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Cities around the country are either working toward updating or have already updated their wireless ordinances to include small cell technology. These updated ordinances ensure compliance with various state and federal regulations.
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Wireless Communications Facilities (WCF) are facilities that transmit and/or receive electromagnetic signals usually consisting of an antenna array, connection cables, and tower structure or other structure used to achieve the necessary elevation. There are two types of such WCF, macrocell and small cell. Macrocells are considered large towers that can contain up to 12 antennae and cover larger areas; whereas, small cells are more discreet and cover only a few hundred feet (please refer to image).
Small cells are a relatively newer phenomena and are typically 3-4 feet tall, mounted on existing infrastructure, such as street lights and utility poles in the City's public right-of-way. Small cells also include supporting equipment cabinets, such as battery backups, which can also attach to the pole.
The utility poles in the City are owned by various entities including, but not limited to, PG&E, AT&T, and Comcast. The City of Dublin only owns street light poles and traffic signal poles; however, some street light poles are owned by homeowners’ associations or a private property owners when located on private property.
Applicants who would like to install small cells on City-owned poles are required to go through the Master License Agreement process; however, it must do so within the established federal and state laws.
These federal and state laws prohibit cities from:
a) denying a carrier the ability to provide service;
b) denying applications based on health concerns associated with radio waves from antennae;
c) stalling or failing to decide on a wireless application.
Small cells are operated by various wireless carriers such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless. Small cells can be placed in high demand areas including, but not limited to, public squares and spaces, downtown pedestrian areas, office buildings, campuses, residential neighborhoods, and in areas where coverage may be limited in order to provide additional coverage and capacity to the customers of these wireless carriers.
The City, recognizing that its existing Wireless Ordinance did not adequately address small cells, updated the ordinance in 2017 to clarify the regulation of Wireless Facilities in the City’s public right-of-way. The City will continue to review the Wireless Ordinance as new state and federal laws are implemented and make changes as necessary.
According to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, cities are prohibited from denying a permit to construct Wireless Facilities based on health concerns arising from the Radio Frequency (RF) emissions, provided that the emissions from the facility complies with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) standards.
To ensure compliance with the FCC standards, the City of Dublin requires all applicants to submit an RF Emissions report. The document includes the actual RF emission levels as they exist currently and the cumulative levels for the proposed small cell including all other small cells in the vicinity. Subsequently, each time there are modifications to existing small cells, the City requires the submission of an RF report to ensure conformance to the FCC standards.
Due to the Federal Communications Commission regulations, cities cannot deny applicants the ability to provide service through prohibitions or have the effect of prohibiting (for example, banning new small cells or establishing a maximum cap). These federal and state laws preempt the cities from limiting the number of small cells being deployed.
The updated ordinance:
protects the visual character of the City and “ensures against the creation of visual blight”;
establishes a process of obtaining necessary permits for small cells; and
3. provides development standards and regulations, and design review criteria for small cells.