Lincoln Makes Small Cell Work for Residents

October 10, 2018 - (5 min read)

This is the second in a series of case studies tracking how cities are handling small cell wireless infrastructure deployment on their streets. To learn more about this technology and how your city can get ready for it, read NLC’s municipal action guide on small cell wireless infrastructure.

In the city of Lincoln, Nebraska, broadband infrastructure is an important development priority. Starting in 2012, the city has worked on advancing three kinds of broadband within the community: broadband for business, broadband for the home and mobile broadband. As the broadband project took off, the demand for service and for permission to build infrastructure rose in the community.

The city decided to begin physically relocating staff and grouping them by process and function, rather than department, and created a new rights-of-way construction group of staff from multiple departments to manage small cell wireless infrastructure applications and other issues. This created a one-stop-shop for private utility construction in the public right-of-way.

As interest in small cell wireless development rose, the city worked with carriers to create a standard pole design that met the needs of 95 percent of the city’s pole locations and could accommodate most carriers’ equipment. For the other five percent of locations, the city has worked with individual carriers to co-design poles to meet those locations’ needs, and added those new designs to a list of pre-approved poles. The city has also developed a database of existing right-of-way infrastructure assets, such as water, power and broadband lines in the city. This helps smooth the application process and cut down on the time needed to communicate between city departments and with providers.

Another important tool for Lincoln has been its master license agreement process. The city has based its master license agreements on existing public-private partnership agreements, and adapted the master license agreements used for broadband to business and home to mobile infrastructure. The consistency between agreements, and the ability to view them publicly online, has helped reassure providers that they are getting the same deal as their competitors and smoothed the negotiating process.

Lincoln has faced some challenges in recent years with its efforts to deploy wireless infrastructure. Some providers have successfully received permits to build new poles, but have not deployed in those locations, resulting in wasted city resources and no improved service for residents.

The city has also fought back against attempts by the state legislature to preempt local authority over small cells. In 2017, Lincoln battled wireless providers who claimed that city-induced costs were inhibiting infrastructure deployment. When Lincoln offered a discount to these providers within city limits if they built out rural parts of Nebraska, the providers backed down, and ultimately preemptive legislation did not pass that year.

“We want the technology, and we want it deployed in as sensible and fast a method as possible, protecting the values of our city and our citizens,” said David Young, fiber and rights of way manager for the city of Lincoln. “Ultimately, the citizens pay for that property and expect us to manage it in a responsible way, and we are doing just that.”

How Lincoln Does It:

  • Create template master license agreements that will work for most carriers.
    The city of Lincoln has taken a consistent approach with all broadband providers, whether they are stringing fiber optic cables or erecting poles for wireless equipment. The agreements used for small cell infrastructure are similar to existing broadband public-private partnership agreements, and all of them are publicly available. This has helped providers understand that they are being treated the same way as other providers of similar infrastructure and services, and has also lent credibility to the process, because new entrants can see what other companies have agreed to.
  • Group city employees by field of work, rather than department.
    By piloting and eventually making permanent a cradle-to-grave right-of-way construction group of city staff who can handle everything related to locating utilities in the rights of way, the city of Lincoln has cut out time needed to communicate between departments on small cell issues. This group has made it easier for wireless providers to work with the city, and easier for city staff to get answers to questions handled by other departments.
  • Encourage providers to work with local experts.
    The city provides access to a database of all city right-of-way assets, such as water lines, sewer lines, storm lines, street signs, fiber lines and other structures to licensed professional engineers, architects and land surveyors registered with the state of Nebraska. By working with one of these local engineers when selecting sites and filing application data, providers are able to skip time-consuming manual application processes and download and transmit data for specific segments of the city in multiple formats using the city’s Clip Zip Ship tool. Providers who use these local engineers with access to city data have experienced a streamlined planning process that avoids disrupting existing city infrastructure.


nicole_depuis_ready About 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.