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Rockville Centre prepares for 5G technology upgrades

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At a community forum on Monday, Rockville Centre residents learned about what it will take to have 5G cell sites installed in the village. The new technology is not yet in place, but village officials said they anticipate receiving applications from Verizon in the near future, with other carriers to follow.

The two-hour discussion held on Zoom, was hosted by Village Attorney Thomas Levin, and included representatives of Verizon, who explained the legal, environmental and logistical implications of rolling out the technology.

“There has been controversy surrounding the small cell sites in other towns,” Levin said, noting that the fifth-generation wireless technology requires the installation of numerous small antennas throughout the community, which supplement larger cell towers. He also explained that the Federal Communications Commission had imposed strict time limits for local governments to act on permit applications. “The village decided it would be helpful to all to have a community forum in advance of getting applications,” he said, “so that the community could be informed as to what are the rules and regulations that are going to apply and get some information about the technology and what the carriers intend to do in the village.”

Levin explained that 5G is the “next generation” of wireless technology that is “expected to change the way we work and live.” It is significantly faster and can handle more connected devices than existing 4G technology, but takes up more bandwidth as well. The new networks began rolling out around the U.S. in 2018, he said.

“It’s still in its early days, but those in the know believe that the potential of this technology is absolutely enormous,” Levin said. “It is expected to enable devices like self-driving cars and even more smart appliances.”

The 5G signals run over different radio frequencies than other networks, which will require updating signals on cell towers as well as the addition of small cell sites in close proximity to one another — on streetlights, utility poles and inside or on top of buildings — to provide continuous service. The drawbacks of the new technology, Levin said, include the fact that a “significant adoption of 5G is expected to take years,” and the density of those small cell sites. He explained that there could be 90 such sites per square mile within the village.

Rebecca Ruscito, counsel to the New York Conference of Mayors, gave an overview of the federal and state regulations governing the installation of small cell antennas. She said the federal law regulates what local governments can do, and that the regulations permit compensation from telecommunication providers to municipalities for use. Local governments do not, however, have any authority to regulate the installation of antennas on the basis of perceived environment or health effects.

“I know this is a common issue that comes up because local constituents are very concerned about the radio frequency emissions,” Ruscito said. “I usually recommend that municipalities [ask] their applicants” — the service providers — “to communicate to residents about radio frequency emissions.”

Reports she has read, Ruscito said, do not indicate any adverse effects of 5G technology. And, she added, “It will make our communication with each other so much easier.”

William Bailey, a scientist with an independent firm who has studied bioelectromagnetics — the ways in which electromagnetic fields interact with people and the environment — for more than 30 years, presented research on the health and safety issues of radio frequency fields. Overall, Bailey said, epidemiological studies do not show an increased risk of tumors or other cancers, or that cellphones affect humans’ cognitive functions.

Additional research is always useful in making evaluations, he said, “But I would point out that scientific research on [radio frequency] exposure and health includes studies over a wide range of frequencies, so we have a tremendous amount of information to understand how radio frequency fields interact with the environment, bodies, cells and tissues.” Bailey added, “At the 5G frequencies, the high water content of the tissues of the body effectively limit the exposure to the surface of the body.”

Verizon representative Caitlin Wilson discussed how Verizon selects locations for the small cell sites. “We try to utilize existing infrastructure as much as possible,” she said — primarily utility poles. Once engineers have a preliminary design, she said, they go into the field to inspect the poles and determine whether they are sturdy enough to build on. She offered a photo simulation of what the sites would look like. The locations proposed by Verizon include poles on Rutland Avenue, North Long Beach Road, South Village Avenue, Allen Road and North Village Avenue and Cumberland Street.

Building Department Superintendent Patrick O’Brien discussed the permit process. “Although we don’t have any control over what happens with the 5G,” O’Brien said, “it’s good that the village knows we have some protections in place as far as our existing infrastructure is concerned.”

The application process was adopted in January. O’Brien said that up to five cell sites can be placed on an application. Each application will be reviewed by the Building Department, which will then pass it on to the Electric Department for final review.

“It’s really the protection of the existing infrastructure and knowing where these units are going that is the purpose of this permit process,” O’Brien said. “There is a third-party inspection that the village is requiring. The Electric Department will do the final sign-off, and make sure [Verizon is] in compliance with the National Electric Safety Code.”

“Our key focus is making sure the installations don’t compromise the integrity of the electric distribution system that serves the residents and the businesses,” Phil Andreas, superintendent of the Electric Department, added, “and that the carrier has done a structural engineering analysis to make sure that the additional weight and wind loading aren’t going to affect the integrity of the pole and cause it to come down, and that the post-construction inspection meets all the requirements, including [those of] the FCC.”

The forum and documents can be viewed on the village website, rvcny.gov.