The Geraldine Town Council used the video conferencing app Zoom to hold its regularly scheduled council meeting last week, passing an ordinance to get in front of a statewide bill that would set regulations for cities statewide as a 5G network infrastructure is built.

Mayor Chuck Ables discussed Alabama Senate Bill 172, proposing “small cell” tower legislation to govern the installation of the infrastructure on the public rights-of-way. The bill would set regulations for cities statewide and was introduced into the Alabama Legislature earlier in this session.

“We don’t want to give up our authority on what goes on the right-of-way in our town,” Ables said. “We like having technology and allowed Farmer’s Telephone to put up a site here for WiFi, but this bill seemed to get rid of our authority, and the way it is worded, a utility could put up anything.”

The state bill’s passage is uncertain because of the time lawmakers have spent addressing the budget and COVID-19 response, but cities have passed ordinances this month in order to retain control over their roadsides and keep some say in where towers are placed.

“The bill reads that any municipality passing an ordinance prior to May 1 is excluded,” Ables said.

Small cells are wireless transmitters about the size of a mini-fridge that are placed where demand for bandwidth is the highest.

They are much less powerful than the traditional, large cell towers, so small cell towers must be placed close together and in large numbers to improve service. The network improvements lay the groundwork for 5G service.

The 5th generation of high speed wireless cellular networks is made of radio waves that are received and emitted by mobile phones and the related cellular phone towers. The promoters of 5G Ultra Wideband claim that it represents a massive upscaling of network technology and will provide faster data transfer rates, high bandwidth and greater opportunities for connectivity.

It is expected to make businesses more efficient and give consumers access to more information faster than ever before. Connected cars, smart communities, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and immersive education will all be possible with 5G.

The technology is controversial because of an unproven conspiracy theory that the radiation emitted by 5G networks is helping to spread COVID-19.

Most experts and organizations including the American Cancer Society and the Environmental Protection Agency don’t classify radiofrequency radiation as cancer-causing for humans, and radio waves cannot transmit a virus or bacteria.

Mayor Pro Tem Larry Lingerfelt made a motion to suspend the rules and consider a proposed related Ordinance 2020-04-13 at first reading. Councilman Jackie Rogers seconded. A roll call vote was taken, and the motion carried.

In other business, the council set municipal election qualifying fees and switched how council members are elected.

On August 25, 2020, most Alabama municipalities will hold elections for the mayor and council.

Lingerfelt made a motion to adopt Ordinance 16-06-27 establishing a qualifying fee of $25 for candidates seeking the office of council member and $50 for candidates wanting to run for mayor. Gilbert seconded the motion. A roll call vote was taken and the motion carried.

The council also changed to electing its members “at-large” rather than by electoral districts. Gilbert made the motion and Lingerfelt seconded. A roll call vote was taken, and the motion carried.

While candidates cannot officially qualify to be on the ballot until July 7, 2020, many candidates have already announced their intention to run for municipal office and have started their campaigns.

The Alabama League of Municipalities considered seeking a postponement of the elections but decided against trying to delay them.

However, they may re-evaluate this after determining the status of the pandemic in June and could potentially request an emergency order from Gov. Kay Ivey.

Gilbert made a motion to accept paving work done by Reed Contracting Services, and Rogers seconded. A roll call vote was taken, and the motion carried.

Gilbert made a motion to pay the bills as printed. Lingerfelt seconded. A roll call vote was taken, and the motion carried.

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