Tiny Doylestown Borough battled Verizon over 5G and won a big settlement


When Verizon Communications Inc. proposed dozens of 5G small-cell antennas along streets in Doylestown Borough, the reaction was a defiant no.

Residents thought the boxy equipment that sprouted five-foot antennas on traffic lights or telephone poles would mar the borough's Norman Rockwell charm, along with the artsy aura of its Victorian homes.

Others feared for their health with intensive 5G wireless services zapping them.

Doylestown officials spent $150,000, held 10 public hearings, and fought the small cell proposal in state and federal courts over more than a year, defending their right to say where the small cells would go — a David-vs.-Goliath tale of a small Pennsylvania town taking on a big corporation.

"We didn't feel they had the right to come and do what they want," Jack O'Brien, council president of this borough of roughly 8,000, said Monday.

When Doylestown finally settled the case last month, the town won the right to reduce the number of poles as well as camouflage and relocate some of them. It also surprisingly won a 5 percent share of the revenues for the services Verizon or other companies sell through some of those cells, and $750 a year for others.

But the borough's victory may be hard for other towns to replicate, as telecom companies are canvassing Pennsylvania towns to locate thousands of new wireless cells for the new 5G high-speed mobile networks.

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would largely strip municipalities of zoning oversight when telecom companies seek permits for small cells on utility poles and traffic lights. If enacted, the measure would also set small fees — from $25 to $100 — for small cell permitting.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Frank Farry (R., Langhorne) and the wireless industry say this new capacity will lead to innovation such as driver-less cars, and many new jobs in Pennsylvania and nationwide. Twenty other states, including Ohio and Delaware, have passed similar legislation, backers say. But this effort will also entail installing 300,000 new small cells — all about the size of laptop computers or briefcases — in cities and towns across the United States over the next three to four years.

And in Pennsylvania, lines are being drawn between state lawmakers and wireless industry officials who want to make it easy to roll out 5G, an