Wireless infrastructure bill will impact Sewickley, residents say

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 | 10:09 AM

Two residents attended the Oct. 9 Sewickley council meeting to voice their concerns about Pennsylvania House Bill 2564, saying the bill would remove the ability of municipalities to regulate the location, design and construction of short-range wireless antennas.

“Our main concern is this (bill) basically taking the power away from councils such as yourselves in the state, and it basically strips municipalities of nearly all the authority to regulate these small-cell wireless antennas,” Matteo Gruelle told Sewickley council.

According to an August PennLive.com story, Pa. House Bill 2564 is intended to facilitate the use of 5G technology, which can transmit data much faster than 4G networks. 5G technology is critical for driverless cars, doorbell monitoring systems and other devices requiring wireless service. However, it requires the use of small antennas, placed on utility poles and other structures and located within meters of each other.

Matteo Gruelle and his wife, Alie, told council that due to the heavy foliage in Sewickley, the antennas would likely need to be installed 15 to 20 meters apart.

The proposed bill could also impact Sewickley in other ways, the couple said.

To avoid obstruction problems, Alie Gruelle said trees might have to be removed to clear space for the antennas, which would be no larger than a pizza box.

Councilwoman Christine Allen noted that Sewickley currently receives rent for multiple cell towers in the borough. However, Sewickley wouldn’t receive rent for the antennas if the bill passes, Allen said.

Matteo Gruelle explained that House Bill 2564 would reduce the fees paid to municipalities for management of the rights-of-way.

The bill states that for each wireless antenna, a municipality can charge no more than $25 as an annual fee for the use of a right-of-way.

Currently, municipalities charge about $1,000 per year in right-of-way fees for new utility poles, Matteo Gruelle told the Sewickley Herald. To make up for the lost revenue, he said municipalities would be forced to shift the financial burden.

“I would just like to point out that those reductions in fees are going to be borne by us, the taxpayers,” Matteo Gruelle added.

The Gruelles also said the antennas are untested and expressed concerns about fire risk and radiation, given their potential proximity to residential areas.

They encouraged council to express opposition to state representatives. Later in the meeting, council considered forwarding a letter opposing the bill, but ultimately decided to let residents take up the matter with their representatives, and one council member said they will also do so as a resident.

A similar bill, House Bill 1620, was first introduced by state legislators last year, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives could vote on House Bill 2564 as early as this week, Alie Gruelle noted during the Oct. 9 council meeting.

“I think they’re just trying to push it through without people even knowing,” she said.

Sam Bojarski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.