New rules make 5G expansion easier in Montgomery Co.

Another step was taken Tuesday that would allow communication companies to more easily install updated 5G cell antennas in Montgomery County.

The County Council approved new zoning laws, but not without backlash and misgivings about health concerns from residents. 

Council President Gabriel Albornoz banged his gavel at a few residents who yelled “shame” after the council voted 7-1 to change zoning rules to allow 5G antennas and small cell deployments to be placed on existing utility poles, streetlights and other structures that are 30 feet from homes. The old standard was 60 feet. 

“Shame on all of you — we hold you accountable,” yelled a woman in the audience after the vote. 

According to the county, the zoning will expand 5G wireless service in Montgomery County and help narrow the digital divide.

But during the public hearing last month, more than a dozen residents voiced their displeasure with the proposals. 

“I’m well aware that our brains, indeed every cell in our body, functions via finely tuned electromagnetic waves, and that these radio frequency EMFs that will be emitted from these towers interfere with the function of our brains — indeed the function of every cell in our body — and our increasing the incidences of cancer and other diseases,” said Deborah Norris, who has a Ph.D. in psychology and psychopharmacology and teaches at American University. 

According to the American Cancer Society, “a few studies have reported evidence of biological effects that could be linked to cancer, but this is still an area of research.” 

A 2021 study in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology found “no confirmed evidence that low-level RF fields above 6 GHz such as those used by the 5G network are hazardous to human health.”

The zoning text amendment adds to antenna placement rules passed last year that would allow new utility poles or replacement poles to hold 5G antennas. 

“These zoning changes continue the council’s work over more than six years to ensure a smooth, efficient and thoughtful deployment of the infrastructure required to support advancements in wireless technology,” said Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee Chair Hans Riemer, who sponsored the bill.

“Montgomery County should embrace the future,” he said. “Companies and our residents do not want to be in a technology backwater. We all benefit from wireless connectivity, and these zoning reforms will ensure continued progress.”

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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