As many as nine LinkNYC 5G towers — the ones that stand at a whopping 32 feet tall — could eventually crop up in Community District 2, which includes Greenwich Village and SoHo, according to representatives of the initiative to install a total of 2,000 of the new devices.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Robert Sokota, the president of CityBridge’s wireless division, and Stacy Gardener, the senior director of external affairs at the NYC Office of Technology and Innovation (OTI), presented Community Board 2’s Quality of Life Committee with current plans to concentrate the 5G kiosks near the Hudson River.
“Not all of these sites will eventually become Link 5G kiosks,” Sokota said. “Some of them will inevitably not work out for various construction reasons. Some of them might not receive all of the approvals they need.” Two are slated to be erected on Prince Street near Greene Street and Broadway, while the others are clustered on blocks near the West Side Highway.
Wifi For Those Who Need It
Only 200 additional kiosks, or 10% of the 2,000 new devices, will wind up in Manhattan below 96th Street; the bulk of the rollout will take place further north and in the outer boroughs. The project will “enhance mobile phone coverage,” Sokota said, in addition to increasing equitable access to free wifi, which all versions of the kiosks provide. “We want to make sure that New Yorkers who depend on free wifi can go to all areas of New York and expect to receive it,” he explained.
But the public response in Manhattan has been less than enthusiastic. On Monday, Jan. 16, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine wrote to the OTI’s Chief Technology Officer, Matthew Fraser, asking the city to “slow the expansion of 5G infrastructure in residential areas,” enhance collaboration between agencies and commit to further community outreach, among other amendments. Members of CB2’s Quality of Life Committee voted unanimously to adopt a matching stance.
Some remain skeptical of proposed 5G placements. “The number of poles that you’re proposing for our district — our very well-served district — seems to me to be more ad-driven than equity-driven,” said Frederica Sigel, a Community Board member. LinkNYC, run by CityBridge, is operated as a franchise agreement with the city and generates funding via advertising and sponsorships.
A total of 96 new 5G kiosks have been installed citywide already, according to Sokota, including 10 below 96th Street, mostly on the Lower East Side. William Benesh, chair of the Quality of Life Committee, requested a “master map or tool.” “It seems a bit uncoordinated,” he said.
Representatives of the project pointed CB2 members to NYC Open Data, where a list of LinkNYC locations is cataloged.
In response to a question about how the kiosk locations were determined in coordination with pole-top 5G devices, another project currently underway, Gardener explained that the separate modes work in tandem. “It’s not really an ‘either or’ type of thing,” she said. “It’s an ‘and.’”
“Quality Of Life” Concerns
The issues of health and safety have been top of mind for residents — though Sokota assured CB2 members that the new 5G towers are strictly regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. “The FCC is the ultimate arbiter of what is and isn’t allowed and it sets radio emissions standards,” he said. “These sites are generally not even close to the emission guidelines.”
Still, some residents didn’t seem entirely convinced, chiming in to express fears of “wireless radiation” and the potential to fall ill from exposure. One speaker aired concern that the kiosks, which provide free calls and charging capability in addition to wifi, could attract more homeless New Yorkers to the neighborhood.
In instances when “quality of life” complaints are made, Gardener explained, the OTI works with other city agencies, including the NYPD and Department of Homeless Services. Issues, she said, are “far and few between.”
“We want to make sure that New Yorkers who depend on free wifi can go to all areas of New York and expect to receive it.” Robert Sokota, the president of CityBridge’s wireless division