Homeowners upset as 5G towers move into E. Tennessee neighborhoods

Published: Feb. 25, 2020 at 6:01 PM EST
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5G cell phone networks will deliver movie downloads in seconds but there are some potential drawbacks.

Some Farragut residents are concerned about new small cell towers and what they will mean for their property value. While 5G towers are already appearing in commercially zoned areas, Farragut is a Verizon 'trial' for residential neighborhoods.

"You could put a tower up in somebody's front yard, they go to work, they come back, and there's a tower up," Farragut's David Smoak said.

Town Administrator David Smoak said Verizon already has tentative approval for many new cell towers near Farragut High.

"They had 11 towers that they want to put up in our area," Smoak said.

Including in the Sweet Briar neighborhood.

"It was a great place for us to be. For us to have our kids. And it's walkable," Sweet Briar homeowner Laura Fangman said.

"The fiber's buried, the telephone is buried, the cable tv is buried," Ken Chipley said. Chipley is head of the voluntary neighborhood association. "We have no overhead poles at all."

Residents said they quickly learned there is not much they can do.

"We know we have to allow them in our residential areas. The FCC requires that," Smoak said.

In a statement to WVLT, Verizon said:

"We do have to place our own poles in order to meet customer needs."

In residential areas, the towers can be up to 40 feet tall, according to state law. Since 5G's signal can't travel far, there will soon be many more, shorter towers.

"People aren't necessarily going to be real excited about moving into a house that has a big utility pole in the front yard," Sweet Briar resident and realtor Laura Fangman said.

Cell phone companies are now considered a public utility, which gives the companies free access to the rights of way. In Farragut the neighborhood right of way is 50 feet, extending from the middle of the road outwards. In other words, it's 25 feet on each side. Soon, many families will have large poles in their yard.

"Technically it's not their yard, so right now all those utilities are in, they may be in what you think is your yard, is actually the right of way," Smoak said.

"There is no distinction between the right of way and someone's front yard," Fangman said.

Senator Richard Briggs told a consultant, "the bottom line is there may be little the state of Tennessee or town of Farragut can do due to the federal preemption law."

State Representative Jason Zachary said the 5G situation is "completely unacceptable to the people I represent, and frankly unacceptable to me."

FCC rulings state, "no state or local statute or regulation... may prohibit... intrastate or interstate telecommunications service."

Senator Briggs told WVLT Congress would have to act. He said that just won't happen.

"The home owner's property home value will decline," Farragut community organizer Mike Mitchell said.

"We have heard and understand the concerns of some Farragut residents, and we continue to work closely with the city to collocate on existing poles wherever possible," Verizon spokeswoman, Kate Joy said.

Many neighbors were happy that the towers have provided more speed. However, the benefits don't prove to be enough for many.

"If they continue being this way, I will be a former Verizon user," Ken Chipley said.

Farragut is a test market for residential 5G, but soon other phone companies like AT&T and Sprint will need to install their own towers.

We asked Verizon how many towers it plans around here. They told us that is "proprietary information." However, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel estimates that 800,000 new small cell 5G towers will need to be installed. That includes other companies, besides Verizon. Find more in the FCC document attached on the side of this webpage.

Unlike Farragut, whose public meetings have been packed with concerned citizens, most other towns will have the tower proposals 'rubber-stamped,' and you may not even know they're coming until the crews start digging.

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