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Coronavirus forcing some technicians off US cell towers

Some tower companies have been forced to pull their work crews off the job due to the ongoing pandemic.

Further, some tower technicians are asking for personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and face shields to avoid further spreading the COVID-19 virus. They're also arguing that they should receive hazard pay as they travel to and work on 4G and 5G cell towers.

"We need to get carriers to show support for companies providing services by providing PPE that is needed in this COVID19 environment," wrote one unnamed tower company executive in a survey commissioned by NATE, a trade association that represents cell tower companies. "Compensation should also be hazard pay in a pandemic and not business as usual."

NATE said it surveyed 224 member companies with headquarters in 40 different states from Friday, March 27 to Wednesday, April 1, and found that around 50 of those companies reported they pulled at least one tower crew from the field due to the new coronavirus.

"We had to move crews from California to the East Coast," wrote one unnamed executive. "We had to pull one crew out of our three crews total from the field," wrote another.

The findings are noteworthy considering most executives in the wireless industry have publicly complained of only delays in receiving permits for cell tower installations or upgrades from cities due to COVID-19.

For example, the head of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, Jonathan Adelstein, told Politico that some tower construction is "grinding to a halt or close" because of a lack of municipal permitting and zoning approvals.

Similarly, T-Mobile's new CEO Mike Sievert told CNBC that "this crisis might affect permitting" because some cities "are operating at less-than-capacity."

Indeed, the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia, issued a blanket, indefinite "stop work order" on the installation of all Verizon 5G poles in the city due to the pandemic, according to local reports. Verizon plans to install over 1,000 new poles in the city.

Politico reported that the US Department of Homeland Security declared communications workers essential in a public update late last month. Further, one unnamed GOP Congressional source told the publication that some Senate Republicans had privately worked to include stipulations in the recent coronavirus stimulus package that would have allowed cell tower workers to sidestep some state and local regulatory approvals in their work. That proposal was not included in the final legislation.

US Internet traffic has spiked due to streaming video, videoconferencing and online video games as Americans hunker down at home. According to the FCC, Internet traffic in the US has risen about 20% to 35% on fixed networks and about 10% to 20% on cellular networks in recent weeks.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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