The hulking 5G towers popping up around the boroughs — as well as the hundred or so that already loom large — are now subject to historic preservation and environmental reviews, thanks to a directive from the Federal Communications Commission.
The installer must complete reviews under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act before constructing the towers, according to an April 20 letter from Garnet Hanly, division chief of the competition and infrastructure policy division of the FCC’s wireless telecommunications bureau.
“We expect that CityBridge will comply with these rules before constructing additional Link5G tower kiosk facilities,” the letter states. “Regarding the Link5G tower kiosk facilities that have already been constructed, we expect CityBridge to take steps to bring these tower structures into compliance by conducting a post-construction review.”
The towers host 5G equipment that “rely on the FCC-licensed spectrum,” which the FCC determined will subject the projects to its review processes.
But according to CityBridge, the FCC’s directive won’t impede its work installing the columns.
“As we deliver this important program, we are committed to following local, state and federal regulations, and are actively working with the Federal Communications Commission to ensure we’re building 5G infrastructure consistent with other cities across the country,” said Jack Sterne, CityBridge spokesperson.
The city Office of Technology and Innovation referred THE CITY to City Hall for comment.
In a statement, mayoral spokesperson Kayla Mamelak said, “CityBridge has assured us that they are actively working with the FCC to ensure this 5G infrastructure is consistent with others like it across the country.”
In an email, Sean Khorsandi, executive director of the Upper West Side preservation group Landmark West!, said the reviews may result in “mitigation tasks” if it is determined that the towers create adverse impacts.
“What it means is that these towers can’t simply go anywhere CityBridge pleases, especially in historic districts and surrounding individual landmarks,” said Khorsandi, who also teaches architecture at the New York Institute of Technology.
Out of Context
Earlier in April, U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) wrote to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to request a review under the National Historic Preservation Act, given his worry that the towers would be “out of context” in several historic districts, like SoHo and Park Avenue.
“I support the project’s aim to address the gaps in broadband access and affordability for New Yorkers. However, I want to ensure that the project is following federal regulations, including regulations pertaining to historic preservation,” Nadler wrote.
In a statement Tuesday, Nadler said Carnegie Hill Neighbors first alerted him of the issue, and the FCC’s call “represents a victory for historical preservation and community activism.”
Carnegie Hill Neighbors, which created a petition in opposition to the towers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Community boards, including CB8 on the Upper East Side, had voiced concerns over the presence of the towers. During a CB8 meeting in April, staff from the offices of Borough President Mark Levine and City Councilmember Keith Powers said the city had scrapped proposals for 4 sites of 18 proposed 5G towers in the neighborhood, though 10 are still in historic districts.
The massive towers evolved from the thousands of 10-foot LinkNYC kiosks that pepper city streets.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had promised to install 7,500 LinkNYC kiosks to provide free Wi-Fi, tablet screens for phone calls and web browsing, and USB ports for charging devices. The structures, which would replace payphones, would help “bridge the digital divide,” de Blasio said in 2016.
LinkNYC fell short of the provisions outlined in its franchise agreement. THE CITY previously reported in 2020 that at least 50 kiosks didn’t work, and CityBridge was behind on its benchmarks.
Instead of terminating the deal, the de Blasio administration amended the agreement to direct CityBridge to build a pole on top of the kiosks to add 5G network capabilities, or replace the kiosks with the taller model that resembles a giant gray metal Q-tip.
Telecommunications companies would pay CityBridge to host their 5G equipment on the structures, which would allow many parts of the city that lack fiber to access high-speed broadband.
“Our efforts are focused on helping bridge the city’s digital divide, which is why 90% of the kiosks are being deployed in historically underserved communities in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and above 96th Street in Manhattan,” Sterne said.
The first tower was installed in Long Island City, Queens, last March.
While the Wi-Fi is free, the 5G service is not: New Yorkers must pay for it with their data plans.