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Ellen Eldridge Posted by on September 15, 2015.

Dunwoody City Council questions ability to regulate small cell technology

An LTE model small cell box attached to a utility pole on Chateau Drive in Dunwoody. Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch asked the city attorney if Cit Council could at least regulate the color of the wires to match aesthetically.

An LTE model small cell box attached to a utility pole on Chateau Drive in Dunwoody. Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch asked the city attorney if Cit Council could at least regulate the color of the wires to match aesthetically.

Dunwoody residents won’t see new cell towers looming over residential streets, but more and more “small cell” systems are already here and now City Council wants to figure out how to regulate technology.

David Kirk, a lawyer representing Verizon Wireless, said during a public hearing Sept. 15 a recent study shows 45 percent of American households have “cut the cord” and now rely entirely on wireless technology for their communication needs.

“That’s an incredible increase over the last decade and it continues to grow,” Kirk said.

The smaller devices attach to existing utility poles and are installed by companies such as Verizon. The technology is housed in what looks like box or a cabinet, housing wires and antennae designed to bring faster Internet and allow wireless technology users access to more data.

“Cellular technology is cellular but not in all respects, so this is where the wires are,” City Attorney Lenny Felgin said during a City Council discussion Sept. 15.

Felgin told council members they can adopt an ordinance to restrict “substantial changes” in height and width in both the right of way and on private property.

Section 6409 of the Tax Act, which became law in 2012, provides that a state or local government “may not deny, and shall approve” any request for collocation, removal or replacement of transmission equipment on an existing wireless tower or base station, provided this action does not substantially change the physical dimensions of the tower or base station.

Councilwoman Lynn Deutsch said she knows of three cabinets that have been installed on poles in her neighborhood of North Springs. She asked about whether or not Council could regulate the color of the wires.

“What we’ve gotten in North Springs are boxes,” Deutsch said. “What I’m concerned about is that every existing telephone is going to have one of these boxes on them.”

Felgin said local government cannot regulate where on the pole the box is placed.

“Can we regulate the color of the wire?” Deutsch asked?

“Not under 6409, no,” Felgin said.

“Seriously?” Deutsch asked.

“So the orange cables stay then,” Deustch said to Felgin when he said anything that exists currently will have been grandfathered in.

He recommended forging a cooperative system with the technology companies to avoid “an unnecessary lawsuit over an orange cable,” Felgin said. “I think it works better to have this cooperative environment.”

Councilman Terry Nall said adopting an ordinance to have a policy in place protects the city more than not having any process in place would.

“The reason to pass this ordinance is to have a process and a procedure,” Councilman Doug Thompson said.

During public comment, resident Bob Barnwell said he isn’t sure the technology itself is safe.

“I’d feel a lot better if somebody would come up here and assure me that flooding my home with an industrial strength transmitter 24 hours a day is a good thing for me for the rest of my life,” Barnwell said.

Council will continue the discussion and vote on the ordinance at a future City Council meeting.