Better cell phone service coming but 400 FL municipalities oppose it

Posted at 6:55 PM, May 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-22 09:34:56-04

Imagine never having to worry about another dropped call or downloading an app on your phone in a fraction of a second. Those changes are coming soon to your cell phone, tablets and smart watches. Yet, leaders from 410 Florida municipalities, including right here in Tampa Bay, are crying out “Not so fast!”

Why? Florida leaders passed a bill that would allow cellular providers like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile to install “small cell” antennas and boxes on public utility poles. It’ll only cost them a maximum of $150. Adding similar equipment onto city poles would cost utility and cable companies between $1,000-$2,000. 

That’s one reason why Largo Mayor Woody Brown says the bill is ridiculous. “We spend a lot of time and energy and money to make these streets look nice and this bill would allow these companies to come in and put in antennas and equipment as big as a refrigerator right along the sidewalks,” he explained.

Brown is one of 410 municipal leaders to join together urging Governor Rick Scott to veto the bill. 

The bill also keeps local communities from having a say in where the antennas will be installed, including on fancy light poles or in areas without poles because utilities are underground. 

“Allowing billion dollar companies to be able to come in here and drop boxes where they want, it just doesn’t make sense,” Brown explained. 

State leaders say the bill will help communication companies to eliminate spotty service and will help them ensure coverage is reliable statewide. 

Yet, local leaders argue they are being left out of the conversation. “It’s frustrating because you don’t have control over the things happening in your own city,” Brown said. 

Kelly Gray hopes 5G cell service is enabled soon. She doesn’t get reliable cell phone service in her home in Largo, so she pays for a landline just to be safe. “We have kids in our house and I want to make sure I can make a call in an emergency, but I would love to not have to pay for a landline,” she explained. 

Wireless companies say 5G service, which they hope to roll out nationwide by 2020, will make your service 100 times faster and much more reliable.

The devices they want to install will be about the size of a laptop but some will need to be much bigger, as large as a refrigerator. 

AT&T provided a statement as well. Spokesperson Karen McAllister writes,  "By an overwhelming and bipartisan vote, the Florida Legislature passed legislation that opens the door to increased investment, spurring our economy and clearing the way for 5G, smart cities and autonomous cars. Consumers and businesses in Florida will benefit from this legislation as the industry is able to denisy wireless networks, keep out communities connected and continue to provide the high-speed connections that Floridians want."