The Woodstock Planning Board’s unanimous vote September 29 approving Verizon’s 5G equipment addition to the town-owned cell tower came after discussion about radio frequency radiation and its cumulative effect from all providers.
Verizon sought approval to change some equipment in the building at the base of the tower and to replace three antennas — one on each side, or sector — with ones capable of handling 5G, the latest wireless technology. Verizon has a total of nine antennas on the tower.
At a public hearing on that date regarding the proposed changes, Glasco Turnpike resident Linda Lover asked Verizon representatives if the modifications will lead to boxes on telephone poles as seen in other communities. In some 5G implementations, facilities known as small-cell sites are placed on utility poles.
“I know, for me, I wouldn’t want one of those boxes near my house if that’s what’s going to end up happening eventually,” she said.
Neither Verizon nor Crown Castle, the firm that administers tower leases for the town, could make any commitments, but Verizon RF engineer Wasif Sharif said it’s not in the plans to date.
“Small cells are usually needed in dense urban areas, where we deploy our whole spectrum on our existing towers and we still need more capacity, then we use that option,” Sharif said. “In this case, actually, we are trying to deploy more spectrum on our existing sites. So I do not anticipate any small cells in the future,” he said.
“So definitely, I can talk about the future like five years from now, what’s going to happen. What I see now is we have congestion issues on our existing sites. First thing we are trying to do is we are trying to deploy our spectrum which is available to us. We want to use it first,” he said. “There is no small-cell deployment plan in this town as of now.”
Verizon’s implementation of 5G in Woodstock will not use millimeter-wave technology, which offers very high data speeds, but is shorter range, requiring small-cell sites.
Woodstock resident Weston Blelock said he found results from a company that tested the particular antenna to be installed and noted the 3700 MHz frequency and power used is appropriate for a population density of 100 or fewer people per square mile and the area service by the tower is higher.
“While the town of Woodstock may have more residents, not everyone in Woodstock is using that Verizon frequency and Verizon service all at the same time on that one tower. You might be more on the border and using another tower or there might be a different coverage,” said Crown Castle representative Donovan Pieper.
Planning Board member Judith Kerman speculated the test results have more to do with how many users can be connected to the antenna, not anything addressing power output.
Pieper concurred. “The report that we submitted as part of our application, studies, all of that, and as deemed, it’s well within the safety limits,” he said.
Planning Board Vice Chair Stuart Lipkind said engineering reports included in Verizon’s application only disclose power output for Verizon’s equipment and that the tower’s entire output should be reviewed. “Isn’t there a concern about the total output of all antennas on the tower rather than just Verizon’s array? Because if it’s a question of exposure of humans to the field of electromagnetic energy that’s coming from the tower, wouldn’t it be relevant to understand how much your output is being added to whatever other output is coming from the other carriers on the tower,” Lipkind asked.
Pieper said all he could talk about is the current application and he noted AT&T and T-Mobile’s application for equipment replacements had been approved.
“Well, whatever we approved, we approved, but it was all based on the reports that were given to us, and I don’t recall that there was an overall calculation of the total electromagnetic energy output from the tower as a whole as opposed to the particular applicants sector that was brought before us,” Lipkind said.
“And I would think that Crown has the data available to it across all of the tenants submissions, to be able to enlighten us as to what the total energy output is from all these antennas, so that we can understand what the total exposure is coming from the tower rather than just from your particular applicants’ equipment, which presumably is less than the overall.”
Planning Board member John LaValle, who is a licensed amateur radio operator, said he believes the issue is connectivity, not radiation.
“So that if, indeed, there was a population greater than the 100, Verizon would have a hard time connecting with its customers. Now, that then says, Okay, how many Verizon customers are there in the town of Woodstock? I have no idea. I’m not one of them,” LaValle said. “So I guess I kind of hear two different things going on. One having to do with radiation.”
Kerman agreed with Lipkind on the need for aggregate radiation data.
“My impression is that we’re getting more applications through Crown Castle in the recent few years than we had in a while before that,” she said. “The question that you have asked is a reasonable one to ask of Crown Castle for the future. It doesn’t really address this particular application. It’s a separate question, but I think it’s actually a good question. I mean, the total of all of the carriers that are housed on the tower,” Kerman said.
Per federal law, any wireless facilities application that doesn’t change the dimensions of the tower or antenna array is considered an ‘Eligible Facilities’ request and must be approved, provided it meets all other local planning and zoning regulations.