Despite public backlash, federal law restricts Davis city government from preventing construction of 5G wireless facilities
The Davis City Council voted to approve an ordinance on Jan. 28 regulating the construction of new wireless facilities, which are necessary for the rollout of 5G Internet service.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) restricts the ability of local governments to control telecommunications companies. These constraints are outlined in the Davis City Staff Report.
“Any regulations that the City adopts must not ‘effectively prohibit’ the provision of wireless service in the City,” the report read.
Due to these guidelines, the City Council is unable to control wireless companies seeking to build new small cell wireless facilities. City Councilmember Dan Carson commented on the city’s frustration over the law.
“The Federal Communications Commission and state law severely restrict the authority of the City of Davis,” Carson said. “We had no choice but to conform our city ordinances to go along with what the FCC specified. We’re not happy about it.”
Assistant City Manager Ashley Feeney shared similar sentiments in the city council meeting.
“In a country established on freedom and independence, when we receive federal orders saying that ‘Actually, we’re taking away local control that you previously had,’ nobody is excited about that,” Feeney said.
Carson also described the FCC ruling’s economic implications, saying it caps the amount of money that cities can charge telecom companies for implementing wireless facilities, frequently undervaluing the public infrastructure.
“The FCC rules severely limit the compensation for the taxpayers for the use of our property,” Carson said. “These multibillion-dollar telecom companies are going to make huge amounts of money off of 5G. But they’re doing so using taxpayer property and they’re not, we believe, properly compensating taxpayers.”
At the meeting, a number of individuals commented on the city’s inability to prevent the construction of new wireless facilities. They cited unease over 5G health effects and potentially declining property values. Meredith Herman, a Davis resident, expressed her concern.
“I refuse to be part of a 5G experiment,” Herman said. “I want to live in a safe community, and I believe that’s my right.”
Despite public concerns over 5G’s health safety, the staff report describes that the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 prevents the city from considering health impacts when approving the construction of wireless facilities.
“The City may not regulate wireless facilities, including small wireless facilities, based on concerns regarding radio frequency emissions, including health concerns,” the staff report reads.
Davis has joined the National League of Cities in suing the FCC. Carson described the actions being taken by the city to ensure the safety and comfort of residents.
“We as a city are a part of the National League of Cities, which is legally challenging the FCC at the national level,” Carson said. “We did do what we could do within the confines of this regulation to protect our Davis citizens. At the end of the day, we’re limited in what we can do.”
Although public backlash has been considerable, several wireless providers have already applied to build small cell wireless facilities in Davis, according to Carson. Dante Williams, a representative from Verizon Wireless, spoke at the city council meeting.
“We want to partner with the city to find a clear and objective standard for the rules of the road and not be in a combative stance,” Williams said.
To achieve this partnership, Williams called to table the ordinance for the time being, echoing a similar sentiment as many Davis residents who commented. Ultimately, however, the council approved the ordinance.
Written by: Eden Winniford –– firstname.lastname@example.org