5G Installation Unearths Concern In Some Milwaukee-Area Neighborhoods

Sep 9, 2020

The telecommunications industry continues to promise faster wireless service with a technology known as 5G. Cables and antenna towers related to 5G are now being installed in neighborhoods in part of the Milwaukee area. But a Milwaukee alderperson says she's getting  many complaints about how the work is being done — complaints that an analyst says should worry a lot of communities.

One place the cable is going in, is along S. Delaware Avenue in Milwaukee's Bay View neighborhood. 

On other streets, companies like Verizon have already been putting in towers that are taller than streetlights outside people's homes. Bay View resident Ilya Shvartsman says there was a better place to locate a tower than next to his house.

The top of the 5G tower outside Ilya Shvartsman's house in Bay View. A city streetlight has been moved to the same pole.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

"Across the street in the park, where all this infrastructure could have been hidden in plain sight and not destroy a corner of the street,” Shvartsman said.

Shvartsman also says over the last year and a half he's come home to find an electrical box at another edge of his property and his sidewalk torn up so workers could pull cable through. 

He says he sees the potential value of 5G as a way to speed wireless phone calls or the internet. But Shvartsman says he worries about the cost to his family.

"Aesthetics. Of course, property value is a big part of it, too. But also, it's 40 feet from my bedroom window," he said. "I think every single resident walks by and jokes, 'Hey, good luck selling this place now!' "

Shvartsman lives in the district of Milwaukee Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic. She says many constituents have been letting her know what they think about 5G installation.

"Over the last couple weeks, our phones and email have just been ringing off the hook as this infrastructure has come to District 14,” Dimitrijevic told WUWM.

Milwaukee Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic stands along the sidewalk and ground at Ilya's Shvartsman's house that have not been fully restored after 5G-related work.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

Dimitrijevic says under federal and state telecommunications laws, local governments have very little say-so over the construction.

"There should be a plan for the placement, to not just fit the telecommunications companies best marketing plan and their economic growth, but what actually works in a neighborhood. And that's the part I am most irritated about,” she said.

Dimitrijevic says Verizon's contractors have not been giving property owners the required 48-hour work notice.

A Verizon spokesperson declined to do an interview. But in a written statement, the company says when it's learned of a vendor not meeting the firm's guidelines on notification, Verizon acted quickly and now the guidelines are being met.  

Verizon also says its engineers partner closely with the city to ensure each equipment site fits with aesthetic and other considerations, with the city having to approve work. 

A Verizon label on the 5G pole outside Ilya Shvartsman's house.

But a retired UW-Madison telecommunications expert warns Milwaukee isn't the only municipality to have problems with the communications companies. Professor Emeritus Barry Orton says if local officials don't act quickly, installation plans are deemed approved.

"And local government resources to look at hundreds of applications that require digging in the right of way, restoration of the right of way, the local governments don't have the inspectors, don't have the clerks necessary to watch over every one of these installations as well as they should,” Orton said.

Orton says local governments are being overwhelmed for the promise of a technology, 5G, that he says at this point, is largely marketing hype.

More of the recent 5G-related work, along S. Delaware Avenue.
Credit Chuck Quirmbach

"The problem now is for 95% of consumers, somewhere along the line of their phones and the phone on the other end, the system isn't 5G. So, the call or the download, or whatever it is, is only as good as the worst part of the pipeline between two points,” Orton said.

Verizon declined comment on Orton's concerns, referring us to the company-designed lets5g.com. The site urges customers to tell local officials they support the immediate rollout of 5G wireless service in their community. Verizon says besides faster phone call connections and movie downloads, 5G will help cities become "smarter"  for things like congestion-cutting traffic lights and energy-saving buildings.   

But industry analysts say some of that promise is still years away — a long time for people bothered by current installation of cables and neighborhood towers. 

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