COMING SOON?: Troy sets guidelines for 5G ‘small cells’

Published 10:53 pm Friday, April 12, 2019

As cellular providers look to roll out the fifth generation (5G) of wireless networking, the City of Troy has prepared precautions to keep the new “small cell” devices from becoming obtrusive eyesores in the city.

“This ordinance was presented in order to comply with the FCC’s order ‘Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment,’” said Melissa Sanders, planning administrator for the City of Troy. “This order says that local governments cannot prohibit deployment, sets fee restrictions, provides guidance and limitations on aesthetic requirements, establishes ‘shot clocks’ for small cell facilities application review and approval processes, and defines small wireless facilities.”

The order is currently being fought both in federal court and in Congress, but Sanders said cities still have to comply with the ruling for now.

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With the FCC setting April 15 as a deadline for cities to adopt limited regulations on the deployment of the devices, Sanders and the city’s legal team began working to craft rules that would protect the city from potentially unsightly hardware.

Unlike the cell towers of today and yesterday, these small cells would have a shorter range and much faster response times. Although the devices are relatively small compared to their towering predecessors, they must be placed every 500 to 1,000 feet. If those devices are not well hidden or minimized, that could become a major eye sore in Troy.

“It’s still unknown exactly how many would be needed to provide service, but the estimate right now is about 60 per square mile,” Sanders told the council Tuesday. “So since Troy is approximately 27 square miles and we have two cellular carriers here, that would be up to 3,200 small cells in Troy.”

In a document that will be provided to companies that are seeking to install the devices in Troy, the city shows photo examples of what is expected of the installations – and what isn’t.

One photo shows a building with multiple of the devices along the rooftop with no aesthetic furnishes to minimize the appearance. “We can’t have the library looking like that,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Baker, district 4, as Sanders showed the council the example.

The photo is part of a greater collage of buildings and poles with unseemly installations of the devices in varying degrees.

The ordinance sets guidelines to have the devices located on existing poles or stealthily located on buildings or other support structures.

Sanders said the city does not want to halt the technological advances that 5G would bring to residents of the city, but does want to ensure that the city’s concerns about aesthetics and safety are met.

“The City recognizes the need to encourage wireless infrastructure investment,” Sanders said. “This ordinance provides reasonable regulations for the placement, expansion, height, and maintenance of small cell facilities in order to protect the public welfare, health, safety and interests of Troy’s citizens in its implementation.”

The small cells would provide a faster connection, which Utilities Manager Brian 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 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.