20-02-12 5G in 5B 1 Roland.jpg

A local group tried to keep 5G—fifth generation cell phone technology—out of Blaine County to no avail.

Following failed grassroots efforts to get a moratorium in the Wood River Valley against fifth-generation cell phone technology, 5G is now available in Ketchum through T-Mobile, according to the company.

“T-Mobile is marking another big step in its nationwide 5G rollout, officially lighting up Ketchum and the surrounding area with next-generation wireless service,” T-Mobile said in an Aug. 20 statement on the company’s website. 5G is available throughout Blaine County, according to the website.

Fifth-generation technology relies on millimeter waves at the higher-frequency end of the radio spectrum to transmit data, making lag time shorter, but typically requiring small-cell towers in closer proximity to each other for the service to work. More than a dozen Blaine County residents opposed this new technology beginning in December when they organized a group, “No 5G in 5B,” along with a petition and several pleas to city governments across the county to impose a moratorium on the new technology.

Those pleas to local governments, which included the city councils of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue, all resulted in little action due to an order by the Federal Communications Commission last year that limits local power.

Specifically, the federal order limits the level of authorization a local government can have, sets a specific fee level that communities can charge for cell towers in local rights of way and limits the amount of time cities have to approve permit applications from telecommunication companies.

Following a legal review, Sun Valley city attorney Matthew Johnson, who also has contractual services with the city of Ketchum, concluded that local governments are in murky waters when it comes to moratoriums on the new technology.

“While there may be some wiggle room for limited local government regulations under the Order, there is no question that local government prohibitions on 5G are not allowed,” Johnson’s legal memo states.

Though the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and the FCC all state that the technology imposes little risk to the public of being exposed to radiation, some locals believe the shorter frequency waves and the proliferation of small-cell wireless facilities will increase the risk of radiation exposure.

According to the World Health Organization, the exposure levels of 5G infrastructures are around the same as existing mobile phone cell towers. That level of exposure continues to be studied as the technology matures and is implemented around the world.

T-Mobile currently does not have any small cells deployed in Ketchum, “which are primarily used to deliver coverage in large venues or in specific smaller areas (like a city block),” company spokesman Joel Rushing with T-Mobile told the Mountain Express on Thursday.

“In Ketchum specifically, our 5G signal is delivered via our existing macro sites (such as a tower) in the area,” Rushing said.

In December, T-Mobile stated it offered 5G to 200 million Americans. Today, that number has risen to 250 million across 1.3 million square miles and within more than 7,500 cities and towns, according to the press release. In addition, T-Mobile acquired Sprint in April, increasing the company’s reach nationwide.

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