Murrysville officials working to develop ordinance for 5G antennas
If 5G antennas are going to begin sprouting in Murrysville, local officials want to ensure they’re not unsightly.
“They’re not just a pole out of the ground with an antenna,” Murrysville Chief Administrator Jim Morrison told council at its Wednesday meeting. “They’re permitted up to 28 cubic feet of cabinet to store equipment in, every antenna needs a radio, electricity and, more importantly, needs fiberoptic cable.”
The Murrysville Planning Commission heard a presentation Tuesday from Houston company Crown Castle, which is looking to begin placing 5G antennas in the municipality in furtherance of creating a framework for 5G technology across the state and nation.
“There are some limitations due to (Federal Communications Commission) guidelines for regulating utilities,” Morrison said, adding that planning commissioners and municipal staff began developing an ordinance to address it last month.
Council’s task will be balancing the convenience of an upgraded technology framework with the potential for antennas to begin popping up throughout the municipality.
“There are some (cell phone) dead spots and there are spots that are better than others,” Council President Josh Lorenz said. “I think improved performance is something people would probably welcome. We just want to make sure we’re doing it the best way we can and don’t have eyesores all over the place.”
Morrison said Crown Castle has a certificate of convenience from the Public Utility Commission and its position “is that they’re a public utility, just like the gas and electric company, and any conditions you place on them can only be as restrictive as the ones for those other utilities.”
Morrison said the company initially filed a conditional-use application, based on the notion that they wanted to essentially construct a tower, which is regulated by existing municipal ordinances.
“We went back and forth for a while, and they withdrew that application,” Morrison said. “Their biggest concern is being put through a zoning ordinance process with us. They don’t view themselves as a land use; they view themselves as a gas company, or a telephone company.”
About a year ago, the FCC announced the removal of several regulatory barriers to infrastructure development for a nationwide 5G network, including a cap on the fees local governments can charge, and time limits for local government review of what the FCC calls “small wireless facilities.”
Pennsylvania legislators have also put forth House Bill 1400, which would help streamline the 5G installation process while also maintaining some zoning authority for local governments. As has been the case with previous iterations of the bill, it has yet to come up for a vote in any capacity.
“There have been municipalities that indicated a statewide bill infringes on their ability to control their rights-of-way,” said Ashley Shook, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Partnership for 5G. “We don’t believe House Bill 1400 impacts that. It sets a process that everyone can follow: municipalities, wireless carriers, residents and stakeholders, and it creates an environment that will allow 5G to flourish in Pennsylvania.”
The FCC’s actions are similarly aimed at extending broadband wireless capability to the country’s rural areas. Such a push, however, requires the availability of fiberoptic cable.
“Out this way, you’re not going to see a whole lot of (the antennas), because if a company’s not willing to run fiberoptic on its own, they can’t do it,” Morrison said. “Right now I believe there’s only fiberoptic on Old William Penn Highway and up on Sardis Road. Where they were looking to place (an antenna) is across from Respironics (off of Murry Ridge Lane), and they indicated they were going to run their own fiberoptic cable, I imagine, from Plum.”
Morrison said staff members would join the planning commission in working on a draft ordinance.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .