Our fight against new, obtrusive, 32-foot tall cell service towers in historic districts and in front of individual landmarks continued throughout 2023. We succeeded in getting a federal review of the towers’ impact on historic resources, and so far have reviewed more than 180 installation sites. We were right to be concerned.
This is just the initial phase. There will be thousands more. Each tower must be reviewed separately. This is time-consuming and cumbersome, with new deadlines almost every day, new sites added to a central database in a haphazard way, and a flood of emails every week. Many of the installations we reviewed would have an adverse impact on historic resources.
Altogether, this process has made understanding the cumulative impacts of the program nearly impossible. Ultimately, it will make our ability to review the avalanche of towers virtually impossible.
The towers have been promoted as a way to provide free residential 5G service. But these towers are just empty containers. 5G providers will have to agree to place equipment in them. The cell service they would offer will be limited to their immediate surroundings, far short of most homes. Many will carry electronic ads and join the outdated 4G kiosk advertising still on the streets.
We support greater access to 5G. But there are alternate designs available. We are trying to get the City to consider them. But getting officials to respond to public concerns about the towers has not been easy.
The Conservancy asked the City Council in June for a pause on installations for a review of their design and locations. We also asked the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation why the towers had no federal Section 106 preservation review. They deferred to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Fortunately, Congressman Jerrold Nadler sent a letter to the FCC with the same question. That prompted the FCC to pause installations so the review could take place. After a failed launch, it started in earnest in September. We are a consulting party for that review.
The Conservancy and colleague groups asked the Adams administration to overhaul the incoherent way the towers were being rolled out. Most were supposed to be placed in neighborhoods where cell service was intermittent or spotty. Instead, they began popping up on the Upper East Side.
Mayor Adams inherited the contract for the towers from the de Blasio administration. He should feel free to question it and respond to the widespread public opposition. Another communications pole fabricator recently approached City Hall promising to design towers that could be more agreeable, and tailored to the City’s diverse neighborhoods.
We recently urged City Hall to consider this. We’re still waiting for an answer.