CHARLOTTE, NC (Jim Morrill/The Charlotte Observer) - Wireless providers would have more leeway to put cell towers in neighborhoods in Charlotte and across North Carolina under a bill tentatively passed Tuesday by the N.C. House.
The legislation would smooth the way for wireless providers to upgrade to faster 5G service. But the placement of towers for the latest generation of wireless technology already has caused a storm of protests in one Charlotte neighborhood and, critics say, will inevitably lead to more.
"Ultimately this is a bad bill for Charlotte," said Alec Fink, a resident of Piper Glen. "This has real implications as to how and where these are placed throughout Charlotte including in residential neighborhoods."
About 100 Piper Glen residents attended a meeting this month with Crown Castle, a cellphone infrastructure company planning to build at least four cell towers or poles in the affluent south Charlotte neighborhood. Many were concerned about the health issues of cell towers. Some shouted down company representatives.
Crown Castle, a Houston-based company, has said it's looking to build similar poles in areas such as Birkdale, SouthPark, Quail Hollow, UNC Charlotte and Blakeney. The company has installed the poles – which it calls small cell nodes – on top of existing infrastructure such as street lights or telephone poles. But the company also has installed free-standing poles.
Most cell phones currently run on 4G networks, but the wireless industry is working to increase speeds with 5G – or Fifth Generation – technology in the coming years. Instead of building traditional cell phone towers, that technology can be mounted on utility poles, street lights and other locations on public property.
House Bill 310 would allow providers to install 50-foot poles, or put their equipment 10 feet above the tallest existing structure. The bill also spells out just what cities can do – and not do to regulate the installation of cell infrastructure.
Republican Rep. Scott Stone amended the bill to limit poles to 40 feet in neighborhoods which, like Piper Glen, have underground utilities.
"What this does is give some clarity to what cities can do … and to what the industry can do in deploying small cell towers," Stone said of the bill.
One lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison of Greensboro, said there are potential health risks from radiation emitted from the towers, including damage to neurological and reproductive systems.
But the bill passed 105-6, with a final House vote expected Thursday.
The clash between companies like Crown Castle and neighborhood residents is the result of not only changing technology but increasing demand for streaming Internet services.
"These poles are going to get closer together and there are going to be more of them," said Steve Manz, a Piper Glen resident. "We're going to see a forest of these things descending on us."