Carole Owens: Threat from above for beautiful Berkshires

STOCKBRIDGE — Apparently, driverless cars and refrigerators that communicate with the grocery store are in our future. Whether you imagined or craved either one, both are coming. All communication and entertainment will be streamed, including first run movies, daily delivery of newspapers, home security, and those communicative refrigerators.

Wireless infrastructure is already needed to talk on the phone, surf the net, email, snap chat, tweet, stream and more. Yet soon there will be no more cable or satellite TV, or DSL. What there will be are small cells everywhere. The cell tower and the base station are familiar, but what are small cells?

In order to have the next generation of toys, you will need the next generation of wireless service known as 5G. 5G requires use of an extremely high frequency band added on top of the current frequencies. In turn the high frequency band requires small cells. The small cells are mounted on poles. Think of telephone poles positioned 50 to 500 meters apart, that is, approximately 164 to 1,600 feet apart. Depending on population density, that means there will be poles every seven to 12 houses.

On top of the poles will be the small cells enclosed in an area not larger than six cubic feet and the other associated equipment in an area of not more than 28 cubic feet. To picture that think of six cubic feet as 27 pizza boxes stacked one on top of the other.

In the 19th century, The Berkshires were described as "the perfect combination of sylvan and urban." In the 20th century, they called Berkshire the perfect blend of "culture in the country." In the 21st century, those descriptions may no longer apply.

Also in the 19th century, electricity and telephone were new and necessary. Absent regulations, the wires were everywhere, literally obliterating the sky. Of course we live in a world of regulations so the future will balance nature and progress, clean air and quick communication, health and profit, sane planning and speculation — or not.

In 2012 Congress included a paragraph in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, Section 6409(a) that said: " a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station."

It only applied to collocation, removal or replacement of existing facilities that did not "substantially change" the physical dimensions of existing structure. However, Congress did not define substantially change or collocation. The FCC report did define both. It took 155 pages and two years.

So in 2014 we found out that the rights of a municipality to control the placement or design of this infrastructure is decreasing, and so is the time to make the determination. If a municipality does not make decisions in less than 60 days, permission for the structure is "deemed to be granted." Evidently there is precious little to prevent these small cells atop their poles from coming to a neighborhood near you — very near. Small cells on their elevated telecommunication structures will be everywhere.

Some are moved to ask: which would you rather have: a tree, a park, or a refrigerator that talks to the grocery store? However, one fears the answer. This is a country that coined the phrase "progress is our most important product" and never questioned it. So if they want to come here, we cannot say "please go away."

There have been three great aids to preservation of the natural and the built environments. The first is poverty — lack of funds to tear down and build new. The second is sparse population — too few people in an area to make it profitable. The third is isolation — too far away to be noticed. So perhaps the Berkshires will squeak by, be passed over, and allowed to maintain that balance of sylvan and urban, culture and countryside. Or maybe it will become a forest of towers and poles. Maybe we will fight, and perhaps some will invite them in because the new is deemed necessary.

A writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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