Zachary, AT&T broker tentative Verizon-Town tower ‘aesthetics’

Following more than two months of community uproar, meetings and discussions, state Rep. Jason Zachary (R-District 14) facilitated a meeting between AT&T and Verizon, which led to a tentative agreement between the wireless carriers and the Town of Farragut Wednesday, March 4, regarding the current 5G rollout in Farragut.

Zachary — who had presented HB 2150, a proposed amendment to the 2018 state Telecommunications Bill earlier in the day before the state General Assembly’s Utilities committee — reported the agreement was reached mid-day March 4.

However, the deal is only verbal — no deal has been finalized in writing as of Tuesday, March 10.

In fact, Zachary said he didn’t anticipate a wrtten agreement “for several weeks.”

Zachary will speak further on the matter during Citizens’ Forum, the last item on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen’s meeting agenda. The meeting begins at 7 p.m., tonight, Thursday, March 12, in Town Hall boardroom (11408 Municipal Center Drive).

“We cannot prohibit the roll out of 5G according to the FCC Statute of 2018, but state law and the FCC Statute do provide a level of flexibility that we were all able to identify, and reach an agreement on how that flexibility was written to allow for certain aesthetics, height and placement requirements within our community,” Zachary said.

“The Town of Farragut has aesthetic ordinances in place, but they all must be contained within the same ordinance, and be in line with the statute passed in 2018. AT&T has agreed to work with Farragut to ensure that the plan lines up with statute,” he added.

Specifics addressed during the meeting — along with a commitment to continue to work with Farragut — includes finalizing the co-location agreement with Verizon and LCUB, ensuring pole heights are capped, that aesthetics of any install are in line with those of all Farragut communities, and revisiting requested changes to the 11 poles approved in January by Farragut Municipal Planning Commission.

“Verizon agreed to step back and be more willing to consider changing certain aspects of those poles and pole placement,” Zachary said.

Verizon officials met and discussed the agreement’s parameters Thursday, March 5.

However, Zachary said he believed “90 to 95 percent of the concerns have been addressed, and will be addressed.

“I know no negotiation ever gets you to 100 percent, but this is a huge, huge win for Farragut and West Knoxville,” he said. “I thank AT&T and Verizon for their willingness to listen and work with the residents of (Farragut and) West Knoxville.”

“In the three terms I have served, I have never had an issue so specific to our district or of such a magnitude in which we were able to reach an agreement with all parties,” Zachary added.  

“I could not be more excited.”

As for the process, “We met for more than two hours,” the state representative said, noting he, a Verizon representative, Town administrator David Smoak and AT&T president Joelle Phillips were involved.

“They were really willing to work with us and went over every concern we had,” Zachary added. “Joelle was so helpful and acted as more of a facilitator in helping along the discussion.”

Reflecting fears of various citizens who have gone on record during BOMA and FMPC meetings, “We cannot allow a for-profit company to come in and put up wooden poles in our Town — something we haven’t allowed in nearly 40 years,” Zachary said. “They need to adhere to the aesthetics we already have in place.

“Sometimes we have to get involved at the state level to keep things moving forward,” he added.

The Board unanimously approved a resolution in a special called meeting Tuesday, March 3, supporting the legislative efforts of state Sen. Dr. Richard Briggs (R-District 7) and Zachary to help regulate 5G cell tower placement in Farragut.

(Attempts to contact Briggs for comment were unsuccessful).

The resolution was necessary to allow HB 2150 — a proposed amendment to the Telecommunications Bill of 2018 authored by Zachary — to be heard before the state legislative Utilities subcommittee early Wednesday, March 4.

Zachary introduced the amendment and discussed several aspects of it, including the fact that more than 500 Farragut residents had contacted him, voicing their displeasure with the 5G rollout being undertaken by Verizon.

Following the last week’s negotiations, Zachary said he withdrew the Bill on the House side.

“It was part of the negotiations that I would pull the bill,” he said Monday, March 9. “But if they don’t do everything they said they would, I will re-file it next year."