FCC Small Cell Overview: Resources and Guide

Posted by Mary Ashley Canevaro on August 27, 2019


fcc small cell

By now, many consumers of wireless services are aware that 5G is on its way. In a few U.S. cities, the newest generation of wireless broadband either has arrived or will arrive shortly, with a nationwide rollout to follow. 5G offers the prospect of improved internet speeds, much faster video downloads, and access to new services in home automation, automotive safety, telemedicine, and smart city functions.

The 5G rollout will require a much denser cellular network of wireless service. This network will be driven by the widespread deployment of small cell infrastructure.


What is Small Cell?

Compared with the large cell towers that have dominated wireless deployment so far, small cell equipment serves a more limited area. It requires the mass deployment of much smaller antenna units, often attached to utility or light poles. Many of the units will be about the size of a backpack. The largest, as defined by the FCC order, will occupy no more than 28 cubic feet.

Read the Guide to Small Cell Technology for Joint Use Professionals


The FCC Steps In

In 2018, the FCC issued its Third Report and Order on small cell deployment, establishing rules for local governments, telecoms, and other parties to follow as the rollout proceeds. The purpose, stated in the FCC report, is to remove obstacles that have been slowing deployment.

The order sets timelines for local governments to rule on small cell applications, and it limits the fees they can charge and the restrictions they can place on deployment. Despite objections from some municipal governments, the FCC stated that the order was necessary because many governments had charged exorbitant fees or taken months to rule on small cell applications.

Most of the rules took effect in January 2019. Other rules took effect in April 2019.


Three Big Changes

The FCC’s new requirements fall into three categories:

1. Timelines

The order sets “shot clocks” for small cell applications. Once a wireless company files an application for small cell installation, the local government must rule on it within 60 days for attachments to existing poles, and 90 days for installation of a new pole. The city may pause the clock if the application is incomplete. They must determine incompletion within ten days of receiving the application. If a city fails to comply with the timelines, the company may seek an expedited court decision granting permission to proceed.

2. Fees

The order states that a local government may charge wireless companies no more than a reasonable approximation of its actual costs related to deployment. This applies to fees for application review, right-of-way access, and any permits required before small cell equipment is installed. While the FCC declined to set a dollar limit on the amounts of those fees, it suggested amounts that it considered reasonable and unlikely to be exceeded often: one-time fees of $100 per small cell attachment and $1,000 per new pole, and an annual fee of $270 per unit.

3. Restrictions

Many cities have rules in place to protect public safety (for example, prohibiting an installation that would create a traffic hazard) and quality of life (such as restrictions on the appearance of equipment placed in a residential neighborhood). The FCC order affirms the right of a local government to impose such restrictions, but they may not be so strict as to prevent effective small cell deployment. Also, they may not discriminate among providers offering similar services. The restrictions also must be clear and available in advance.

Most of the new responsibilities spelled out in the order apply to municipalities, although telecoms also must meet specific requirements.


Resources for Small Cell Compliance

Getting compliant with the FCC’s Third Report and Order may be overwhelming. Joint use departments are re-evaluating their processes and preparing their staff for what’s to come with the small cell explosion. Below are links to our latest blog series on small cell. You’ll find detailed information on shot clocks, timelines, fees, restrictions, and more.

The FCC Small Cell Order: Everything You Need to Know (Part 1)


The FCC Small Cell Order: Everything You Need to Know (Part 2)


Playing by the FCC Small Cell Rules: Timelines


Playing by the FCC Small Cell Rules: Fees and Restrictions


What the FCC’s Small Cell Ruling Means for Municipalities


What the FCC’s Small Cell Ruling Means for Telecoms and Broadband


Preparing Your Staff for FCC Small Cell Regulations



Get on the Joint Use Platform – Alden One®

The deployment of small cell infrastructure is speeding up, and the pace will only grow faster. The FCC’s Third Report and Order on small cell is intended to accelerate the process.

This presents a challenge to all involved in deployment: municipalities, asset owners, telecoms, broadband providers, and third-party contractors. Going into the process with old-fashioned spreadsheets and incompatible systems is a recipe for chaos.

However, keeping up with the timelines, fees, and other aspects of small cell deployment is simple in a joint use platform. Designed to streamline the process and manage all data through automated workflows, Alden One® ensures FCC compliance. Alden One® is the national leader in joint use technology and is equally suited for attaching companies and pole owners. It can help everyone involved meet the challenges of small cell deployment while communicating effectively and thoroughly.

The goal of Alden One® is to streamline all joint use processes by making them quick, reliable, and predictable. At Alden, we believe in working together to ensure a successful deployment. Our team is standing by with options to streamline your joint use and small cell processes.


Click the link below to learn more.

Small cell attachments