In a column published in The Daily Record on April 19, Donald Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, offered a view on “small cell” infrastructure for wireless telecommunication companies. His breathless tone and the column’s headline, “5G is knocking on Md.’s door — but we’re not answering,” suggest that without the industry-supported legislation, Maryland won’t move forward with exciting 5G technology.
That’s simply not true.
The real story is that Maryland is already moving forward with next-generation technology, but we’re doing it in a way that fits with our communities. We’re making 5G a good fit.
First, he points out that many other states have been “quick to adopt uniform processes and standards” for 5G implementation. That’s true. But he then moves quickly to touting the impressive advantages of 5G … leaving the reader to infer that 5G can’t happen without the state legislature stepping in.
There’s the leap in logic. And it’s just not true.
Maryland already has more than 1,000 installations of small cell infrastructure. We’re well on our way toward 5G here, just like the other states Mr. Fry mentions. The difference is this: Rather than engaging in corporate welfare by rolling out the red carpet with low-cost, easy-approval state legislation, Maryland is choosing the path of community input.
Mr. Fry suggests that the debate is centered on devices “about the size of a pizza box.” That’s a very familiar line from literally every industry representative who descended on Annapolis to lobby for this broad preemption bill. The line goes … it’s just a “pizza box,” so citizens shouldn’t have any input into where it gets placed.
That’s what preemption is -– legislation taking away the local right to decide what happens in our communities. It’s a slippery slope, and organizations like the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League fight to make sure that your community’s rights are protected.
But look past the “pizza box” talking point and read the bill. The bill grants installation of small cell devices up to 27 cubic feet. That’s not a pizza box, that’s a pizza oven. And at that size, it seems reasonable to let the community into the conversation about where devices that size should be placed in the public rights-of-way.
Mr. Fry says that “business prefers predictability.” That’s no doubt true.
What Mr. Fry doesn’t explain is what “predictability” would have looked like in the Maryland legislation that has been rejected. Super-fast approvals, virtually no community input, and a potential honeycomb of small cells dotting every neighborhood. Oh, and all at bargain-basement undermarket costs for the industry. “Predictable” may sound great, but if it’s your neighborhood being overrun by these potentially pizza oven-sized facilities maybe you do want to have some say about where they go?
The Fortune 100 companies making billions off wireless service are right to care about their bottom line and their shareholders. But Maryland communities are right to care about their residents and their neighborhoods. Fortunately, we can have both.
The market for 5G technology is here in Maryland, and the service is coming here, too. But when it does, the devices might be better coordinated to match our historic areas, complement our arts districts, and enhance our city streets – with community input that benefits the community AND the industry as partners.
That’s the Maryland path forward, and everyone involved — the industry, businesses, and residents — should be eager for the rollout.
Scott Hancock is executive director of the Maryland Municipal League. Michael Sanderson is executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties.