Council sets guidelines for 5G

ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo

The Fairfield City Council chambers were packed Friday as residents listened to a discussion about 5G wireless technology. Fairfield City Attorney John Morrissey, right, explains to the council its options for passing a resolution about how 5G antennae are sited.
ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo The Fairfield City Council chambers were packed Friday as residents listened to a discussion about 5G wireless technology. Fairfield City Attorney John Morrissey, right, explains to the council its options for passing a resolution about how 5G antennae are sited.

The Fairfield City Council passed a resolution Friday detailing guidelines for the possible installation of a 5G data network in town.

The council called a special meeting to discuss the matter after learning last week that the Federal Communications Commission had set an abrupt deadline of April 15 to pass such a resolution. Municipalities that had not passed a resolution by the deadline might lose their ability to do so later.

Mayor Ed Malloy said the city does not have any applications to install a 5G network in Fairfield, but the council wanted to approve the resolution now to ensure compliance with FCC regulations. He said the council also plans to turn its 5G guidelines into codified law by approving an ordinance (since a resolution is not a law but rather a guideline).

What is 5G?

The term 5G is short for “fifth generation,” and refers to a network that transmits data over the internet. According to an article written by David Goldman for CNN Business, a 5G network will provide faster internet speeds, up to 100 times faster than the current “fourth generation” of networks. For instance, downloading a 3-D movie now takes six minutes under 4G, but would take three seconds under 5G.

Goldman writes that 5G would reduce the lag time between devices, so that devices such as self-driving cars can “process all the information they need to make life-or-death decisions in the blink of an eye.” The 5G network can act like a cloud server, storing data and performing tasks that would otherwise have to be done by the self-driving cars, which would save them power and space.

Is there a catch to this new technology? One thing is certain: the 5G network will require the installation of many more towers than the 4G network has required. It has to do with the fact that a 5G network sends data using super-high frequency radio waves, which bring faster speeds and more bandwidth, but are weaker than those of prior generations. This means the 5G network struggles to penetrate walls, and its signal fades after a shorter distance.

Goldman writes that this will require wireless companies to “install thousands — perhaps millions — of miniature cell towers on top of lamp posts, on the side of buildings and inside homes.”

Distance apart

One part of the resolution the council passed deals with how close the cell towers should be to each other. The resolution initially read that the city prefers them to be at least 250 feet apart, but that was amended at the meeting to 1,000 feet apart.

The resolution also states which areas of town the city would least like cell towers in. The place where the council wants them the least is residential districts, followed by parks, architectural review districts and downtown business districts.

Hands tied

Malloy talked about how the council’s ability to regulate the placement of cell towers is limited by federal and state law. For instance, in 2017 the Iowa Legislature passed Senate File 431, which limits local governments’ ability to prohibit or restrict cell deployments by wireless providers.

The bill prevents local governments from requiring that wireless providers obtain land use permits for public rights of way or on government-owned utility poles. It gives local governments 60 days to respond to applications for permits for locating wireless facilities, and states that any application that has not been denied or approved by local authorities within 60 will be deemed granted.

The bill passed the Iowa House on a 93-0 vote, and passed the Iowa Senate on a 50-0 vote. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the bill into law.

Shipley’s bill to overturn

Rep. Jeff Shipley (R-Fairfield) entered a bill earlier this year to overturn SF 431. However, the bill did not make it out of committee. Shipley attended Friday’s council meeting. He told The Ledger after the meeting that he knew the bill was unlikely to pass, given it had been approved unanimously two years ago.

“At the capitol, all the industries groups line up, and things are moved through with very little discussion,” Shipley said. “They passed this in 2017 because they felt municipalities were getting too restrictive and price gouging industry. I think [the bill] presents a lot of problems, and I respect Mayor Malloy for organizing this meeting at the drop of a hat.”

Apart from his bill to overturn SF 431, Shipley said there has been no action on 5G in the Legislature this year.

Human health

The council’s resolution dealt solely with the placement, modification and removal of the cell towers, and nothing to do with regulating the radio waves they would be transmitting. Malloy told the audience that was not within the council’s purview, but rather than of the FCC.

Specifically, Malloy said the council would not be discussing the effects of a 5G network on human health, which prompted groans from the packed council chambers.

Malloy said the meeting was not intended as a public forum to discuss the merits of 5G, though he did let two members of the audience speak at the microphone. John Fagan, who has a PhD in molecular biology and is a professor of molecular biology at Maharishi University of Management as well as being the chief scientist at the Health Research Institute in Fairfield, said he is worried about a 5G rollout.

“A large body of scientific research in peer-reviewed journals that goes back at least 15 years shows that electromagnetic fields have significant impacts on our physiology,” he said. “There is evidence that these things can trigger diseases such as cancer, and that people can experience depression and a number of emotional imbalances as a result of these [electromagnetic fields].”

Jonathan Lipman, director of The Institute for Maharishi Vastu Architecture, said electromagnetic radiation is a concern in “wellness communities,” which Fairfield has sought to become.

“If Fairfield wants to be a leader and not lag behind in this real estate trend, it might consider paying attention over 5G radiation, because I predict this concern will eventually be mainstream,” he said.

Lipman said avoiding toxic construction materials — and electromagnetic radiation — is a central component of Maharishi Vastu Architecture. He said Vastu homes account for $200 million worth of real estate in the county.

“Until the debate [on health hazards] is settled, I wish to recommend to the council that the only conservative position is to do all it can in this language to limit the installation of 5G in Fairfield,” Lipman said.