BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Business owners have expressed concern about the new 5G cell phone towers AT&T is installing in downtown Baton Rouge, city-parish officials say.
“People were concerned about where the towers are going to go,” Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said. “They wanted to know what control the city has over where they may pop up.”
Gissel says some feared the 29-foot towers would not be aesthetically pleasing. AT&T plans to scatter 25 towers around downtown, and another 55 across the parish. Other networks are expected to follow.
The metro council approved a set of guidelines for the new towers several months ago, trailblazing new local regulations for technology that is not yet common. Downtown is essentially the guinea pig for the network expansion in the parish.
“I think we learned a lot,” Gissel said. “We learned things that we owe to AT&T and I think they learned where we aren’t comfortable with these towers going, aesthetically.”
Subcontractors for AT&T are drilling holes for the towers in sidewalks around downtown. Many of the open holes are covered with wooden slats now, but the sidewalks will be resurfaced once the towers are in place. AT&T is paying for the construction and installation. Workers struck an underground power line last month, causing an outage that essentially shut down a portion of downtown for hours.
“That one was quite a sting,” said Chris Maxwell, a concert promoter who had to move a show from the Manship Theatre because of the outage. He says he had to write 42 refund checks to patrons who could not fit in the smaller backup location.
Maxwell says he’s trying to find insurance information for the subcontractors so he can file a claim for the losses. “I understand that it’s an accident and I don’t begrudge them for that,” he said. “I just don’t want to lose money over their accident.”
AT&T representatives provided the Downtown Development District (DDD) with a map of the proposed locations for the towers on Tuesday, November 13, easing some concerns from the business community. The representatives also assured the district that AT&T plans to work with the city to blend the towers into the environment.
“There was initially some confusion because people saw a lot of digging and didn’t know what it was for,” said DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer. “We can work through some things here so that other parts of the parish don’t have the same issues we did.”
Rhorer says the new network will prepare the area for technological developments like driver-less cars and make local internet speeds faster.
“It’s an investment on AT&T’s part and we recognize that,” Rhorer said. “This is one of those growing, paying projects that’s important to us for future development.”