Neighborhood watch: Beware 5G internet towers | Cronin and Loevy | Opinion
“The 5G high-speed internet towers are coming. The 5G high-speed internet towers are coming.”
Paul Revere rode a horse at night to warn that British troops were on their way at the time of the American Revolution. Similarly, word is spreading among residents in older neighborhoods in Colorado Springs that tall metal telecommunications towers may soon rise from the sidewalks in front of their homes.
Don’t you think it’s happening? Looking at the northeast corner of North Weber Street and East San Rafael Street. A 5G high-speed internet tower has recently been erected at that location, reaching high above the top of the second floor of an adjacent historic house.
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There is also a city street light connected to the tower. The modern look of the tower and street light is shocking in a street that is mainly made up of older, historic houses.
The modern metal tower is also in the middle of a National Register historic district: the North Weber Street / North Wahsatch Avenue Historic District.
And such a tower can appear on the sidewalk in front of any house in the older parts of the city.
But help is on the way. Colorado Springs officials met with representatives of the older historic neighborhoods that surround downtown Colorado Springs. Both sides agreed to work to find ways to bring modern telecommunications equipment to historic neighborhoods without harming the historic appearance and character of those neighborhoods.
The situation is complicated. The federal government has mandated that 5G fiber-optic, high-speed Internet service be installed throughout the country. The Federal Communications Commission has a say in what can and cannot be done in Colorado Springs.
Five-G service is up to 10 times faster than current Internet services. Once activated, the futuristic-looking towers could offer free digital calls and free high-speed Wi-Fi in underserved parts of the community.
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In Colorado Springs, six different high-speed providers are currently vying to be the first service in the Pikes Peak region. One of the six is Colorado Springs Utilities, which can use the new equipment to better monitor utilities.
These six competing 5G high-speed providers have been encouraged to share the same equipment where possible, but it is unknown whether such cooperation may be required.
In a Zoom meeting with neighborhood leaders last month, Ryan Trujillo, assistant chief of staff to Mayor John Suthers, noted that “the city is limited in what it can do. The city cannot order telecommunications companies to hide their facilities or they to make more historical.”
Trujillo pointed out that there is a good chance for “voluntary compliance” by 5G providers. He recommended a “case-by-case” process whereby each proposed 5G tower or other equipment placement would be reviewed with steps taken to mitigate the effects on older historic neighborhoods.
Dutch Schulz, president of Old North End Neighbors, recommended that, in older neighborhoods with alleys behind backyards, all 5G high-speed towers be located in the alleys.
Trujillo replied that most alleys are narrow and may not provide enough space for the tall metal towers. He also worried that property lines in older parts of the city were unclear and that telecommunications providers could accidentally locate their facilities on private property.
City Councilwoman Nancy Henjum, who attended the meeting, insisted that the alleys should always be “the first option” in 5G high-speed tower placement.
Trujillo said the telecom providers will want to use existing street lights, existing traffic signals and building tops for their large-diameter 5G high-speed towers. He noted that, when a street light or a traffic signal is turned into a 5G tower, the changes would be noticeable.
“When a telco turns an existing street light or traffic signal into a 5G high-speed tower,” Trujillo said, “they’ll try to make it look the same as the original — but it won’t.”
The older and historic neighborhoods at the meeting were represented by Historic Neighborhoods Partnership (HNP), a voluntary association of older neighborhoods around downtown. They were represented by the chairperson of HNP, Dianne Bridges.
Schulz said that telecom providers should clear their equipment installations, especially the tall metal 5G towers, with local neighborhoods before they start building them.
Morgan Hester, of the city planning department, said the department is working with telecommunications providers to meet the needs of historic neighborhoods. Right now, she said, the Planning Department does not get advance information from telecommunications providers about their equipment installation plans.
A common complaint from the older and historic neighborhoods was that national, state and local authorities have known for some time about the arrival of 5G high-speed technology to Colorado Springs and the visual effects of the planned installations in neighborhoods.
However, little provision was made to warn the older neighborhoods that these visual threats were on their way; nor were any suggestions made about what to do about it. Property owners in the older parts of town believe they deserve better.
City officials and the HNP representatives agreed to continue meeting about these problems and to try to resolve them.