Why deploying broadband takes so long: Part I

Submitted by acohill on Fri, 06/01/2018 - 09:31

There is a huge fight looming that is already begun in many localities, which involves the deployment of 5G cellular radio equipment. Both residents and localities are wary of the dramatic increase in the number of poles and towers that are needed.

There are various numbers floating around about the spacing for 5G cellular equipment, and they range from a low of around 500 feet apart to a thousand feet apart. Compare that to the current typical separation distance of 3G/4G towers of 1-2 miles.

The 5G equipment is smaller and can be mounted on existing light and traffic signal poles, and new poles can be shorter: thirty to forty feet, because the poles are closer together. But in urban and many suburban neighborhoods, that means a 40' foot pole with a bunch of boxes and antennas hanging off in the right of way, or what most people consider their front yard.

Visually, some of the deployments are just plain ugly, and there are concerns about radiation exposure with the microwave antennas so close to homes and businesses.

The cellular providers do not want to have to go through the traditional permitting process for what could be hundreds of poles in a single locality, with special use permits, engineering studies, and public hearings for every pole.

The localities, quite correctly want some say in what goes in community right of way. Hence the looming fight. The dilemma for all parties is the insatiable thirst for more mobile bandwidth, conflicted with the proliferation of infrastructure in undesirable areas. It's not going to be easy to solve this.

As an example of the often arcane permitting process, we recently had to place an eight foot wooden post in the ground to hold a small radio. The post was proclaimed a "tower" by the local planning department, which led to more than a year of challenges to get the eight foot wooden post approved. We eventually got it installed, but the process included an inspection of "tower footers," which was just about one bag of gravel in the bottom of the hole, and then a "hole inspection," and we were never really certain what they were looking for, but we could not drop the eight foot wooden post in the hole until the hole was inspected.

Local governments need to try to meet broadband providers half way, or we are going to see a continued push for state level regulations that remove all right of way authority from local communities. Everyone, public and private, wants improved broadband access, but how we get there is going to require an openness to compromise on some issues.

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