ALPHARETTA, Ga. — City officials spent more time grumbling than discussing a new ordinance Sept. 16 that lays out what they describe as watered-down parameters for the pending rollout of 5G equipment by telecom companies.

In the end, the City Council passed the measure unanimously.

The ordinance, based on a model drafted by the Georgia Municipal Association and adopted by neighboring municipalities, establishes sizes for certain equipment, height limits for mounting on poles and when new poles may be allowed.

It also provides the city to charge the telecom companies the maximum fees for use of the city’s right of way.

“I’ve been on council for almost eight years now, and this is only the second time that I’ve ever voted yes for something that I abhor,” Mayor Jim Gilvin announced before the vote.

What had everyone grabbing Dramamine was a new state law that basically gave cities and counties little say in how telecom companies use public right of way to install the new equipment. The law was introduced this year as a means of spreading high-tech avenues for economic growth to all corners of the state.

Long sensitive to its aesthetics, Alpharetta fought the law in the 2019 Legislative Session. The city spent more than $42,000 in legal expenses last fall to draft its own ordinance it thought would accommodate the rollout while still protecting Alpharetta’s streetscapes.

It was all for naught. 

Legislators under the Gold Dome said they were bound by new federal dictates to ease the rollout of new 5G technology to telecom service providers. The fifth-generation technology rolling out across the country is expected to be 10 to 100 times faster than the current LTE network and will allow for the connection density to support billions of devices.

The Georgia Municipal Association, of which Alpharetta is a member, also lobbied for passage of the new Georgia law. Alpharetta has since voted to withhold any dues payments to the organization.

In light of the Legislature’s action, Alpharetta City Attorney Sam Thomas said the revised local ordinance does provide the city with some protections. It requires wireless utilities to provide advance details of their buildout plans so the city can evaluate ways to accommodate the equipment and draw insights into future planning. 

“For our planning purposes and for our staff, that’s a helpful provision,” Thomas said. 

The ordinance also exacts fees that can increase over time, and it establishes some limits within the Historic District. Without the ordinance, he said, the wireless utilities could move forward and install their equipment without a permit.

“If we didn’t adopt an ordinance by Oct. 1, then we would lose some of those things,” Thomas said.

Council members were barely moved.

“I never liked this bill from the beginning,” Councilman John Hipes said. “I don’t like our autonomy being taken from us. The only thing worse than this is the alternative, which is not to have this ordinance… it is really no choice at all between something that is bad and something that is worse.”

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