Walton group working against proliferation of 5G cell towers
SANTA ROSA BEACH — As 5G cellular communications towers are becoming a more common sight along Walton County roadsides, an effort to seek some control of that proliferation, or look for alternatives, is building.
Lauren Catanese, a local real estate agent who also serves on the board of Scenic Walton, said her organization is joining other community groups in seeking discussions with Walton County commissioners and state legislators on the local proliferation of 5G cellular communications towers. Scenic Walton is a nonprofit organization “working to preserve and enhance the beauty and safety of Walton County,” according to its website.
One of the stated priorities for Scenic Walton, which also is affiliated with the nonprofits Scenic Florida and Scenic America, is “minimizing the impact of cellular towers and poles,” according to its website.
A Thursday morning drive along Walton County Road 30A, home to residential and resort communities including Grayton Beach, Seaside and Seagrove Beach, revealed work at three 5G cellular sites immediately along the roadside from west of Grayton Beach to Seagrove Beach.
5G service — 5G stands for “fifth generation” cellular technology — provides faster data transmission, more responsiveness and the ability to handle a larger number of cellular devices.
However, because 5G service uses a high-frequency band of the wireless communications spectrum, it has more difficulty traveling over long distances and through objects. In many instances, that means towers must be placed within hundreds of feet of each other.
In an email to the Daily News, Catanese conceded the need for improved cellular capabilities in Walton County.
“Wi-Fi signals and inconsistent internet access are regular occurrences in these parts, especially during tourist season when the demand on our infrastructure peaks,” Catanese noted.
But, she continued, the short distances over which 5G signals means that the “small cell” towers required to implement the technology “will blanket our pedestrian pathways along the Gulf, our beautiful scenic byways and highways, and our roadways in residential neighborhoods.”
In a Wednesday interview, Catanese suggested simply maintaining 4G service, with strategic location of new 4G towers, or fiber optic service, as alternatives to the continued 5G roll-out.
“To me, it (5G) feels more like a quick fix,” Catanese said, given the downside of the short distances over which 5G signals can travel.
“There’s no doubt we have connectivity issues,” Catanese said Wednesday. But, she said, 5G is “a super-invasive technology.”
Catanese also suggested Wednesday that there is an argument to be made that Walton County, particularly the areas where people spend their vacation and leisure time, could be maintained as so-called “blue zones,” with a minimum of technological intrusion as a means of promoting relaxation.
Regardless of how the developing coalition of people interested in addressing the spread of 5G technology choose to make their case with local and state officials, they will have to contend with a 2017 state law that limits local government regulation, in pulbic rights of way, of the “small wireless facilities” that are the heart of 5G technology.
That law was the subject of a Leon County Circuit Court ruling released earlier this month, in a challenge filed by the Florida League of Cities and the cities of Fort Walton Beach, Naples and Port Orange. In part, the cities argued that the 2017 state law infringed on local “home rule” powers and represented an unconstitutional “taking” of property.
The league and the cities named Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee and the Florida Department of Revenue as defendants. Both Lee and the Department of Revenue argued that their roles had nothing to do with the case.
Judge John Cooper’s order in the case did not indicate his reasons for dismissing the lawsuit.
As far as the local effort to get the issue in front of government officials, Catanese said the recent focus on the spread of the coronavirus has, understandably, somewhat slowed their effort.
“We have not met directly with them,” she said. But, she added, “They know we exist.”