The Taos County Board of Commissioners heard nearly three hours of public comment on a topic not even scheduled for their Tuesday (June 11) agenda. Opponents of the …
The Taos County Board of Commissioners heard nearly three hours of public comment on a topic not even scheduled for their Tuesday (June 11) agenda.
Opponents of the fifth generation of wireless communication, 5G, packed the commission chambers Tuesday to bring their concerns over the high-speed technology to their elected officials. 5G discussions were not written into the agenda, but 5G opponents worried the rewording of an existing land use ordinance for antennae was a precursor to allowing the technology.
"What this amendment does," said Commissioner Tom Blankenhorn, "is allow the planning department not to require a permit for a carrier, or a tower owner to upgrade their existing tower. That's it."
One section of the existing land use code said a permit was necessary for a 25% change or more to an existing communications tower and not necessary if under that percentage. A separate section said no permit was needed.
County Planning Director Edward Vigil said he brought the change in front of the commission to streamline the wording and make it less confusing to an applicant.
"All I'm trying to say is one section of the codes says one thing but another section says another thing," Vigil said during the meeting. "I just want them to mesh."
Members of the public swarmed the meeting with concerns over the use of 5G technology in Taos.
Nearly six pages of signatures for public comment were collected before the meeting as concerned citizens spoke out against the implication of 5G towers.
"Turn off your Wi-Fi in your house and install an Ethernet cable," said county resident Seth Brown.
Brown was one of dozens of people speaking against the emergence of 5G signals that have been installed in major cities across the U.S.
Cities like Los Angeles, New York and Dallas have had 5G towers installed, prompting public outcry on the strength of the signals and the lack of scientific data on the possible harmful effects.
5G would give communities Wi-Fi at immense speeds compared to the current wave of 4G internet currently available in Taos. 5G could mean up to 10 times faster than a current connection.
"[The amendment] is not the basis to deploy 5G," Vigil said.
Commissioners and Vigil tried to curtail public comment by assuring members of the audience several times the amendment had nothing to do with 5G.
According to the current county land use codes, if a company wanted to install a 5G antenna on a preexisting tower, they would not need a permit if the antenna did not change the capacity or makeup of the tower by 25%. 5G currently has a shorter signal distance than 4G and would require a shorter distance from the tower to the cellphone.
In order for 5G to come into Taos at the moment, many new towers would need to be built to accommodate the technology. Each individual tower would require a special-use permit, calling for a public hearing on the tower, said Vigil.
Current federal regulations do not allow for a municipality to deny any communication upgrades on preexisting towers.
"5G requires more antennae than can be placed on existing towers," Blankenhorn said.
Before the measure was voted on, Blankenhorn was verbally attacked by the public, who hissed and booed at him when he gave his opinion on the matter. One elderly woman bared her middle finger toward the commissioner.
The measure passed with commissioners Candyce O'Donnell and Gabriel Romero casting the no votes.
5G is currently being laid out in major metropolitan cities across the country and is gaining an opposition. Few studies have been done to examine the long-term health risks associated with Wi-Fi technology, in part because the technology keeps changing. Some members of the public feel the 5G signals could potentially be damaging to humans and animals.
Several measures to halt the technology have been introduced throughout the world, but companies say 5G could be widely available as soon as 2020.
Many of the cities currently running 5G signals have populations over 1 million, however no 5G capable phones have hit the open market.
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