Tempe Brings Transparency to Small Cell Installation

October 24, 2018 - (7 min read)

This is the fourth 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 Tempe knows that small cell infrastructure will be integral to meeting the technological demands of the future. For city staff, determining the process for small cell infrastructure deployment and being transparent about it with wireless providers was very important.

For Tempe, it all began in 2014 when the city was approached by Verizon, who wanted to install a small cell on one of the city’s street lights. Verizon had a few sites in mind and initially this prompted questions about what the process for permitting would be, what would be needed to modify or replace the street light, what the small cell would look like, what type of agreement with the city would be needed, and what the fees would be for use of the right-of-way and use of the street light pole.

Once the city established a master license agreement with Verizon, that original agreement was used as a template to develop subsequent agreements with small cell infrastructure providers who also wanted to deploy small cells and DAS (distributed antenna systems).

In 2017, however, preemptive legislation was passed by the Arizona state legislature that hindered the city’s ability to completely control small cell deployment. House Bill 2365 imposed fee caps as well as shot clocks on the application process. It also forced cities to reduce their fees to a rate that was significantly lower than what the industry had been paying under its existing agreements (market rates).

The rationalization for such legislation was that it was needed to promote the speed of deployment in Arizona by limiting a city’s capacity to interfere via local legislation and that it would incentivize 5G by reducing the industry’s costs of deploymentDuring the negotiation period preceding the passage of the bill, the city fought hard to maintain its ability to manage the right-of-way, mostly in order to retain control over the aesthetic elements of deployment to help minimize any visual blight caused by the size of the small cell allowed (the equivalent of 27 pizza boxes).

The negotiations took place between January and March, with the legislation becoming effective on August 9, 2017. By February 9, 2018, or three months after receiving a request to deploy a small cell, Arizona cities were required to establish and make available rates, fees and terms for 1) the construction, installation, mounting, maintenance, modification, operation or replacement of a utility pole or monopole in the right-of-way; 2) the collocation of a small wireless facility in the right-of-way; and 3) the collocation of a wireless facility on or within a monopole in the right-of-way.

The legislation allowed a wireless provider to request different or additional terms that the parties were required to negotiate in good faith.

Tempe viewed the six month implementation period as an opportunity to foster collaboration between the public and private sectors. Before finalizing the standard terms and conditions, site license provisions, application process and design criteria, the city sent draft copies of all of the proposed documents out to the major carriers and infrastructure providers to seek feedback and suggestions. Collaboration with the industry was important in avoiding conflict when documents advanced to the city council for deliberation and approval.

The city also carefully considered the desires and values of the public. For residents, aesthetics and the way the new small cell infrastructure blended into the community was very important. Tempe was able to coordinate with other local cities and wireless providers to create design guidelines, ensuring that new infrastructure would blend in with the surrounding environment. The city also worked to ensure that the guidelines were not too much of a hindrance to deployment. Tempe found that balancing the concerns of industry with the city’s ability to manage its poles and right-of-way is critical, and that local government can function as the connection between the community and industry, ensuring that both parties’ interests are represented and accounted for.

Despite the challenges of competing interests, Tempe still finds enormous value in working with industry to deploy small cell infrastructure.

“Small cell infrastructure can be very important in fulfilling a need, depending upon your community’s situation,” said Jenae Naumann, assistant city attorney for the city of Tempe. “Maybe you have a lot of special events in a certain area or you have, perhaps, a university where there is a lot of broadband use. There might be certain areas of town where there are a lot of people that consistently congregate and if so, you’re going to have a need for the coverage that the small cells can provide. This additional capacity not only keeps the communications network from becoming overwhelmed, but also prepares your city for a future in which connectivity is demanded and device use is continually on the rise.”

Jenae added that it is never too soon to begin planning for your city’s future connectivity needs. “Cities and towns should always have communications technology in mind when designing their communities and when either installing new or replacing old infrastructure. This may mean installing conduit whenever streets are opened (‘dig once’) or choosing a street light or traffic signal design that will accommodate future small cell collocations without requiring a future pole replacement.” This proactive approach will help cities transition more smoothly as technology evolves.

How Tempe Does It

  1. Designate a point person and establish an internal streamlined process. Clearly identifying which city staff member will be the contact for the industry and who will be responsible for processing the applications is important.Determining specifically what information and documents are needed from the wireless provider, and creating a checklist for them is helpful in getting what is needed in a consistent and timely fashion (especially important when there are shot clocks imposed on the process). Determining who within the city administration needs to be engaged, and when in the process they need to be involved, is crucial to being able to adhere to legal deadlines.
  2. Be transparent about your application process and publish everything relevant online. Putting everything that a wireless provider would need to know about a prospective small cell deployment on the city’s website is a best practice. This includes the application form and information on how the permits will be processed, the agreements that will be needed (standard terms and conditions and site licenses), standard specifications for street lights and traffic signals, design guidelines and anything else relevant to the installation of aboveground equipment cabinets and underground conduit and fiber that may be part of the small cell deployment.
  3. Develop design criteria and stealth and concealment guidelines. Work with the wireless industry to ensure that small cell infrastructure is designed to blend into the surrounding streetscape with minimal, if any, visual impact. Be able to identify for the wireless providers what designs and concealment will be needed depending on the different types of streetlights and traffic signals.


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