Santa Rosa is still unwilling to let Verizon Wireless install antennas and wireless equipment on city light poles, putting the carrier’s plans to boost network coverage in the city on hold indefinitely.
The City Council on Tuesday reaffirmed the “pause” it placed on the project in March, saying the way the company had managed the rollout of “small cell” wireless gear on wooden utility poles in the city was a cause for concern.
Mayor Chris Coursey said the company “did a really lousy job of outreach” to neighborhoods where gear has been installed on Pacific Gas & Electric poles, making him hesitant to partner with the company on the portion of the project involving city-owned poles.
“They ran, in my estimation, roughshod over some of these neighborhoods, in putting these things in, because they could,” Coursey said.
The council has found itself caught in the middle of a wider battle raging between wireless carriers seeking to deliver better wireless telephone and data services to the city and residents who worry about the aesthetic and possible health impacts of such equipment so close to their homes.
Councilman Jack Tibbetts called the evidence for health risks from the technology “inconclusive,” but said he represented residents of Santa Rosa, not Verizon, and needed to respect the fears of his constituents.
“I don’t want a resident to go to bed at night and put their head on a pillow worried about what’s going on outside their window,” Tibbetts said.
A half-dozen Verizon officials attended the Tuesday council meeting, an indication of how seriously the company takes the controversy.
Spokeswoman Heidi Flato said the carrier was disappointed with the outcome, but will “continue working closely with council members and city staff to overcome obstacles to implementing this much-needed wireless infrastructure.”
Danna Diamond, a company real estate specialist, told the council that the nation’s wireless telephone infrastructure is the “backbone of our society now,” allowing people to stay connected to their children and work from home. She said 52 percent of homes now have no landlines, 76 percent of 911 calls are now made from a cellphone, and 64 percent of those are made from inside a building.
As cellphone usage has exploded, carriers have needed to “densify their networks” by adding new transmission equipment closer to the users, and “small cell” technology, which operates at higher frequencies and are better able to deliver high-speed data.
“The average household has 13 connected devices,” Diamond told the council.
Verizon says its service in the city is spotty, especially inside homes in residential areas, and the new small cells will work in conjunction with existing larger “macro” towers throughout the city to improve coverage and capacity.
Much of the city has cell coverage, but with people using smartphones, the data demands on the network have increased, resulting in connection delays, explained Radha Sharma, senior real estate manager for Verizon.
It’s a case the company has been making to communities across the county. Last year, the company reportedly spent more than $10 billion on such installations.
“Small cells are needed to meet exploding consumer demand for data, drive innovation, create new jobs, and fuel new services and capabilities such as smart communities, connected cars, smart farming, and the Internet of Things,” Verizon explained in a filing with the Federal Communications Commission.