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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Verizon Demos 5G In Lobbying Push For Access To City Poles

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Tour guide Jason Bello aboard a small, retrofitted bus designed to give riders a sense of what 5G wireless technology will look like in the future.

Marches and rallies are a common occurrence at the Washington Capitol. But recently Verizon Wireless staged a different kind of demonstration. It was part of an ongoing lobbying effort to get lawmakers to pass industry-friendly legislation. ???

Tour guide Jason Bello invited guests to board a small bus and take a ride into the future. The ride around Washington’s Capitol campus was designed to give riders a glimpse into the future of cell service -- 5G. ???

The bus windows transformed into video screens and it looked like we were in a city bus riding past Central Park in Manhattan. ?? ???

“And your bus windows are actually also smart, heads-up displays,” Bello said. ???

As you watched the cityscape go by, the bus windows displayed information about key points of interest. ?? ???

“Whether that’s about public transportation, ‘hey jump off this bus, get on that subway,’ about cultural locations or even something like a restaurant,” Bello said. ?? ???

But to make that 5G simulation a reality someday will take hundreds of thousands of new, smaller, cell phone antennas all over the urban landscape. And that’s why the Verizon 5G bus came to Washington’s Capitol. ???

The wireless industry hopes to revive legislation that would preempt local zoning rules in order to fast-track placement of the new network of antennas. ???

Verizon’s Gordon Cook showed off one of these antennas. ?? ???

“It’s a box about half the size of a toaster,” he said. “This one’s painted white, that one’s painted green to match the utility pole.” ?? ???

Cook said Verizon wants to strap 5,000 to 6,000 of these boxes onto street poles in Washington in the next few years. First they’d be used to augment current 4G service. Eventually they would be swapped out with 5G antennas. ?? ???

“We want to be able to put these up quickly and to serve more folks with them and bring higher quality data services to people,” Cook said. ?? ???

But Cook said current local zoning rules are an impediment. City officials have fought back saying they want some control over how and where small cell antennas are placed. ???

With just two weeks left in the current legislative session, intense negotiations on a compromise continue.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."