Comparing the 5G tech revolution to the California gold rush, Miami-Dade Commissioner Eileen Higgins bemoaned the unsightly, sloppy and hazardous installation of telecommunications equipment on Miami streets.
“It’s a 5G fiasco,” Higgins said during Wednesday’s County Commission meeting. “Downtown is the epicenter of a land grab by the telecommunication companies. We have an absolute mess.”
Companies such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are erecting new utility poles, boxes, and cables to accommodate the next generation of wireless technology — 5G — touted as super fast and super clear. They are in a race to expand their networks and “get to the future faster,” as Verizon says on its website.
As a result, concrete poles are going up every 300 feet, sometimes in awkward spaces. Black splice cases are left sitting on the ground or strapped to trees with plastic yellow caution tape. Stray wires poke out into walkways. Rats’ nests of cable dangle from overhead lines. Sidewalks are repaired hastily and unevenly with cold asphalt patching. It looks ugly. It looks dangerous.
“The crews tell me it’s not electrified but how are we supposed to know? The boxes aren’t closed or locked, wires are hanging all over the place,” Higgins said. “These torn-up sidewalks are deathtraps; people can trip and fall. You can’t get around the poles in a wheelchair or with a stroller.”
Higgins said she elicited oral promises from work crews not to install poles in front of the Freedom Tower and Gesu Catholic Church, “but how many buildings can I stand in front of?” she said, passing out photos to other commissioners.
“There’s no respect for residents, businesses, art in public places or our history,” she said, mentioning new poles along Biscayne Boulevard in front of Bayfront Park and outdoor sculptures and one in front of the old post office. “It’s a mess and it’s coming to your neighborhood next. Get in front of every building you can.”
One reason cited for the rapid and indiscriminate installation effort, Higgins said, is the goal of having the networks ready in time for Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium on Feb. 2, 2020.
“If this was done in an orderly way, and homeowners and businesses had proper notice, I’d be thrilled to showcase Miami as one of the first cities with 5G,” she said. “But you can’t use the Super Bowl as an excuse to do shoddy work. They are marking their territory and it’s destructive.
“We used to be excited about 5G. Now we all hate it. We’re fine with 4G!”
Miami Beach has managed the 5G implementation process much better than the county by planning for it two years in advance, Higgins said. Each pole has to be approved by the city’s historic preservation and design review boards.
“Miami Beach came up with a beautiful design standard,” she said. “Even though nobody is happy with poles every 300 feet, at least they are not hideous.”
Higgins and other commissioners asked the public works department and the county attorney to study whether Miami-Dade can implement design and permitting standards that supersede state utility regulations.
“The markings have been all over the streets for years now,” Commissioner Dennis Moss said, echoing Higgins’ complaints about permanent spray-painted “hieroglyphics.” “In Tallahassee they allow the utility companies to do what they want to do and there are no consequences.”
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava suggested the county wait to close out permits until electrical work is finished at each site.
AT&T did not issue a response to a query about construction but has said previously it is working as efficiently as possible with local governments to complete the upgrade of its network, which promises “ideas that seem like science-fiction will someday become reality: augmented-reality shopping, virtual presence at live events, self-driving cars, telemedicine. The possibilities are endless.”
Patience during installation will pay off for consumers because the 5G breakthrough will “usher in a Fourth Industrial Revolution,” according to Ronan Dunne, Verizon’s executive vice president.