December 3, 2019 – On September 25, I sat through three hours of public comments at the City Council meeting in Nevada City. Those comments were supposedly about the new “Wireless Telecommunications Facilities in the Right of Way” ordinance that sets construction and location parameters for cellular/mobile deployment within the 2.2 square miles of city limits. However, none of the comments referred to the actual ordinance, which was crafted over a year’s period with the current mayor’s input.

That meeting made me realize there is public confusion about the term “5G”. This is understandable. “5G” is a cellular industry standard that means “5th Generation”. Like the previous “Gs” — 2G, 3G, and 4G (also called LTE or “Long Term Evolution”) — it heralds the next mobile phone connection improvements. I suggest we call this the “good 5G”.

“5G” also refers to “millimeter wave spectrum wireless loop” technology. I know that’s a mouthful. It is a technology designed by the cellular companies to specifically compete with the cable (Comcast, Suddenlink, etc.) companies for direct internet connections to homes and businesses. Unlike the “good 5G”, it does utilize the millimeter frequencies that are causing concern, but it can only deliver ultra-fast speeds within a 200-foot distance. This “5G” is not for mobile phones. I suggest we call this the “bad 5G”.

Here’s the good news. The “bad 5G” is not coming here, as it is not economically feasible to build in rural areas. Yes, thank you cellular companies for making our lives so much more confusing. It is no wonder that everyone arrives at City Council meetings with elevated concern.

It’s important that we know the difference between these two “5G’s”. Otherwise, we’re throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

I can easily say that many of us are in agreement — as we rely on our cell phones more and more — about the importance of a reliable fast connection. As a Verizon customer, I am continually cranky that the signal is problematic in both downtown Nevada City and Grass Valley, never mind everywhere else. AT&T customers find the same problem, albeit in slightly different areas. The other mobile providers such as T-Mobile and Sprint just piggyback off of those networks.

All these cellular networks are congested and have the potential for crashing. This is a problem. And when it comes to public and fire safety, we have a serious problem. I live just over two miles outside of town with no cell service at home. During each of the PG&E outages (don’t get me started), my A&T circuit went down after 20 hours. AT&T’s remote terminal’s battery backup died, so no landline phone service and no DSL. Forget Code Red alerts.

We need additional locations to allow the 4G (and later, “good 5G”) cellular networks to function more effectively. The Nevada City “Wireless Telecommunications Facilities in the Right of Way” ordinance is well-written; providing guidelines and restrictions for cellular network extension within city limits.

As the person who wrote the application for and was awarded a $16.2 million grant to build the first gigabit optical network here, I’m all about fiber. In the summer of 2018, when the project was being transferred for construction and deployment, there was a lot of confusion about fiber and “5G”.

Since the new company had a background in readily attaching fiber to existing poles and intended to build the network that way, local protesters claimed it was deploying “5G” and wrote letters to the CPUC trying to stop the project. This delayed construction by four months. The project has nothing to do with “5G” either the “bad” or “good” types. It is about 100% fiber-to-the-home connections.

Fiber optic cable is rather cool as it enables lasers to transfer data in pulses of light; at ultra-fast speeds with tremendous capacity. Fiber optic cable has transversed the globe and has been in use for decades; running along our interstates and under the oceans. These are what’s called the “first-mile” and “middle-mile” parts of a huge network. What’s missing is the “last-mile” part of the network, which connects each home and business to the larger fiber optic network.

The future is fiber. We need last-mile gigabit fiber optic networks here. We also need better cellular coverage, which requires fiber. I suggest we focus our time and energy to make these both happen. And be civil to each other in the process.

John Paul believes broadband is a public good and recommends that everyone read Susan Crawford’s book “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution – And Why America Might Miss It”. Spiral Internet’s Nevada County fiber optic story can be found in the second part of Chapter 6. He also suggests reading “Protesting 5G” at

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