For Wireless Broadband, Raleigh Finds Common Ground Through Partnerships

October 18, 2018 - (6 min read)

This is the third 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.

The city of Raleigh is focused on being the best — with hopes of being designated a ‘best place’ to live, work and play, as well as a forward-thinking leader in the technology space. The city recognized that in order to achieve those goals, it would need to be open to the prospect of small cell wireless infrastructure deployment. The city administration set out to work with industry partners to take Raleigh’s internet ecosystem to the next level.

From the moment the city was approached about installing small cell infrastructure, the priority was to establish a good working relationship with wireless providers while protecting and upholding the values and interests of residents within our communities. City leaders had early conversations with wireless providers about their interests and the public’s sensitivities surrounding deployment. This helped to set the foundation for a good partnership with the providers, and also ensured that the needs of the community and the needs of the wireless providers could both be met with a solution that strikes a balance between the goals of each.

The city emphasized communicating early and effectively with providers and streamlining the application and negotiation processes to make sure that everything goes as smoothly as possible and solutions work for everyone. The deployment of small cell infrastructure represents a shared goal among all parties.

One way the city was able to achieve that goal was by streamlining its application process by eliminating some unnecessary engineering time and costs. They recognized that there was a lot of time and money being spent on engineering drawings — which includes getting an engineering firm on board, producing those plans and design,  and trying to go through the permit process to determine an optimal location — all of which made the city take a step back to reassess the necessity of this step in the application process.

To make an informed initial decision, it was determined that the city of Raleigh only really needed an [X, Y] coordinate of where wireless providers were looking to install small cell infrastructure.

“We along with our citizens know the city better than anybody and we were quickly able to adapt and let those wireless providers know… hey this is not a great location and here’s why,” said Raleigh’s Paul Kallam, assistant director of transportation.

Wireless providers appreciated hearing back about site feasibility within a couple of days of submittal. While there is occasional pushback from wireless providers, the relationship between the city of Raleigh and telecom wireless providers is one built on partnerships and compromise.

The values and interests of the community are also very important to the city of Raleigh. The city has taken several steps to hear the wishes of residents, most directly through its Citizen Advisory Councils (CACs). There are 20 of them in the city of Raleigh and several in each council member’s district. City employees who manage small cell deployments regularly meet with the CACs, which are comprised of community members. They listen to their questions and their feedback and work toward having open, honest and educational discussions with them.

This is an opportunity for city leaders and officials to hear the residents of Raleigh, answer their questions and assure them that the city will remain authentic during this time of growth and changing technology.

One administrative challenge came about in the form of a piece of legislation passed by the North Carolina State Legislature that preempts the city’s ability to manage small cell applications. House Bill 310 took affect back in July 27 of 2017 and allows for the rapid deployment of collocated small cell infrastructure. This bill restricts local governments in the state of North Carolina from sending applications for collocated infrastructure — or infrastructure that wireless providers want to place on existing poles — to city council for review.

Wireless providers that wish to collocate small cell infrastructure are allowed to seek an administrative approval and place their equipment and infrastructure on those existing poles. This is intended to streamline the review process for small cell installations that do not require a new structure or pole to be constructed. Furthermore, it streamlines the administrative approval process for wireless providers and removes some of the governance roles from the city.

Ultimately, the city aims to find a way forward that works for everyone. “Finding the right balance with small cells and communities is very important,” said Kallam. “While we want to be a cutting edge, leading city, we want to consider the way this impacts our communities and how this new technology looks and feels to everyone.”

How Raleigh Does It:

  • Establish positive, communicative relationships with telecom wireless providers. Raleigh has worked to create and maintain a good partnership with the industry. This includes having frequent conversations with wireless providers about their sites and deployment interests, and working to ensure that the city is striking a balance between the needs of the city, the needs and concerns of residents, and the aspirations of the industry.
  • Conduct a preliminary review of desired sites where wireless providers would potentially like to locate.The city of Raleigh starts by having an open and honest conversation with wireless providers about what’s possible and what’s not. Rather than beginning the application process with full engineering plans, they assess the basic locations of each proposed site and discuss the pros and cons with the wireless provider. Some locations for proposed sites can be written off immediately, and this saves engineering time and money. Wireless providers can then pick from the remaining potential sites and submit a formal application. Each site application is reviewed by staff, vetted by other departments and then prepared for city council approval.
  • Create an ordinance for the deployment process that captures the differences between certain areas of the city as well as the residents’ concerns about site locations.While the city of Raleigh’s main concern is a crowded right-of-way, city residents are mostly concerned with how new infrastructure blends into the city aesthetically. The city of Raleigh has made it a priority to engage with the communities to discover and address what their main concerns might be. The city administration also coordinated with city council members to learn about the interests of individual council districts.


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