Small Cell Wireless Technology in Cities

From our connected homes, where everything is controlled by the internet, to our workplaces, where reliable broadband access is paramount for almost every type of job, technology is impacting every facet of our daily lives. Cities are inextricably linked to the internet — and the integration of new technologies promises better and more innovative ways to serve our residents.

As cities navigate the rapidly-changing policy waters of wireless and infrastructure providers and community residents, a number of considerations for the different stakeholders begin to emerge. Small cell wireless infrastructure in particular, which is increasingly important for wireless broadband deployment and smart city technology, has traditionally been guided by federal and industry interests, as opposed to local needs.

Today, NLC is proud to release a new small cell wireless municipal action guide and model ordinance for city leaders. These resources provide an overview of small cell technology, as well as guidance on how local governments can plan for, develop policy and processes around, and manage the deployment of, small cell wireless infrastructure. They will also provide city leaders with strategies for proactively engaging with wireless providers and residents to plan for small cell networks in their communities.

The “race to 5G” and small cell wireless infrastructure deployment present new challenges and opportunities for cities. Unlike traditional cellular equipment which is placed high up on single cell towers, small cell technology requires many equipment installations clustered closely together. Cities must balance the business interests of wireless providers eager to densify their networks with the management of increasingly crowded city streets and sidewalks.

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Cities also face the threat of increasing preemption of their traditional authority from state and federal policies. Several states have recently passed legislation that severely limits what cities may charge for private sector use of public streets. The Federal Communications Commission and Congress are considering policy changes that would impose new unfunded mandates on cities in the form of radically shortened application timelines and additional limits on rental rates.

This guide serves to explain small cell infrastructure and related policy issues in clear terms so that city leaders can thoughtfully plan for small cell deployments in their communities. It also profiles five U.S. cities — Lincoln, Nebraska, San Jose, California, Raleigh, North Carolina, Tempe, Arizona, and Boston — and their diverse approaches to small cell wireless infrastructure deployment.

Recommendations for city leaders include:

  1. Gaining a full understanding of the technology and important safety considerations.
  2. Articulating priorities for accommodating this technology.
  3. Creating clear policies for permit review that let both city staff and industry applicants know the expectations.
  4. Developing a template right-of-way access policy/agreement, as well as a city pole attachment agreement.
  5. Thinking through in advance any beneficial items the city could negotiate with industry in exchange for use of the right-of-way – if allowed by state law.
  6. Giving careful consideration to fee structures.

For more information, read the full report or access the model ordinance.

nicole_depuis_readyAbout the Authors: Nicole DuPuis is the principal associate for urban innovation in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.



Angelina_ready.jpgAngelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter at @AngelinainDC.