Ordinance would set rules for 5G ‘facilities’

Published 11:19 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Giant, looming cell towers are out and new “small cells” are in to bring 5G wireless connectivity to people around the globe.

City officials are preparing for what that could mean here in Troy.

The council got its first reading of an ordinance that would set certain regulations for the placement of “small cell facilities” within the city limits.

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Utilities Manager Brian Chandler explained why the city needs to be preparing now for this technology that appears to be coming right around the bend.

“There has always been an FCC regulation that states that the FCC does not regulate municipal governments,” Chandler said. “Language recently came out form the FCC that says municipalities and other utilities shall not impede progress for small cell high-speed internet installation … So the old regulation and the new regulation seem to have something of a conflict.”

The FCC released a preemption order that restricts municipalities from impeding the rollout of the small cells that took effect in January.

“The FCC has reformed rules designed decades ago to accommodate small cells,” the FCC website reads. “The reforms ban short-sighted municipal roadblocks that have the effect of prohibiting deployment of 5G and give states and localities a reasonable deadline to approve or disapprove small-cell siting applications.”

The small cells are much smaller than a cell tower, but they have limited reach and must be pleased every 500 to 1,000 feet. “There would be thousands of things all over the city antennas an boxes and power supplies,” Chandler said.

The small cells would provide a faster connection, which Chandler said could have a variety of implications for the future of technology.

“Essentially it’s super-fast internet, faster than the 4G LTE that’s typically on phones now,” Chandler said. “It’s aimed long-term for implementation of things like driverless cars. It provides a super-fast connection for real-time reaction to traffics and cars and so they do not run into other people.”

The technology has other implications such as the full realization of virtual reality as well as progress in artificial intelligence in other endeavors.

Chandler said the FCC ruling is being challenged in federal court by the National League of Cities and other parties, but for now, cities like Troy could have limited control when telecommunications companies come looking to install the devices.

“Right now it’s completely up to the provider,” Chandler said. “They can put them wherever and however they want and we basically have to accommodate them and do it in a certain amount of time.”

Chandler said the city does not want to impede the placement of the small cells at all, but officials do want to set regulations to make sure the devices are not intrusive or obstructive.

“We don’t want to be unreasonable, we just want to handle it the way we handle other facilities if you want to be on the right-of-way or utility poles,” Chandler said. “There’s a plan and process to go through instead of putting them in without regard to does it impede sidewalks or being able to see at intersections?”

The ordinance spells out some of the potential harms that could arise should companies be able to install the devices with limited local oversight.

“Whereas the installation, expansion, and maintenance of small cell technology related facilities and associated structures on or along the public right of way and on private property within the City of Troy, may include significant impact on … the aesthetic values and historic character of the City; … safe use and passage on or along the rights of way by the public; … properties and property values in the City in areas where such structures are placed; and … industrial or business related growth unless a fair and predictable process is enacted.”

The ordinance also mandates that the facilities be located on existing poles or support structures where feasible as opposed to installation of new structures.

Chandler said the ordinance is based on ordinances that other Alabama cities such as Hoover, Montgomery and Foley have already adopted.

The ordinance will be read again when the council meets on Tuesday, April 9 at City Hall. The deadline to establish the ordinance is April 15.