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10 May 2018

New Mexico: Despite Protests, Santa Fe Council OKs Wireless Telecommunication Measures

Despite protests, council OKs wireless telecommunication measures
by Tripp Stelnicki | tstelnicki@sfnewmexican.com, 9 May 2018, updated 10 May 2018

The dozens of Santa Fe residents who claim they are endangered by the radio frequencies emitted by telecommunication facilities protested five proposed telecom franchise agreements at length Wednesday night before the City Council.

(Photo): A packed City Council chamber watches Wednesday night as Arthur Firstenberg, an outspoken advocate against electromagnetic radiation, ignores Mayor Alan Webber’s repeated requests that he relinquish the podium for exceeding his allotted time for testimony. Tripp Stelnicki/The New Mexican

Amid the interruptions of the frequently disorderly crowd, councilors approved the agreements, which are expected to pave the way to enhanced wireless and cellular connectivity. The decision places the city in accordance with a new state law that will establish access and regulation rules for small cellular facilities on public infrastructure.

The five ordinances establish new access rights to public rights of way for telephone and internet service providers, whether with cables or antennas.

Subsequent network expansions could eventually provide Santa Feans with faster speeds, broader coverage and additional retail competition, according to city fiscal analyses.

Each of the council votes was 7-2 in favor; councilors Chris Rivera and Renee Villarreal were against.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to live like some of these people do with the issues they might have,” Rivera said, referring to the health concerns expressed by some who came to the meeting. “Thirty years from now, we may be looking at this the way we do look at cigarettes.”

The well-attended, two-hour hearing began with fireworks. A leader in the local advocacy against electromagnetic radiation, Arthur Firstenberg, launched into a lengthy and emotional tirade about what he alleged are the mortal risks posed by the telecom facilities — ignoring repeated requests to relinquish the podium after his allotted time had expired. He alternated between reading his prepared remarks and shouting at Mayor Alan Webber as the mayor sought to restore order in the boisterous council chamber.

“Don’t tell me to shut up!” Firstenberg yelled.

Webber, showing exasperation but not anger, sternly and repeatedly asked — and then instructed — Firstenberg to stop and admonished the crowd for their applause when he had finished.

It would not be the last time Webber asked the crowd for quiet.

Nodding toward the long line of residents waiting to speak behind Firstenberg, Webber said, “To hold the podium for that amount of time is simply disrespectful of everybody else.”

The residents who spoke for roughly an hour afterward echoed Firstenberg’s concerns at a lower volume, variously saying they were victims of encroaching wireless “toxins” and that the city must protect their health.

Many attributed the franchise applications to the telecom industry’s coming wave of improved wireless technologies known as 5G.

But a city land-use senior planner, Dan Esquibel, said that no matter when that next generation of wireless arrives elsewhere, it was not imminent in Santa Fe, which he said does not yet have the necessary fiber-optic infrastructure.

“I don’t think we’re going to be seeing 5G for quite some time,” Esquibel said.

Assistant City Attorney Marcos Martinez reminded councilors that federal law prohibits them from considering “environmental effects” and “health effects that may flow from the environmental effects” of radio frequency emissions.

Webber said the approvals represented the city taking control of its own infrastructural investments. Still, he said, he took the testimony “very seriously.”

“I think it’s completely legitimate to be very vigilant and to recognize not all technology is progress,” Webber said.


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