As technology has advanced so too has the infrastructure needed to support the deployment of the new technology. Recent state and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations have changed how municipalities will be able to regulate the placement of small cell wireless facilities.
“5G technology will become the standard for telecommunications and wireless communication,” noted Senior Planning and Development Services Director Ken Baker at the February 5 City Council meeting. “The traditional large cell towers have a lot of limitations in how they can deliver the new technology and in order to use the full ability of 5G the data speed, the 5G technology will be delivered through what is called small cell wireless facilities.”
These small cell wireless facilities will help deliver data at speeds roughly 20 times faster than possible with current 4G technology. Feature-length HD movies will be downloaded in seconds. In order for the 5G technology to perform at its optimal level, more of the small cell wireless facilities will have to be placed.
How will the small cell wireless facilities be regulated?
The 85th Texas Legislature adopted a new state law, obligating Texas municipalities to permit the use of municipal right of way and municipal poles (including traffic signal poles, non-decorative light poles, and sign poles) for placement of wireless network equipment and the installation of new poles for use by wireless network providers. The new state law restricts municipal authority to prohibit facilities in the right of way. Further, the new law places strict time limits on considering permits and fees charged for permits.
The new state law does allow some municipal discretion over design by requiring network facilities to conform to municipal design standards in designated design and historic districts. In Southlake, Town Square and the Carillon Commercial District have been designated as design districts. The state law also allows the City some regulation if a network provider places a stand-alone pole in a City park right of way or in the right of way adjacent to a residential area.
The City of Southlake adopted a public right of way management ordinance in order to comply with the new state law. The ordinance modifies the right of way management codes to accommodate the new types of activities and facilities related to wireless networks. In short, services providers will need a specific use permit to place a small cell facility on private property; providers will need Council approval for placement in public right of way like design district, parks or residential; and providers can place small cell towers in public right of way with permit approval from Southlake Public Works.
In late 2018, the Federal Communications Commission approved sweeping regulations for 5G infrastructure curtailing both State and local authority to regulate 5G facilities. The intent of the FCC ruling was to meet rapidly increasing demand for wireless services and prepare our national infrastructure for 5G. The FCC states that providers must deploy infrastructure at significantly more locations and expanded the ability of service providers to place facilities not only in the right-of-way but also on public buildings. In Southlake, this could mean buildings like Town Hall and DPS facilities.
“We’ll work with providers to try to minimize the impact,” said Baker. “As staff, we know the areas that may be more suitable, and more palatable to our community. We’ll also look at some of the design standards and try to use standards that will be more aesthetically pleasing and result in little to no impact on the community.”
View the small cell wireless facilities presentation from the February 5 Council Meeting here
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