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Burbank residents air concerns regarding 5G telecommunication devices

Residents from Burbank and surrounding communities aired their concerns regarding 5G, or fifth-generation data networks, to city officials and attorneys this week.

Burbank Water and Power held a town hall meeting at the Buena Vista Branch Library Wednesday to discuss a a proposed wireless communication agreement with telecommunication carriers that would set the framework regarding where 5G devices can be installed and how they should look.

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The city-owned utility will host another public meeting regarding the proposed 5G regulations at 6 p.m. on Feb. 28 at the city’s Community Services Building, 150 N. Third St., in room 104.

Although the agreement, which will come before the City Council at a future meeting, would dictate the design of the devices and the length of time they can be installed in a given area, members of a panel of experts — primarily attorneys and legal counsels for Burbank knowledgeable about telecommunication issues — said the Federal Communications Commission is strict about the implementation of the devices.

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Jonathan L. Kramer, an engineer and attorney who specializes in wireless communications, said cities can go as far as to check whether a device meets standards established by the FCC and how they can look, but that’s about it.

In a recent FCC ruling, the agency prohibits state and local governments from impeding on the the implementation of 5G devices. However, the aesthetics of the device and certain fees can be regulated by local and state agencies.

“Just like the city expects the residents to follow the laws, and the state expects the city to follow the law, the FCC and Congress expect the states and cities are going to follow the laws that they set down,” Kramer said. “This is the regulatory environment we operate within, so that’s why the city and its proposed regulations [go] as far as we can legally to ensure that the sites comply with the FCC rules.”

However, Burbank resident Ara Manoogian argued that 5G devices can potentially be hazardous to the public and does not want telecommunication companies to install them without there being some analysis on the impact they might have.

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Concerns about telecommunication devices are nothing new to Burbank. In 2012, the City Council shot down T-Mobile’s attempt to install antennas atop the Little White Chapel on Avon Street because of residents’ concerns.

In making their decision, City Council members cited several reasons for their rejection of T-Mobile’s plan, including the fact that the new steeple-like structure where the equipment would have been installed would have made the church too tall to be compatible with the neighborhood.

At the meeting on Wednesday, Riad Sleiman, a principal electrical engineer for Burbank Water and Power, told the public the 5G devices will be much smaller than those proposed for the church, adding the equipment will be integrated into light poles throughout the city.

Though the wireless devices are smaller and consume less energy, Kramer said more devices would have to be installed to improve the coverage area.

Manoogian said he understands Burbank officials can do little to stop phone carriers from upgrading their network devices to be 5G-compliant, but added that cities in Northern California — like Fairfax and Mill Valley — are looking to fight the FCC.

“The city needs to, if it chooses to ... oppose the federal law by opposing the ability for this 5G network to be put in and be sued to fight this in court,” Manoogian said.

Sherman Oaks resident Nektar Chamchyan said she’s not looking forward to the increased Internet speeds the 5G networks claim they will bring nor the health risks she thinks they will cause.

In fact, she told the panel she’s considering ditching her smartphone for a more basic cellphone and that she’ll do away with Internet services altogether.

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“I’ve decided I will be opting out of my smartphone for a flip phone, and if that’s not going to work, I’m going to stick with a landline,” Chamchyan said. “If 5G is going to be deployed everywhere, then that’s my decision.”

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