Wilton plans to get ahead of 5G rollout

The 5G wireless technology logo is displayed on a tablet. Wilton will begin looking at its zoning regulations in advance of 5G being installed in town.

The 5G wireless technology logo is displayed on a tablet. Wilton will begin looking at its zoning regulations in advance of 5G being installed in town.

LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP via Getty Images

WILTON — With a year-old regional task force continuing its examination of the imminent 5G changeover, town officials want to get ahead of trying to control what aspects they can.

The technology of 5G represents the next generation of broadband cellular networks, which started rolling out last year in urban areas around the world. While it’s underway to become standard implementation, some people still harbor concerns about social and economic impacts, as well as an increased capacity for privacy surveillance through the technology.

“We do need a lot of education on this,” First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said at the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting. “There’s a lot of misconception, lack of knowledge about what it is.

“Towns can take the position that they’re going to facilitate it or they can take the position that they want to make it more difficult,” she said, “and I’d like to recommend that Wilton take the position of facilitating it.”

Vanderslice gave the selectmen an introduction to the issue at its Dec. 7 meeting, largely based on the final recommendation report of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments’ Land Use Planning for Wireless Telecommunications Task Force, released in September.

“I have to say this is probably the best thing I’ve seen from WestCOG,” she said. “I think the report and the recommendations that they released in September will be the definitive document for the entire state of Connecticut.”

WestCOG’s main recommendation centers on adoption of a local ordinance that establishes “uniform and comprehensive regulations for wireless telecommunication facilities.”

The group included an ordinance template in its 164-page report, which stresses the need to adhere to Federal Communications Commission guidelines and state Siting Council requirements, while striving to make installation of 5G infrastructure elements palatable to the municipality itself.

Michael Wrinn, director of planning and land use management, said last week that zoning regulations — and tweaks the town might make to them in coming months — will play a key role in Wilton’s ability to manage installation.

“If there are zoning regulations in place regarding small wireless facilities, then the town would have a say in protecting where this goes to some degree,” he said.

Wrinn shared some examples of how installation of items relating to the 5G upgrade could affect this area both visually and practically, and how foresight might help make it better.

“For instance, if a carrier wanted to install the typical can on top of an existing utility pole, they would still need a cabinet box for the additional equipment required to run that small wireless facility,” he said. “We would have some say where and what type of equipment could be placed.

“For instance,” Wrinn said, “if it was proposed for the sidewalk where it conflicts with pedestrian or auto circulation … we would want the ability to direct where it could be placed to minimize these potential conflicts.

“If we do not have guidelines, our case becomes more difficult,” he said.

“The key is trying to figure out what the best way to do this is,” Wrinn told the selectmen. “Clearly we want to have some local control over what goes on.

“If it’s on a state road, that’s a different matter,” he said.

Vanderslice explained that, unlike large cell towers, this technology is smaller and can fit on existing structures, such as streetlights or on the tops of buildings.

“The more dense communities will be getting this faster,” she said, describing the impact it will have in being able to significantly increase the speed in which one can download items or stream to their phone.

“There’s already some activity in Danbury and Stamford,” she said.

In the process, the town will also be exploring the possibility of municipal broadband — something being looked at in some areas around the country.

The town might also be able to make decisions as to whether it will allow the infrastructure of multiple providers or just one of its choosing, depending on what offers and plans are presented.

“I would make the case that you could consider it part of the master plan,” Wrinn said, noting it also has a direct relationship to the town’s recently completed Plan of Conservation & Development.

“Basically it is a very complicated endeavor, because there are so many pieces to it,” he said, noting the town can control its own destiny to some degree if it’s proactive with planning.

“One of the big issues is we’re not really sure when they’re going to come out with this,” he said, noting discussions will continue with other municipalities throughout the region and some costs and resources could perhaps be shared.

Vanderslice said that, at least for now, her intention was to the make the board aware of what was coming down the road.

“Things are moving pretty quickly,” she said.