Nearly a week after we heard the pleas from a group of Upper East Siders who suddenly found themselves staring at a huge new 5G tower installed less than 10 feet from their windows, Upper East Site has learned the City agency responsible is claiming its hands are tied — blaming the federal government for its flaccid response, while ignoring the authority it does have. We’ve also learned the paltry sum the city is being paid to let it happen.
Back in 2020, the agency that preceded New York City’s Office of Technology & Innovation, or OTI, signed a deal with a bunch of companies allowing them to put up big 5G antennas on top of street poles under the guise of an ‘equitable expansion of 5G mobile service’ across the five boroughs.
The City’s franchise agreement with ExteNet — which was reviewed by Upper East Site — states that Council Member Julie Menin’s Office and Community Board 8 must be notified prior to the installation of 5G transmission equipment fewer than ten feet from any building, including the Gracie Gardens co-op located at 520 East 90th Street, between York and East End Avenues.
That didn’t happen, according to Council Member Menin’s Office. Though, OTI still claims that everything with the 5G tower’s installation was above board.
After speaking with OTI, Menin’s Office says it was informed “that the federal regulations… significantly restricted municipalities and local authorities when regulating the locations of towers in local communities. Therefore, OTI has no legal authority to mandate the removal of the tower.”
That is technically true — the City cannot ask the equipment be moved due to environmental impact unless the radio frequency emissions exceed federal limits, which have not even been tested yet.
A large sticker warning about radio frequency radiation was removed from the equipment outside 520 East 90th Street after residents voiced concerns.
“OTI does have the authority to regulate the franchisees, but because the franchisee did comply with all regulations established by OTI when they installed the pole on city property, OTI no longer has the power to mandate removal. This is because ExteNet complied with their original franchise agreement,” Menin’s office said.
The Office of Technology and Innovation told Upper East Site the same thing — its hands were tied because everything was done by the book.
“Franchisees and carriers select locations for 5G poletops based on where service is needed in the area. The equipment on this poletop was installed in accordance with OTI’s franchise and all applicable FCC regulations governing radio frequency emissions,” a spokesperson said late last week.
However, when we noted to OTI their statement appeared to be false based on the terms of the franchise agreement, citing the following passage verbatim in our emaiI, the agency spokesperson clammed up.
“Prior to the installation of a Base Station on any Street Operations Pole on a City street where the pole is less than ten (10) feet from an existing building, [OTI] will provide not less than fifteen (15) business days’ notice of, and opportunity to submit written comment regarding, such proposed installation to the Community Board and City Council member in whose district such building lies.”
OTI has not responded to multiple inquiries from Upper East Site.
The 5G tower concerns have caught the attention of State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, who joined Council Member Julie Menin and a chorus of Upper East Siders calling for the 5G tower to be relocated, even sending OTI a letter urging the agency to take action.
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The franchise agreement also reveals how much these headaches for Upper East Side residents actually enrich the City, which gets paid what can only be described as a shockingly-low monthly fee that begins the moment a street pole is reserved by a franchisee, like ExteNet.
Prime 5G tower real estate, like an Upper East Side light pole, costs just $350 a month — or roughly half of what a monthly parking space in an UES garage costs drivers.
It’s not clear how much ExteNet, in turn, charges carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile to access their dirt cheap 5G towers. ExteNet did not reply to our inquiries.
“In our Council District over 200 5G towers have been constructed and activated,” Council Member Menin’s team told Upper East Site.
“Our office will continue to advocate to OTI and ExteNet to make changes at this location.”