Many cities have worked with telecommunications companies that want to place equipment on water tank towers and cell towers on public rights of way. As these telecommunications companies increasingly compete for better wireless coverage, they have begun to rely more on specialty companies that are now starting to approach cities about placing “small cells” in the public rights of way.
So, what are “small cells”? Small cells add additional wireless bandwidth to existing cell tower networks, usually to add extra “cell phone juice” for heavily trafficked places and locations that existing cell towers have trouble reaching. For example, small cells add enough bandwidth to keep a strong signal going in locations such as heavy populated events (like a sporting event), parking garages or large buildings.
While small cells are actually smaller, involving less equipment and antennas than a traditional cell tower, they still pose potential problems and conflicts with a city’s public right of way.
Recently, a small cell antenna company contacted cities throughout Georgia about installing small cell utility poles in municipal rights of way and/or placing equipment on existing poles.
So, how should cities respond when companies approach them about small cell installations? Here are some questions cities might be asked—and how they may respond.
Does a city require any type of franchise agreement?
No. Federal law prohibits franchising for wireless providers.
Are new utility pole installations and replacement poles allowed? And is there a height restriction for new pole installations?
The answer depends on a city’s right of way ordinance and permits.
A right of way ordinance should clearly define the rules concerning installations, poles, height restrictions and any disruptions and interference as a result of obstructions. The ordinance needs to explain any legal requirements about how and where antennas can be placed, how workers need to go about installing the equipment, and how public infrastructure must continue to operate smoothly both during and after the installation.
An ordinance should also require that the city maintain a complete inventory of existing cable and telecommunications infrastructure, cell towers and small cell antennas. That way, cities can easily coordinate with other entities so that there are no conflicts or duplication with a telecommunication company’s use of rights of way.
What type of permit is required and what is the fee?
As part of a city’s right of way ordinance, a right of way or construction permit may be required for small cell companies to place their equipment. Permits should follow state law and procedures for fees, charges, insurance and repair requirements. Cities need to follow a vetting process before issuing permits to ensure public safety, wellbeing and quality of life.
And while cities can certainly prevent or restrict a company’s attempts to place equipment by enforcing an existing right of way ordinance, they cannot arbitrarily discriminate against a small cell antenna provider just because they don’t want its equipment in the city.
Who owns the existing poles in the right of way?
It will be one of three entities:
- Your city (unlikely unless you’re an Electric City)
- Georgia Power or an EMC
Remember, while small cell companies still need to follow your ordinances and receive a permit, you can only get compensated if these companies use city property such as a city building or city-owned pole.
How can GMA help?
GMA’s Cable and Telecommunications Management Service members receive specialized help and guidance from our municipal cable and telecommunications experts. We can help with reviewing your current rights of way ordinances and permits, provide customized model rights of way ordinances and handle important communications and negotiations with telecommunications companies.
If you would like more information please contact BeckyTaylor at 678-686-6276 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.