A Review of What the FCC’s Small Cell Ruling Means for Municipalities

Posted by Mary Ashley Canevaro on July 16, 2019

small cell ruling municipalities

The restrictions, requirements, and obligations in the FCC’s Third Order and Report on small cell wireless deployment represented a major change for many municipalities nationwide. The order limits the fees cities are allowed to charge wireless providers, the restrictions they can place on small cell deployment, and the amount of time they can take to rule on small cell applications. 

Prior to the September 2018 FCC order, many cities had already modified their rules to make way for small cell deployment. For those cities, the transition to the new rules may have been smooth. For others, however, making the change continues to prove challenging, even years later. 

Read the Guide to Small Cell Technology for Joint Use Professionals

In this blog, we take a deep dive into how the small cell order continues to affect municipalities.

New Requirements and Restrictions

The new rules on small cell wireless deployment fall into three main categories:

  • Timelines
    Cities must rule on applications for small cell attachments to existing light poles or other structures within 60 days after they are submitted. They have 90 days to approve applications for new poles bearing small cell equipment.

  • Fees
    The order requires that any fees a municipality charges to providers must be 1) based on actual costs, 2) the costs must be reasonable, and 3) all providers working with a city must be charged on the same basis, without discrimination.

  • Restrictions
    Municipal restrictions on small cell attachments, such as those intended to protect public safety and aesthetics, must be reasonable, non-discriminatory, objective, and available in advance.

Protections for Municipalities

Understandably, most of the attention has been focused on the Third Report and Order’s new requirements. However, the FCC did include qualifications intended to give municipalities some flexibility.

Although cities must be ready to demonstrate costs related to small cell deployment, the Commission declined to require a specific accounting method to figure those costs. The FCC provided examples of what it considered reasonable municipal fees for a small cell attachment, but it declined to cap fees at those amounts, acknowledging that circumstances and costs could vary from city to city.

The Commission also affirmed municipalities’ authority to set restrictions protecting public safety and quality of life, including aesthetics, although the restrictions must meet the standards described above.

Finally, the FCC made a late change allowing municipalities to restart the 60-day or 90-day time periods on application reviews if a provider submits an incomplete application.

Potential Benefits

The report states the FCC’s main reason for imposing its small cell rules on municipalities is to speed up deployment so that everyone – citizens, businesses, and local governments – can take advantage of high bandwidth, low latency and additional services offered by 5G.

These potential benefits include:

  • A half-trillion-dollar boost to GDP, with an extra $100 billion economic benefit possible if the new technology is deployed quickly enough, according to two studies.

  • Access to Smart City technology fueled by 5G. The Internet of Things (IoT) could make many city services and functions more efficient, including traffic flow management, energy use, street lighting, public safety dispatch, and public sanitation, as described by Forbes.

For smaller to mid-sized cities, a rapid, streamlined nationwide deployment means the technology will reach them sooner, the FCC report states. Reducing deployment costs prevents a large, “must-serve” city from imposing excessive charges that could quickly diminish a provider’s budget and leave less money to spend elsewhere.

Getting in Sync

Small cell deployment under the new rules will require municipal officials to work quickly, efficiently, and fairly. One of the major fears expressed about the order has been that cities will end up eating thousands of dollars in unrecovered costs. Internal business efficiencies are crucial to help keep costs down.

The nation’s leading joint use asset management platform, Alden One, is designed for utility professionals working on infrastructure deployments, including small cell attachments. Automating business processes in the platform ensures that deadlines are met, compliance is achieved, and all parties stay on top of the process, at each step of the way.

Municipalities and wireless providers must work in sync to deploy equipment efficiently, while preserving community standards. Professionals using Alden One will emerge from the process with strong infrastructure that can improve the quality of life in their communities for years to come.

Download our guide today to learn how to meet the challenges associated with small cell technology.  For questions about our products or services, book a meeting here.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in July 2019 and has been updated for accuracy.Small cell attachments