When Metro Council approved Fibertech Networks in 2014 as a franchisee to install cell antenna equipment for Verizon carriers, a company executive told council members they would put this on existing infrastructure and it would barely be noticeable by citizens.
However, a Fibertech executive told the Metro Council Public Works Committee in a special meeting Tuesday that because LG&E has not allowed them to put such equipment on existing poles, they have had to put new poles in neighborhoods’ right of ways — to the particular chagrin of residents in the Clifton and Crescent Hill neighborhoods.
Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, who represents that area, said that neighbors and businesses have complained about several new 30-foot poles going up in front yards with no notice or explanation, saying they are an eyesore, block radio signals, and might present a health and safety concern.
While Metro Public Works project manager Al Andrews said these installations were permitted by the city’s franchise agreement and that door hangers were distributed giving information about the new small cell towers, Hollander indicated many of his constituents either did not get a hanger, or received one after it already was installed.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Hollander read a statement Fibertech gave to council last year saying the company would use existing infrastructure. In response, Joe Pellegrini of Fibertech said they had to change plans after LG&E said this equipment could not be attached to existing poles.
“That was earlier in the process when we definitely had hopes that LG&E would be amicable to us leasing space on their pole for the equipment to attach,” said Pellegrini. “That, unfortunately, did not come to fruition.”
Several council members wondered why LG&E made such a decision, and LG&E has not yet responded to Insider Louisville’s inquiries about this decision.
Pellegrini said it has installed roughly 40 small cell towers with new poles, and it also submitted a document to the committee naming 57 proposed locations for more towers in its next phase. However, both he and Andrews indicated this phase would be delayed until they further discuss the concerns of Metro Council.
Hollander said there should be a review process in place for these new small cell towers before they expand across the city.
“This phase will expand… If this continues, it will go countywide,” said Hollander. “I really think that we should take the appropriate steps to get some planning and design involved in this process. I hope we do that and there is this continued moratorium until we do that.”
Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, also expressed concern that Fibertech is installing the small cell towers in a manner different than what was described to council members last year, and requested that the county attorney’s office look into whether the franchise agreement is being violated. Councilman Stuart Benson, R-20, expressed sympathy for Fibertech having to delay their installations to improve Verizon customer’s coverage, asking, “Do we need government involved in everything?”
Councilman Dan Johnson, D-21, said the towers were ugly and should at least include a street light, adding: “I would be really opposed to it if you put anything like that in my district.” Committee chairman Tom Owen, D-10, countered: “Well, I can assure you, Mr. Johnson, it’s a matter of time… do you use a lot of data?”
Hollander told IL on Wednesday that unless LG&E changes its policy or a review process is put in place, such small cell towers — often put in right of ways, as they must be far apart from existing poles on street corners — will proliferate unchecked around the city. He cited a recent Bloomberg article saying that due to increased demand for cell data, there will be 37 million small cell towers in America by 2017.
“These are just for Verizon,” said Hollander. “If another carrier decided they wanted small cell towers too, they could put one up too if they have a franchise with us… You could see this sort of thing proliferate.”
Hollander added that when the city and Metro Chief of Civic Innovation Ted Smith put out this request for proposal in 2013, in a response to not getting Google Fiber, “most of that was discussion of underground fiber. Nobody was envisioning towers on new 30-foot poles. Maybe Ted was, I don’t know, but I’m fairly confident council wasn’t.”
Asked about the apparent moratorium on installing small cell towers, mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter told IL there is no moratorium in place. Public Works spokesman Harold Adams also confirmed that a moratorium is not in place, though adding “we have asked Fibertech to pause further installations while we answer concerns raised by some citizens and proactively educate areas to be affected by the balance of installations.”
Hollander indicated to IL on Wednesday that a Clifton business owner — who had complained that a new cell tower in front of his store was jamming his equipment — was told by an electrician that it was being turned off this morning.
“In addition to having a franchise, they also need a permit, and I don’t believe Public Works should be issuing any new ones until information is shared with the public, questions are answered and a procedure for public notice is established,” said Hollander.
***** UPDATE 2:34 p.m. *****
LG&E spokeswoman Natasha Collins gave the following statement to IL, explaining why they would not allow Fibertech’s small-cell battery boxes to be on their poles:
“We participated in discussion with Fibertech regarding the potential for accommodating their equipment on our poles. As part of that discussion, we proposed to Fibertech terms and conditions applying the same standards we apply to other companies seeking to attach small-cell facilities. The standards we require of all small-cell attachers apply the National Electrical Safety Code requirements and LG&E construction standards that are necessary for the safety and reliability of our system.
While our standards accommodate cables, small-cell antennas, and equipment associated with the antennas, they do require small-cell battery boxes be on the ground instead of the pole because of the obstacle they present to crews attempting to safely climb poles and the threat to electric reliability presented by such large boxes attached to poles. Such boxes expose poles to increased wind and ice-loading. It appears that, as a result, Fibertech chose to install their own infrastructure to accommodate their equipment.
LG&E does not deny small-cell attachers access to our distribution facilities. LG&E will allow such attachments as long as the attacher abides by the reasonable terms and conditions and construction standards we apply to similar attachers as a group.”