We need better wireless service. Now we will get it

Dear Resident,

Most of us don’t think much about how our technology works. We just expect it to work.

I know that your wireless bill is a significant expense. What is the point of paying for poor service?

I am happy to share that the County Council passed zoning change legislation I have been working on to legalize the installation of small antennas on utility poles and light poles so that our wireless networks can continue to expand.

If we do not make this change, our service quality will steadily decline. We will have trouble doing whatever we want to do with our mobile devices because the networks will be overwhelmed with traffic.

While the prospect of some additional equipment on our utility poles isn’t exactly lovely, our home wifi routers aren’t either and yet we all have them and rely on them. This isn’t much different, it’s just that equipment is outside.

Montgomery County has to take steps to build a stronger economic future. While we have been debating whether 5G should be legal, other jurisdictions in the region have long since moved forward.

How are we supposed to compete for job growth from companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Amazon, if we turn our backs to technology infrastructure? The answer is that we can’t. Companies don’t want to be in a technology backwater.

It shouldn’t be that difficult or controversial. Despite nearly 5 years of community dialogue based on proposals at the County Council, the County Executive demanded yet more delay. Fortunately the Council rejected his proposals, which would have gutted the expansion of wireless networks.

I am glad we finally took action, and I particularly want to thank my colleagues Craig Rice and Gabe Albornoz for co-leading this proposal with me.

This has been a tough one. If you’ve seen some alarmist messages on your local listserve, I hope this email has been helpful. You might also enjoy this article about how the KGB is funding disinformation about 5G.

Hans Riemer

What do small cell antennas do and what do they look like?
Your cell phone works by sending and receiving data to wireless antennas across the County that are connected to a vast, wired communications network. The data is carried by electromagnetic waves. Yesterday’s wireless technology largely relied on lower frequency electromagnetic waves that can travel very far–think miles–with minimal signal disruption. That explains why, for the most part, we have relatively few but taller antennas on towers and buildings.

These taller, long-range antennas have served us well, but as demand for more mobile data has grown exponentially–data consumed per wireless device has increased 89-fold in the last 9 years, for instance–we need way more capacity and new technologies to deliver it. Upgraded 4G and the new 5G wireless networks will increasingly take advantage of higher frequency electromagnetic waves because these waves can carry so much more data (every wobble in the wave can carry data). They don’t travel very far though–think hundreds of feet–so we will need more antennas that are closer to the device. This demand will be met by small cell antennas.

Small cell antennas are smaller and closer to the ground than the antennas on macro towers and are frequently put on utility posts and light poles. Here are a few examples of small cell antennas already in Montgomery County:

Pictures of Small Cell antennas in Montgomery County
4G and 5G small cell installations in Montgomery County

What have our neighboring jurisdictions done?
All of the local jurisdictions in the Washington Metropolitan area have passed zoning ordinances that allow and facilitate the deployment of small antennas throughout their jurisdiction’s commercial and residential areas. While you will see some differences in the individual ordinances below, it is undeniable that our neighbors have all moved forward in embracing this technology. Furthermore, our proposed zoning change is more restrictive than most of them.


Prince George’s County 30 feet from a building/house
Washington, D.C. 10 feet from a building/house
Fairfax County 10 feet from a right-of-way line
Arlington County None (wherever a utility pole or streetlight exists)
Montgomery County (proposed by ZTA 19-07): 30 feet from a building/house

What do leading public health authorities say about cell phones and 5G?
Safety comes first. Fortunately, the science on wireless waves is compelling. The leading national and international scientific institutes continue to find that cell phones are not linked to health problems. The FDA, which we are proud to have located here, reviews the existing studies and puts them all into a balance. The FDA clearly says, the “weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.”

In addition to the FDA, here is what leading public health authorities have to say on this topic: