The installer of 32-foot-tall 5G towers in New York City failed to complete the required environmental and historic preservation reviews prior to beginning construction of the towers, the Federal Communications Commission ruled this month.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) earlier this month concluded that the installer of the “behemoth 5G towers” popping up across New York City failed to comply with federal law when the company began construction of the towers without first completing the required environmental and historic preservation reviews.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams hired CityBridge — a consortium of tech companies — to address the city’s “internet deserts” by providing wireless internet capabilities through the city’s underserved neighborhoods.
The 32-foot-tall “Link5G” poles began appearing in March 2022.
Many residents pushed back against the plan, calling the towers “ugly” and voicing concerns about the long-term health and environmental impacts of 5G. More than 10 community boards passed moratoriums or disapprovals for the 5G poles.
The FCC in an April 20 letter told CityBridge that it did not undertake reviews mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) before starting work on the structures — and that it “must complete the NHPA and NEPA reviews prior to beginning construction of tower structures, such as the Link5G tower kiosk facilities, to ensure compliance with Commission rules.”
The FCC directive — written by Garnet Hanly, division chief of the Competition and Infrastructure Policy Division of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau — stated:
“Regarding the Link5G tower kiosk facilities that have already been constructed, we expect CityBridge to take steps to bring these tower structures into compliance by conducting a post-construction review.”
The NHPA and NEPA reviews involve “consulting with the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and with Tribal Nations who have indicated in the Tower Construction Notification System that these sites are within their geographic area of interest,” the letter added.
Odette Wilkens, president and general counsel for Wired Broadband, Inc., a nonprofit that advocates for hard-wired high-speed internet — such as fiber optics — as a “superior technology compared to wireless communications,” called the FCC’s intervention “good news” — but said the battle to keep 5G cell towers out of New York City is far from over.
Wilkens, a technology attorney for more than 20 years, told The Defender:
“This gives us only a temporary reprieve as CityBridge may come back with mitigating measures that may still allow them to move forward with construction.
“Therefore, I’ve been telling people in New York City that this is a good time to step up our efforts.”
Now at least 13 — soon likely to be 14 — community boards oppose the 5G towers, Wilkens said.
CityBridge ‘on notice’ but still proceeding with tower installations
According to the FCC’s letter, representatives of the competition and infrastructure policy division of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau on March 2 met with CityBridge’s president and general counsel.
“Consistent with our discussion at the meeting, this letter provides a written summary of the Division’s conclusion that the deployment of the 32-foot tall Link5G tower kiosk facilities are [sic] subject to the Commission’s environmental and historic preservation review and approval requirements,” the letter said.
Wilkens said, “In effect, they cannot continue construction at this time while the review is underway because they are on notice.”
She pointed out that the FCC, in footnote 14 of the letter, did not rule out taking enforcement actions against CityBridge for the towers already constructed.
However, Jack Sterne, a representative for CityBridge, said the consortium is continuing to deploy new 5G towers despite the FCC letter.
“We are committed to following local, state and federal regulations and are actively working with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure we’re building 5G infrastructure consistent with other cities across the country,” Sterne said.
32-foot-tall Towers ‘out of context with historic nature of these neighborhoods’
Prior to the FCC’s letter to CityBridge, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) called on the FCC to conduct oversight under NHPA of the installation of Link5G towers.
In an April 12 letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, Nadler wrote:
“These 32-foot-tall towers will be out of context with the historic nature of these neighborhoods and will negatively affect the coherent streetscape of the district that New York City has worked so hard to maintain since the establishment of the groundbreaking New York City Landmarks in 1965.”
The city’s Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI) responded to the claim by stating that the installation of the 5G poles already followed all federal regulations around historic preservation.
Commenting on OTI’s response and the April 20 letter from the FCC, Wilkens said that “many questions arise.”
“Why did CityBridge not engage in environmental or historic preservation review prior to construction as required by federal law?” she asked.
“Why did OTI not know that CityBridge has not complied with federal law or required documentary evidence of compliance?
“Isn’t CityBridge in material breach of their franchise agreement with OTI? Why isn’t OTI pursuing that?
“And why was OTI defending CityBridge when OTI should have been doing its own due diligence?”
Wilkens said these questions should be investigated, including by the New York City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations.