells are installed every few blocks and supplement the coverage of the larger cells.
Recently, T-Mobile received permission to install 27 devices on utility poles throughout the city to benefit its customers. Knowing that it was only a matter of time before other wireless providers descended on the city with small cell ambitions, Councilors hurried to establish an ordinance to regulate their proliferation.
As anticipated, representatives from cellular giant Verizon Wireless appeared before Council on Monday, March 9, to request permission to install its first cluster of small cell antennas at five locations throughout the city: 9 Jefferson Ave., 182 Springvale Ave., 27 Vaughn Street, 47 Winthrop Rd. and 19 Woodlawn Ave. The company aims to install at least 50 small cell antennas in Everett.
Verizon provided a document claiming that radiation from small cell antennas is “well below standards” and would not cause harm to residents.
“All standards are vetted through multiple agencies through local and federal government,” said one representative.
He added that antennas could also be disabled on an as-needed basis if utility workers needed to access the poles.
Councilor Wayne Matewsky said that he wanted to see one of the devices “in person” before making his decision.
“If you took a tour of this neighborhood, you’d see some really ugly stuff on poles,” he said. “It may look small up on the pole, but I want to see the device physically. I want to be careful what I put on poles.”
When members of the public were given the chance to speak on the petition, they did not hold back. Their main concerns were health and appearance.
“We don’t know what [antennas] do to human beings,” said a resident of 36 Woodlawn Ave. “Verizon, a billion-dollar company, is telling us it’s harmless, but I’d like more information.”
“I don’t know why cell phones take precedence over health,” said one resident of 27 Bond Street. “I don’t want to walk out my door and look at that aberration and wonder how it’s affecting my health and that of my family. The gentlemen from Verizon wouldn’t want that outside their front door and I don’t [either].”
“Wireless technology hasn’t been around long enough to know the side effects of these transmissions,” said a resident of 36 Madison Ave.
All residents within 200 feet of an antenna installation were notified by certified mail, but the Madison Avenue resident said that seniors and residents who don’t read English were unable to understand the full impact of the installation. She also claimed that Verizon was targeting blue-collar neighborhoods.
“We’re being preyed upon because we’re working class people who don’t know what the implications are,” she said.
“I don’t want to see this monstrosity outside my house,” said a resident of 19 Woodlawn Ave. “The wireless is out of control. Verizon is a monopoly and they’re trying to take over. I wouldn’t want to see any more units in the city.”
“When is enough, enough?” said another resident. “I worry what the city is going to look like in 10 years. Let us slow down and catch up.”
Regarding the certified letter that was mailed out to residents, Councilor Gerly Adrien suggested making small cell antenna information available on the City’s website in a variety of languages.
Councilor Michael McLaughlin suggested that Verizon approach the City about organizing a community meeting large enough to invite all impacted residents, not just for the five initial antenna locations, but for Verizon’s ultimate vision for Everett.
“Verizon needs to hold a neighborhood meeting immediately and listen to the residents before I will vote on any of the items before us,” he told Independent. “Their fears and concerns are real.”
Council voted to postpone the request to its first meeting in April, which would give the petitioners the opportunity to answer Council’s questions and, hopefully, comply with their request to bring a hollowed-out antenna into the Council chambers.
Council votes on the installation of cell antennas largely as a formality, and lacks any real power to forestall the advent of cellular technology. However, it can hinge its approval on a company’s compliance with a number of requirements.
In just the past two weeks, headlines have been dominated by communities that are taking a stand against small cell antennas: San Anselmo, California; Lakewood, Colorado and Farragut, Tennessee, to name just a few.