It’s been more than a year since Keene’s City Council took up the concept of 5G; that is, took up whether to enact a city ordinance for siting the small wireless facilities (antennae) upon which the next generation of wireless will largely rely.
At the time, it seemed a given that, prompted by city staff, the council would put such an ordinance in place, if for no reason other than to ensure orderly siting of such small antennae when the time comes. And it was not expected to come anytime soon; the expense of 5G infrastructure and service vs. the benefit to telecommunications firms of selling it to such a small population made it seem like a distant proposition.
Thus, it was easy for the council to put it off when, somewhat unexpectedly, a boisterous opposition arose to allowing 5G in the city at all, claiming the higher-frequency radio waves used to carry 5G signals would pose health risks to those in Keene.
Have a baby monitor? A cordless phone? A WiFi router? A microwave oven or satellite TV? Those all operate in the same spectrum of radio waves as 5G (and 4G; and 3G, etc.) We’re inclined to be skeptical of the claims that 5G will pose a heightened health threat of cancer or any other condition, in part because people have had these items in their homes and pockets for decades, with no coincidental rise in cancer rates. And 5G waves, which operate at a higher frequency than current technology, would be safer, according to biologists, because like ultraviolet waves — which are higher still on the spectrum — human skin acts as a barrier. So do walls, windows, etc., which is why 5G transmitters and boosters need to be closer and more abundant.
However, the issue of health has not been decided. Since the state had also recently addressed the issue, by appointing a panel to study the very topic of health concerns about 5G, the council a year ago this week opted to put off a new policy and set a moratorium on new permits for 5G until January 2021.
However, by May, the councilors had rethought the topic, based on legal advice. They enacted a policy for small wireless facilities, based on the idea that applications could arrive sooner than January, and they best have some ordinance in place. So they changed course and enacted an ordinance to deal with siting them.
In November, the state report the council was waiting for was issued: A majority — but not all — of its members found reason to believe there may be health issues at risk, though it’s worth noting the report acknowledged that any state or local barriers to wireless technology may well be moot — since U.S. law entrusts those decisions solely to federal regulators.
As January dawned, then-Councilor Terry Clark proposed a review of the ordinance and discussion of possible updates to reflect new information from the Nov. 1 report by the state’s Commission to Study the Environmental and Health Effects of Evolving 5G Technology. The council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee placed the item on “more time.” This is a designation that requires no immediate action.
Clark also proposed a slew of changes to the new ordinance, almost all of which would make it harder or more expensive to site 5G antennae in the city — perhaps even impossible to do so in a way that makes service possible.
More recently, the council heard from two members of the state panel — representing the majority and minority sides of the report.
All of which leaves the topic about where it was a year ago, as far as the big picture on health is concerned. And 5G may indeed be a long way from Keene, though applicants may seek the same antennae for what’s being dubbed “4G-plus” service.
What’s different is that the city now has an ordinance in place, which may set up a structure, but perhaps not the right one. Though we don’t necessarily agree with the state panel’s findings, the councilors agreed to revisit the topic once those findings were in, and they are.
Therefore, they ought to set aside time to re-examine the ordinance, and perhaps even Clark’s proposed changes. That was, after all, the agreed-to plan.