5G Cell Service Is Coming. Who Decides Where It Goes?

WASHINGTON — The future of cellular service is coming to a neighborhood near you.

But who gets to decide when, where and how it gets delivered is still a heated fight.

The new technology, known as 5G, delivers wireless internet at far faster speeds than existing cellular connections. But it also requires different hardware to deliver the signals.

Instead of relying on large towers placed far apart, the new signals will come from smaller equipment placed an average of 500 feet apart in neighborhoods and business districts. Much of the equipment will be on streetlights or utility poles, often accompanied by containers the size of refrigerators on the ground. More than 300,000 cell stations now provide wireless connections, and 5G will bring hundreds of thousands — perhaps millions — more.

The prospect of their installation has many communities and their officials, from Woodbury, N.Y., to Olympia, Wash., insisting that local governments control the placement and look of the new equipment. They say that the cell stations could clutter neighborhoods with eyesores and cost the communities a lot of potential revenue.

“Residents across the country are just now beginning to understand the harms that hasty and insensitive small cell deployments can inflict on their communities,” said Jim Baller, the president of Baller Stokes & Lide, a law firm in Washington that represents municipalities on communications issues.

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