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Statement from County Executive Marc Elrich Regarding the Council’s Passage of New 5G Legislation

For Immediate Release: Wednesday 28 July

Widespread digital access and equity are vital to our nation’s infrastructure, to innovation and to our community. While I understand that the Council’s action on Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-07 is an attempt to provide additional practices and policies for installation of antennas that can accommodate 5G technology, I am disappointed that the Council majority failed to use the time since the November 2019 public hearing to collect best practices from other jurisdictions, understand the changing legal landscape at the FCC and work with residents to address community concerns. 

The major changes to the ZTA after the November 2019 public hearing (the last point of official public input) only increased, rather than decreased, community concerns, as these changes reduced the limited use setback from 60 feet to 30 feet and allowed the possibility of telecommunication towers immediately adjacent to homes (via a modified conditional use process). While it is likely that the existing conditions in residential areas needed some changes, there’s no evidence that these detrimental changes were necessary. In fact, other nearby jurisdictions like Baltimore County have taken a more prudent approach that allows future changes without unnecessarily relinquishing local authority and process.

I am also concerned about the mistaken idea that there was an urgency to act immediately​ when the contrary is true. No immediate action was required. The County is still party to several unresolved lawsuits regarding telecommunications towers. Additionally, another relevant lawsuit regarding updating radio frequency standards is pending in the DC Circuit Court, and I want to acknowledge and thank Councilmember Will Jawando for his clear explanation of that lawsuit. 

Furthermore, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is awaiting ​the appointment of its fifth member by President Joseph Biden. The former FCC chair was appointed by former President Donald Trump; it is the Trump FCC that issued the orders that are being challenged in court. An FCC with a chair appointed by President Biden is likely to be more consumer-friendly and supportive of local jurisdictions’ authority.

In this context, I proposed a workgroup to allow an opportunity to understand the complexities of the issues, and to provide for meaningful community participation. Although this workgroup was supported by some Councilmembers, most of the Council didn’t believe that there is enough time for this process. I believe that the need for a community workgroup on this issue remains given the deep community concern, the rapid legal and technological changes in this field, and the Council’s acknowledgement that changes may be needed.

I am proud of the work that my administration has done to expand digital access during the pandemic. We have increased efforts to expand home internet for low-income residents, as well as to expand robust broadband for rural residents and small businesses. Additionally, I am pleased that my administration was able to complete the installation of the public safety towers, which will provide enhanced and reliable communications for emergency responses. These efforts are central to a County that prioritizes digital equity and access.

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Release ID: 21-021