Obstacles To 5G Small Cell Deployment
5G technologies differ significantly from earlier generations of LTE, and consequently, wireless carriers are now faced with a monstrous task of upgrading their wireless network infrastructure to accommodate 5G.
The biggest hurdle for service providers is network densification: wireless providers need to deploy dense networks of small cells to support the shorter wavelengths used in 5G. To do so, they will need to install hundreds of small cell wireless facilities across cities and states in order to deliver 5G services. As each local government and state government regulates wireless deployments differently, wireless carriers are facing a lot of red tape.
To help bolster the roll-out of 5G networks across the U.S., — and ensure the U.S. leads the world in 5G deployments — the FCC issued a new ruling in September 2018 that set federal standards for small cell deployment regulation that aim to streamline the roll-out of 5G services across state and local governments. Similarly, state legislatures across the country have been considering bills that would create a uniform permitting and regulatory framework to support 5G network deployments. Many of the state bills are industry-friendly, adopting many of the rules wireless industry advocates have lobbied for.
These measures, which remove some of the authority of local governments in small cell deployment regulation, have not been received well by municipalities. Residents, businesses and local governments are concerned that these rules allow wireless providers to access public rights-of-way and existing “street furniture” while preventing city governments from collecting fees for installing equipment, or regulating the placement and aesthetics of the new cellular equipment. City governments are now drafting their own ordinances for regulating small cell deployments, which in many cases stand in opposition to state bills and the FCC’s rules.
State-by-State 5G Small Cell State Laws
At this time, no legislation has been introduced to the Alabama legislature that deals with small cell deployments. However, AT&T is actively lobbying the state legislature in Alabama in hopes of getting small cell bill in the next session. Fred McCallum, president of AT&T Alabama, published an editorial in local Birmingham media outlet Bham Now arguing that the state needs to make installing “critical infrastructure” such as small cells easier for wireless providers.
Municipalities such as Huntsville are crafting their own rules on 5G deployments. In October 2018, Huntsville City Council approved a rights-of-way use agreement with Uniti Fiber for small wireless facilities within the city. The deal was touted by Mayor Tommy Battle as an opportunity to provide residents with access to high-speed broadband.
“We consider this announcement right in line with our Gig City Initiative to provide high-speed broadband across our entire community,” Mayor Battle said in a statement. City Council members in Hoover, Alabama — a suburb near Birmingham — are considering adopting a new fee structure for small cell deployments ahead of deployments.
No legislation at the state level has been introduced that deals with small cell deployments. City officials in Anchorage, Alaska, set guidelines for wireless providers deploying small cell infrastructure in residential areas in 2016. The guidelines address resident concerns about new towers being installed in neighborhoods by encouraging wireless providers to use concealment methods for new equipment and colocating wireless facilities whenever possible on existing structures. The ordinance also simplifies the permitting process for small cell deployments. The City of Juneau updated its ordinance to include small cell technologies in 2015.
Senate bill SB 1214 was introduced by Sen. Karen Fann (R) in early 2017. The bill amends existing statutes to include wireless providers deploying small cells. The amendments assure service providers have access to public rights-of-way and utility poles for deploying wireless hardware, and caps any associated fees that local governments can charge wireless providers for doing so. The bill was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in April 2017.
State Rep. Andy Davis (R) introduced HB 1926 in March 2017. The “Wireless Communications and Broadband Infrastructure Deployment Act” would give wireless providers access to public rights-of-way and caps annual fees that local government can charge at $20 per wireless structure. The bill died in committee.
Municipalities such as Little Rock and Fayetteville have enacted new city ordinances aimed at streamlining the permitting process for wireless facility siting. Under the new rules in Little Rock, wireless providers can use one short, two-page application for up to 25 permits. Local authorities have 60 days to review the application and respond, without requiring city council approval or zoning commission approval.
Fayetteville’s ordinance creates a new permitting process for small cell deployments. It requires wireless providers to colocate small cells on existing structures before building new poles, and requires concealment for new facilities placed in residential areas.
Hot Springs, Arkansas, enacted in June 2018 a 120-day moratorium on small cell deployments while the city drafts new ordinances to manage installation of small cells in public rights-of-way. However, the city’s planning commission pulled the ordinance in October 2018 pending new FCC rules.
AT&T executives has been making the rounds arguing that small cell deployments will help boost connectivity for residents in the state. AT&T Arkansas president Ronnie Dedman has said traffic on AT&T’s Arkansas network increasing 250,000% over the last few years. And in a recent blog post, AT&T’s Joan Marsh claimed “AT&T already has 29 applications pending and we are scheduled to deploy over 100 additional nodes in 2018” throughout the state.
Sen. Ben Hueso (D) introduced SB 649 in February 2017. The bill streamlines the permitting processes for installing small cell infrastructure by imposing a state-mandated local program. The bill limits how local authorities can collect fees on deploying wireless facilities on public rights-of-way and existing structures, and caps those fees to $250 per node. It also limits local authorities’ ability to reject small cell deployment plans.
The bill was approved by both the House and Senate in August 2017, but Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill a few months later, arguing against measures in the legislation that would have blocked local authority to regulate small cell deployments in public rights-of-way.
Municipalities have taken their own measures to limit small cell deployments. In September 2018, Mill Valley enacted an “urgency ordinance” through a unanimous city council vote, enabling the city government to limit or prevent small cell equipment from being deployed in residential neighborhoods. San Anselmo and Ross have adopted similar measures.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, has been experimenting with small cell deployments since 2015. The city participated in a pilot project for installing small cell equipment on street lights. To date, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon have all begun deploying small cell equipment throughout the city. Still, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti filed comments with the FCC asking the Commission to stay its small cell deployment rules for a year to allow local authorities to develop their own permitting processes.
House bill HB17-1193 was introduced by Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D) and Rep. Jack Tate (R) in February 2017 with bipartisan support. The bill assures that the streamlined permitting processes the state had earlier established for broadband infrastructure deployments are applicable for small cell deployments. It also extends access to public rights-of-way and colocation opportunities on existing utility poles to wireless providers deploying small cells, and caps fees that locals governments can charge for permitting. It also allows wireless providers to contract directly with private property owners to obtain a right-of-way for the construction, maintenance, and operation of the facility. The bill was signed into law in April 2017.
In the city of Denver, Verizon’s initial deployments of small cell infrastructure atop 30-foot tall poles spurred city officials to adopt new rules around small wireless facility aesthetics and placement.
The state legislature’s Energy and Technology committee introduced SB 536 with five co-sponsors in January 2017, around the same time that the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) denied an application Verizon had submitted for installing small cell wireless facilities. The bill would create a state-wide plan and process for siting small cell antenna and distributed antenna systems — but it failed in May.
In June 2017, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, led by city governments in West Haven, Danbury, and Greenwich, submitted a list of recommendations to PURA for establishing new processes for permitting small cell equipment deployments in public rights-of-way and on utility poles. The new rules require wireless providers to notify and consult local governments in siting small wireless facilities.
Delaware state legislature passed the “Advanced Wireless Infrastructure Investment Act” in May 2017. The bill was introduced by Rep. John Mitchell (D) with 13 co-sponsors. The bill gives wireless providers access to the state’s public rights-of-way and establishes a statewide policy for deployment of small cell infrastructure, in hopes of “accelerating investment in mobile broadband infrastructure,” and prepping the state for “the next wave of economic development in the digital economy.” The bill was signed by Gov. John Carney (D) in August 2017.
Rep. Mike La Rosa (R) introduced HB 687 in February 2017 with three co-sponsors. The bill authorizes state Department of Transportation (DOT) to prescribe and enforce rules around placing wireless facilities and small cell infrastructure and allows local governments to charge permit fees to wireless providers. The bill prohibits local governments from regulated collocation of wireless equipment on utility poles and public rights-or-way. It was signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in June 2017.
State senator Steve Gooch (R) and five other co-sponsors submitted SB 426 in February 2018. The bill, which passed both the state Senate and state House of Representatives, is titled the “Broadband Infrastructure Leads to Development (BILD) Act,” designed to expand and support broadband access to residents by supporting the build-out of wireless broadband infrastructure. It aims to streamline small cell deployments in public rights-of-way by limiting the ability of local governments, such as municipalities and counties, to prohibit or charge for use of public rights-of-way for wireless carriers. The bill passed both the Senate and the House, but has not been enacted into law.
State representative Takashi Ohno (D) and 13 others sponsored HB 2651, which creates a process and framework for upgrading and expanding wireless broadband infrastructure within the state. The bill establishes permitting, application, review and approval processes for small wireless and broadband service providers to install wireless equipment on state and county-owned utility poles, as well as install utility poles themselves where needed in public rights-of-way. The bill was signed into law in July 2018, and will take effect after December 31 2018.
No statewide legislation has been introduced to the state legislature regarding small cell deployments — though in February 2017, Verizon spokesperson Mark Estes gave a presentation on small cell technology to the state legislature’s Senate State Affairs committee.
In August 2018, after Estes gave another presentation to the City of Kuna’s zoning and planning commission explaining small cell infrastructure and how it differs from macro cell sites, the city adopted a new ordinance for wireless facilities. Verizon is now deploying small cell infrastructure in Boise, Idaho. Coeur D’Alene city council modified city ordinances to accommodate small cell infrastructure and requires wireless operators to obtain special use permits for wireless facilities siting.
State senator Terry Link (D) and five others sponsored SB 1451, titled the “Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act.” The bill limits the ability of local government with control over rights-of-way to prohibit or charge wireless providers to colocate small wireless facilities on to or adjacent to utility poles. The bill also limits local governments’ ability regulate the design, engineering, construction, installation, or operation of wireless equipment under these circumstances — though those limits do not apply to a municipality with a population of 1,000,000 or more.
In addition, the bill allows exemptions to electric and gas public utilities and related wireless facilities that are used in delivery of related services or that are used for smart grid systems. The bill was signed into law by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and became effective June 1 2018.
State representative David Ober (R) submitted HB 1050, with bipartisan support. The bill determines that utility poles owned or operators by a public utility, municipality or electric co-op are not considered for wireless support structures, and that permit authorities can prohibit the placement of new wireless support structures in public rights-of-way. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) in March 2018. Verizon begun testing its 5G network in Speedway, Indiana in 2017.
The Iowa legislature passed SF431 in May 2017. The bill was sponsored by the Senate Commerce Committee, but was largely based on an earlier bill, HF380, which was introduced and later withdrawn by Rep. Gary Mohr (R). The bill limits local governments’ ability to prohibit or restrict small cell deployments by wireless providers.
The bill also prevents local governments from requiring that wireless providers obtain land use permits for public rights-of-way or on government-owned utility poles. It gives local governments 60 days to respond to applications for permits for colocating wireless facilities, and states that any application that has not been denied or approved by local authorities within 60 will be deemed granted. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed the bill into law.
Kansas was one of the first states to enact legislation aimed at supporting small cell deployments. The state Senate Utilities committee introduced HB 2131 in October 2016. The Kansas legislature passed the bill, which has since become statute 66-2019. The law outlines rules for wireless service providers in deploying small cell infrastructure. The bill gives wireless providers the right to construct, maintain and operate wireless support structures, utility poles on public rights-of-way. It allows wireless service providers to enter into lease agreements with local governments for access to public land, with lease terms no shorter than 10 years. The bill also caps fees for collocation permits at $500, and caps fees for building new wireless support structures.
No statewide legislation has been introduced in Kentucky, but municipalities in the state have been enacting ordinances to manage small cell deployments. In 2016, the city of Louisville Metro government established a new permitting process for deploying wireless infrastructure in public rights-of-way. The Louisville Metro city council passed a “one touch make ready” ordinance to help speed up processes required to colocate new wireless facilities on existing utility poles.
AT&T sued the city of Louisville back in 2016 in attempt to prevent the city government from passing the one touch rule. At the time, Google Fiber was working with the city to deploy a fiber network, and wanted quick access to publicly-owned utility poles to do so. In a twist of fate, AT&T is now pushing similar rules across the US to aide in its deployment of 5G networks. In September 2018, AT&T announced it would deploy 5G networks in parts of Louisville.
The City of Dayton amended its city ordinances to include small cell infrastructure, enabling local authorities to regulate the permitting and placement of small wireless facilities, as well as design attributes. The ordinance also ensures wireless providers must seek to use existing structures whenever feasible for deploying small cell equipment.
No bills have been introduced to the state legislature concerning small cell deployments. Baton Rouge’s Metro Council passed an ordinance outlining parameters for small cell wireless facility deployments in 2017. The ordinance allows wireless providers to include 50 permits per application, and enables the city-parish to charge up to $500 per node for the first five nodes, and $250 for each additional node, along with a $1,000 application fee. Applications must be given preliminary approval by government authorities within 20 days.
State Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R) and Sen. David Woodsome (R) and fourth other sponsors introduced bill ME H 1170/LD 1690 in December 2017. The bill would streamline permitting processes for small cell infrastructure and establish statewide standards for local authorities governing collocation of small cells. The bill failed.
Sister bills S 1188, introduced by Sen. Thomas Middleton (D) and bill H 1767, introduced by Delegate Derek Davis (D), in February 2018 both failed during the 2018 legislative session. The bills include a number of provisions outlining small cell deployment regulations. The bills would prohibit local governments from entering into exclusive deals with wireless providers, and requires local authorities to respond to applications within 60 days. Sen. Middleton canceled a hearing for his bill in March in light of local governments and resident concerns about small cells, stating that the hearing would be too controversial to resolve anything. In the meantime, local governments in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties are devising new ordinances for small cell technology deployments.
No bills on small cell deployments have been introduced into the state legislature yet. But cities around the state are working on devising their own rules and hoping to preserve some authority over the issue before any statewide laws are passed.
Boston and other municipalities in Massachusetts are currently considering suing the FCC for its orders on small cell deployments and caps on fees local governments can collect. The City of Boston has in the past charged up to $2,500 per pole annually for small cells, though the FCC order caps fees at $500.
“While the City of Boston supports the expansion of telecommunication services to improve services available to all residents, that benefit from private companies should not come at a cost to the taxpayers of Boston and should not strip local municipalities of their ability to oversee public rights-of-way,” Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement in October 2018.
Earlier in 2018, Malden City Council passed an ordinance governing how small cells can be installed and how much the city can charge wireless providers. The City of Lowell, meanwhile, approved an agreement with Verizon to install small cell equipment throughout the city. Under the agreement, Verizon will pay just $50 per pole per year.
State Sen. Mike Nofs (R) and Sen. Joe Hune (R) submitted SB 637 in October 2017. The bill creates a regulatory regime for small cell wireless systems and supporting hardware to be colocated on existing utility poles and other infrastructure in order to provide wireless communications services, including broadband. The bill also limits the amount of money that state and local governments can charge wireless providers for zoning, permits and other fees on wireless networks and related infrastructure. A second bill SB 894 was introduced by Sen. Nofs in March 2018 that creates the Small Wireless Communications Facilities Deployment Act, which provides funding to pay for the electricity used in operating small cell wireless facilities. Both bills are pending in the Michigan State Legislature.
During the 2017-2018 legislative session, two bills were introduced to the state House and Senate, both aimed at establishing rules for small cell deployments and amending existing statutes to limit local governments’ ability to regulate such deployments Senate bill SF 561, introduced by Sen. David Osmek (R) and House bill HF 739, introduced by Marion O’Neill (R), both failed. But in May 2017, an omnibus jobs and economic growth appropriations bill SF 1456 contained a wireless facility deployment provision and was signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton (D). As a result, Article 9 of the Minnesota state statutes governing telecommunications was amended to include wireless service providers deploying 5G small cell networks under its telecommunications laws.
No statewide legislation regulating small cell deployments has been introduced to the legislature, but municipalities have begun drafting and enacting their own rules for small cell deployments. In November 2017, Clinton, Mississippi’s City Council amended the city’s zoning ordinance to include small cell technology. In October 2018, the City of Clinton announced AT&T would be deploying the first small cell infrastructure in the state.
In July 2018, Hattiesburg City Council unanimously approved a new ordinance that establishes a permit application and licensing process for small cell infrastructure. The ordinance enables local authorities to charge $1,000 per node on public rights-of-way and $500 to colocate wireless facilities on existing structures. The city will enable wireless providers to include multiple permits on each application. It will charge $1,000 for the first permit and $500 for each additional permit per application. Local authorities can also charge an annual fee of $500 per structure for the duration of the permit.
State Rep. Shawn Rhoads (R) introduced HB 1991, which establishes the Uniform Small Wireless Facility Deployment Act and modifies a series of provisions and rules that govern wireless facilities and infrastructure to streamline deployment of small cells for wireless providers. The bill creates a uniform framework for deploying small cell wireless facilities statewide. Modifications include removing certain fees for wireless providers using utility poles and public rights-of-way. The bill was approved by Gov. Mike Parson (R) and went into effect in August 2018.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D) has called on the nation’s top wireless carriers to launch a pilot 5G program in the state, though Montana legislators haven’t submitted any bills aimed at creating industry-friendly rules for small cell deployments yet.
Missoula, Montana City Council amended the city’s ordinances in 2016 to update its rules on deploying wireless facilities. The new rules require wireless providers to conceal new structures in residential areas and opt to colocate wireless facilities on existing structures when possible. The ordinance also enables local authorities to prohibit wireless deployments on public rights-of-way.
T-Mobile plans to launch 5G services in the state by 2020. In October 2017, T-Mobile partnered with Missoula, Montana-based telecommunications company Blackfoot to provide fiber backhaul for the 200 small cell facilities T-Mobile plans to deploy in Montana.
State Senate bill L 389, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen (R) would adopt the Small Wireless Facilities Act. The bill would ensure wireless providers have access to public rights-of-way and would cap fees associated with applications and permitting to $250 per unit. The bill stalled in the legislature and was abandoned, and Friesen later attempted unsuccessfully to include the small cell provisions in a bill dealing with driverless cars. Verizon and AT&T have both lobbied local legislators to implement streamlined permitting processes for wireless providers and cap fees local governments can charge wireless operators.
Municipalities such as Lincoln have charged up to $1,995 per year as an attachment rate for small cell facilities colocated on publicly-owned utility poles. Both AT&T and Verizon filed separate complaints with the FCC about fees related to small cell deployments in Lincoln. Verizon actually signed a 20-year lease agreement in 2016 with the City of Lincoln for deploying small cell technology, but in its 2018 comments to the FCC, the carrier stated that it would not deploy any more small cells in the city.
Nevada state legislature revised state statutes for wireless infrastructure deployment in 2003 to establish administrative processes for approving wireless facility siting. The statute also restricts local authorities ability to deny an application. In November 2016, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) office of Science, Innovation and Technology introduced SB 53, which authorizes the state’s DOT to enter into agreements with wireless providers and collect fees around accessing public rights-of-way for deploying small cell infrastructure. It also instructs the DOT to create a telecommunications advisory council. The bill was signed into law in May 2017.
In August 2018, the City Council of Nevada City has enacted an interim moratorium on small cell infrastructure deployment as the city drafts its own ordinance to establish rules for wireless providers looking to install small wireless facilities on city-owned structures and public rights-of-way. The proposed small cell ordinance includes provisions to protect the aesthetics of Nevada City and its Historical District by setting design parameters for small cell equipment. It also would set limitations on where wireless providers can colocate new small cell equipment on existing structures. The moratorium will be in effect for 10 months.
New Hampshire’s state legislature passed a bill in 2000 outlining the permitting process for wireless providers looking to deploy large wireless facilities, such as traditional cell towers. The state has implemented design and aesthetic parameters for these types of towers. In 2013, the state legislature passed SB 101, which revised the laws and created a streamlined permitting process for collocation of wireless facilities on existing structures. The new process enables wireless providers to avoid local land use board approval processes and requires municipalities to respond to permitting applications within 45 days. If the municipality does not respond within the 45 day window, the application is deemed granted.
New Hampshire’s federal Senator Maggie Hassan (D), was part of a bipartisan resolution in 2017 supporting the rollout of 5G technology across the U.S. Sen. Hassan, along with Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, co-sponsored the Airwaves Act, aimed at ensuring wireless providers have access to spectrum. The bill failed in 2017.
State Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (D) introduced bill A4422 to the New Jersey Legislature in September 2018. The bill, entitled the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, creates a uniform regulatory framework for small cell deployments throughout the state of New Jersey. The bill prevents any authority from prohibiting, regulating or charging wireless providers to colocate wireless equipment related to small cells on public rights-of-way and utility poles. The bill requires permitting authorities to charge application fees to communications service providers, but provides caps on those fees. The bill is currently pending.
State Rep. James Smith (R) and Debbie Rodella (D) introduced the bipartisan bill HB 38, entitled the Wireless Consumer Advanced Infrastructure Investment Act, in January 2018. A sister bill was introduced into the state Senate by Sen. Jacob Candelaria (D) and Candace Gould (R). The bill outlines provisions for deploying cellular network nodes in public rights-of-way. The bill allows the relevant governing bodies to charge fees to wireless service providers for using public rights-of-way, but caps those fees at $250 per unit.
The bill also outlines rules for wireless service providers colocating hardware on utility poles. The bill also allows authorities to require wireless service providers to make sure their small wireless facilities conform to design standards in certain districts, such as historic districts, throughout the state. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez and went into effect in September 2018.
State Assemblymember Carrie Woerner (D) introduced bill A07489 in April 2017. The “Wireless Broadband Eligible Facility Permitting Act” amends the state’s general municipal law to provide for a framework of uniform regulation of certain wireless facilities, but the bill failed. State Sen. Betty Little (R) and three bipartisan co-sponsors introduced a sister version of the bill in the 2016 legislative sessions, which also died in committee. In early 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) released a proposed budget bill that included a provision for establishing a regulatory framework small cell siting in public rights-of-way. The provision also caps annuals fees at $200 per small cell structure. The provision failed to make it to the final version of the budget bill, however.
State Rep. Michael Wray (D) and three co-authors introduced bipartisan bill HB 310 to the state legislature in March 2017. The bill declares that wireless services providers and wireless infrastructure providers must have access to the public rights-of-way and the ability to attach to poles and structures in the public rights-of-way to densify their networks and provide next generation services. It amends existing statutes to include small cell infrastructure and wireless support structures, to ensure that wireless providers have access to public rights-of-way.
The bill also prevents local governments from regulating wireless providers to colocate equipment, and caps permit fees at $100 for the first five small wireless facilities, and $50 for each additional collocation. Local governments can also charge a $500 consultation fee. The bill passed both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. Ray Cooper (D) in June 2017.
The state legislature’s Senate Appropriations Committee included a directive in SB 2012 in 2017 calling for the state’s DOT to study “benefits of allowing wireless telecommunication infrastructure within state highway rights-of-way and what, if any, requirements of allowing the installation may be in the public interest.” The state’s DOT IT division director reported his results to the Interim Government Finance Committee in June 2018. The results were supportive of small cell deployments.
The report recommends that the state “draft legislation that will allow for the regulation of telecommunication infrastructure within state highway rights-of-way.” Given the report results, it’s likely that a new bill supporting wireless providers’ access to public rights-of-way for small cell deployments will appear in the 2019 legislative session.
Bismarck’s City Commission, meanwhile, passed city ordinance 6343 in July 2018, which gives wireless providers access to public rights-of-way for small cell deployments. Around the same time, the City of Bismarck reached an agreement with Verizon to install small cell facilities on some 30 light poles around the city. The city is charging Verizon $150 per unit annually for the wireless facilities.
State Rep. Ryan Smith (R) and Rep. Sarah Latourette (R) introduced HB 478 with 36 co-sponsors. The bill creates a framework to streamline small cell deployments. One provision of the bill states that if a municipality fails to approve or deny an application to colocate small cell equipment on existing wireless services support infrastructure or in a public right-of-way, the request shall be deemed granted — though the bill also allows municipalities to stagger applications in order to be able to process them in a timely manner. The bill passed both the House and the Senate and went into effect in August 2018.
State Sen. Greg Treat (R) and co-sponsor Anastasia Pittman (D) introduced bipartisan bill SB 1388 in February 2018. The bill creates the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act, outlining procedures and rules for deploying and collocating small cell equipment in public rights-of-way. The bill also establishes permitting processes for small cell deployments. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin (R) in April 2018.
The state legislature has not yet considered legislation pertaining to the deployment of small cells, though some of the municipalities have begun issuing their own rules for wireless providers deploying small cell technology. Portland City Council is considering joining a growing list of cities suing the FCC for its orders to limit local government’s regulatory authority over the deployment of small cell infrastructure. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler described the FCC order as “a property grab”.
The city of McMinnville passed an ordnance regulating how wireless service providers can install small cells.
State Rep. Frank Farry (R) and 32 others introduced bipartisan HB 2564 in July 2018. The bill would adopt the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act. The bill streamlines the permitting process for small cell deployments and gives wireless providers access to public rights-of-way. It also caps fees that local governments can charge for access to $100 per new installation and $25 per unit annually. It also sets limitations on how local governments can deny applications for small cell deployments.
The bill, which was widely criticized by local governments across the state, is similar to bill HB 1620, introduced by Rep. Nick Miccarelli (R) in July 2017, and for which Rep. Farry had been a co-sponsor. That bill would amend the state’s 2012 Wireless Broadband Collocation Act in order to include wireless support structures needed for 5G small cell deployments. Neither bill made it out of committee during the 2017-2018 legislative session. Rep. Farry has said he will take up the issue again in the 2019 session.
State Rep .Steve Ucci (D) and three co-sponsors introduced bill H5224 in January 2017. The “Rhode Island Small Cell Siting Act” outlines local governments’ abilities to regulate collocation of small wireless facilities and networks on public rights-of-way and utility poles. Local governments are able to require applications and permit fees for collocation services. The bill states that fees for small cell equipment collocation can not exceed fees charged to other communications service providers. The bill also allows wireless service providers to consolidate multiple collocations within the jurisdiction of the authority into one permit application. Permits for collocation are of “unlimited duration.” And applications are deemed approved if local government doesn’t approve or deny an application within 60 days. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the bill into law in September 2017.
South Carolina has in place a variety of regulations on wireless facility deployments through its Telecommunications Act of 1999. The law gives wireless providers access to public rights-of-ways and sets parameters for the types of fees local governments can charge. As such, no recent legislation has been introduced to address the types of issues that other states are grappling with. Municipalities in the state are now crafting their own ordinances to regulate how and where small cell facilities are installed.
Goose Creek, for example, drafted an ordinance with input from wireless carriers on how best to regulate small cell deployments. The town of Mount Pleasant is considering new rules that would outline where small cells can be deployed, and capping fees at $100 per facility for the first five small cell nodes and $50 for each additional node. Charleston is also considering rules for small cell deployments, but the city is caught in a court battle against wireless equipment firm Crown Castle, which has been trying to deploy small cell infrastructure in the city’s rights-of-way since 2014.
No bills dealing with small cell deployments have made it to the state legislature yet. U.S Sen. and Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R) introduced S 3157 in June 2018. That bill is currently sitting in the Senate’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Local telco SDN Communications and Midco begun deploying small cells for Verizon across the state in 2017.
Sioux Falls City Council — where Verizon plans to install small cell facilities in 2019 — is currently drafting its own city ordinance to regulate small cell deployments. The new rules would allow city officials to charge a $500 application fee and $25 per permit for small cell deployments on public rights-of-way.
State Rep. William Lamberth introduced HB 2279 with bipartisan support and 62 co-sponsors. The bill establishes the Competitive Wireless Broadband Investment, Deployment, and Safety Act of 2018, and creates a uniform framework throughout the state that limits obstacles to deploying small cell infrastructure in hopes of maximizing investment in wireless connectivity across the state. The bill highlights sharing public spaces and colocation of small cell equipment where feasible. Local governments are given 60 days to approve an application, and like other states’ legislation, if the local government does not approve or deny the application with 60 days, the application is deemed granted.
The bill also enables the state’s DOT to hire two additional employees in order to keep up with anticipated increased in demand for application processing and inspections. A sister bill in the state Senate, SB 2504, was introduced by Sen. Bill Ketron (R), with bipartisan support and eight other co-sponsors. The act was made into law by Gov. Bill Haslam (R) in April 2018.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and two other co-sponsors introduced SB 1004 in February 2017. The bill amends local government code for the state of Texas to include new uniform rules for deploying small cell infrastructure throughout the state. The bill also regulates the size, shape, and placement of wireless network equipment.
The bill bars municipalities from entering into exclusive agreements with wireless providers to access to public rights-of-way and utility poles. It caps permit fees for use of public rights-of-way to $250 per wireless facility. It also enables municipalities to designate specific designs for wireless facilities that are to be installed in historic districts. The bill was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in June 2017 and went into effect in September. The state has since been sued by Austin, Dallas, and 20 other city governments over the bill.
State Sen. Curtis Bramble (R) introduced SB 0189 in February 2018. The bill creates the “Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act” for the state, outlining how wireless providers can deploy small cell infrastructure and enabling local governments to establish permitting processes for doing so. The bill enables local governments to exercise land use, zoning and other permitting authorities in relation to small cell deployments, so long as the requirements are the same as those required for other communications providers.
The bill caps fees for use of public rights-of-way and utility poles to $250 per wireless facility, and applications are capped at $100 for collocating wireless facilities on existing utility poles. Local governments are also able to specify design parameters for historic and design districts. The bill also states that local governments have 60 days to respond to a collocation application, and 105 days to respond to an application for a new utility pole or modifications to an existing utility pole. If the local government does not approve, deny or extend the application period, the application is deemed granted. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert (R) in March 2018.
The state of Vermont has an interesting history with small cells. The rural state participated in a small cell trial program in 2012 in hopes to expanding cell service to more areas. Small cell infrastructure was deployed throughout the state by wireless provider CoverageCo, but in August 2018, the state formerly ended its contract with the wireless provider over financial concerns. The state, which owns all the small cell equipment that was deployed and has appropriated another $900,000 for the network’s completion, is actively looking for another wireless provider to take over the contract. AT&T, which is the largest cellular provider in the state, has stepped in to help expand cell coverage in certain areas.
The Virginia legislature passed SB 1282, introduced by Sen. Ryan McDougle (R) in early 2017. The bill amends the state statutes to provide a uniform framework through which wireless providers may deploy small cell infrastructure. The bill streamlines such permitting processes for wireless providers by allowing them to include up to 35 permits for wireless facilities on one application. It gives local governments 60 days to approve or deny these permits, and states that if the authority does not respond within 60 days, the permit shall be deemed granted.
The bill caps permit fees at $100 for the first five small cell facilities, and $50 for every additional facility. It also outlines situations in which local authorities are allowed to deny a permit. For access to public rights-of-way managed by the state’s DOT, the bill directs the department to issue district-wide permits to wireless providers. The DOT has 60 days to respond to an application, and failure to respond within 60 days deems the application granted.
The department is barred from charging fees to access public rights-of-way, but can charge application processing fees, capped at $750 for a district-wide permit and $150 for a single use permit. Local governments that manage public rights-of-way can charge an application processing fee, capped at $250. Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law in April 2017. In 2018, Delegate Wendy Gooditis introduced HB 1597, a bill that would have enabled local governments to limit the number of new wireless support structures that can be installed in a specific location. That bill failed.
State Rep. Jeff Morris (D) introduced bill HB 2592 to the state legislature in January 2018. The bill would require local governments to create streamlined permitting processes for small cell deployments, and the adoption of small cell facility deployment ordinances that outline the standards for deploying small wireless facilities. However, the bill never made it out of committee.
The City of Vancouver, a suburb of Portland and the fifth largest city in the state, approved in May 2018 a measure that would allow wireless carriers to deploy small cell facilities in the city. The city’s public utility authority is now drafting agreements with wireless carriers for accessing public rights-of-way and utility poles for small cell infrastructure while maintaining authority over aesthetics and concealment of the equipment. AT&T is currently planning to install 40 small cell facilities throughout the city, and Verizon has plans for small cell deployments in the city as well. Other municipalities, such as Kirkland and Issaquah have adopted similar agreements with Verizon.
Delegate John Shott (R) introduced bill HB 4357 to the state legislature in January 2018. The Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act would establish permitting requirements for local governments and would provide wireless providers access to public rights-of-way, and would limit local government authority to regulate and charge for collocation. The bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate, indicating that the issue may resurface during the next legislative session, as wireless industry advocates have been lobbying officials in the state to update and modernize regulations for cell towers.
Rep. Mike Kuglitsch (R) introduced Assembly bill A 348 in May 2017, while its sister bill, S 425, was introduced by Sen. Devin LeMahieu in October 2017. The legislation would limit local governments’ authority to regulate small cell deployments by creating a statewide framework for permitting and installing wireless facilities. The bill would also prevent local authorities from charging wireless providers for access to poles and public rights-of-way. The two bills both failed.
Meanwhile, municipal officials in some of Wisconsin’s cities have pushed back against the FCC’s new rules on small cell deployments, particularly around limits to how much local governments can charge for using public utility poles and rights-of-way. Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, for example, told Wisconsin Public Radio that the new rule “allows private companies like Verizon to go put equipment onto our poles at a price, which we estimate is approximately one-tenth of the value.”
No state legislation has been submitted regarding small cell deployments, but that may change in the upcoming legislative session. Wireless provider AT&T has been engaging with local and state government on the issue of deploying small cell infrastructure, according to a company blogpost posted in September 2017. A handful of local representatives serving municipalities around the state have begun drafting legislation at the city-level to help streamline small cell deployments. And in the summer of 2018, the Small Cell Forum held an event on 5G, entitled “Small Cell Networks: Changing the Rural Landscape for the 5G-Era”, in Evanston, Wyoming.
5G hype overshadows some important realities
The push and pull between state governments, municipalities and the FCC has overshadowed an important piece of the 5G story: its limitations. While lab testing and trial runs have achieved speeds of multiple gigabits per second using 5G wireless networks, the technology’s reliance on high-bandwidth frequencies introduce real obstacles to 5G performance.
Frequencies above 28GHz are very vulnerable to line-of-sight and obstruction issues. In woody neighborhoods or densely-packed urban environments, for example, wireless providers will need to deploy a large number of small cells in order to provide reliable coverage to customers. Logistically, this means that 5G will not see a nationwide roll-out, as some carriers have claimed.
Instead, the technology will be deployed as “islands” within large population centers, where wireless carriers can justify installation costs for the 5G small cells with the promise of revenue. This is a particularly important issue for fixed wireless and rural broadband applications — something that the FCC chairman Ajit Pai has recently begun touting as an important application for 5G.