Enterprises anxious to explore the promises of 5G could be in for a longer than anticipated wait for the deployment of the high-speed services.
In what’s shaping up as a battle between tech and tact, some municipalities are objecting to the deployment of 5G equipment on aesthetics and safety grounds, claiming it’s unattractive and doesn’t meet local standards. Further, an FCC order designed to help carriers streamline the deployment of 5G gear in localities has been challenged in a U.S court of appeals by dozens of municipalities.
Earlier this month, Verizon took the city of Rochester, NY, to court over charges associated with deploying 5G equipment, claiming that city’s fees were above those allowed by federal law. The Rochester City Council reportedly passed laws limiting the number of cell towers and fiber nodes that carriers could install.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated some aspects of the FCC order, calling the “deregulation of small cells…arbitrary and capricious.” A group of tribal nations petitioners were against the FCC order, because it had removed review processes outlined by the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The FCC was sent back to the drawing board. See one municipality’s case below.
At stake is the pace and extent to which network operators can deploy the infrastructure needed for the next-gen wireless services. With the FCC chairman on board, the president has repeatedly referred to 5G deployment as a race the U.S. must win, tying success to the creation of millions of new jobs and a projected large, sustained growth in GDP. 5G is seen – by some – as the foundation for the future of the economy.
Now consider this, the small state of Massachusetts is made up of 351 cities and towns. Without a high element of uniformity in permitting rules and fees, at least for the desired localities, network operators could face a patchwork of rules that would slow deployment and coverage needed for 5G to deliver on promises fully.
Small cell forecast
The number of deployed small cells is expected to increase by a factor of nearly 10 in from 2018 to 2026, according to The State of Wireless – 2018, a report from the CTIA, a wireless communications industry trade association. This expected increase, the CTIA directed, “underscores the importance of every level of government modernizing its wireless infrastructure rules.”
Also, on the 5G small cell front is the issue of safety, with some communities concerned about the higher level of radiation emitted from the antennas. Since the gear is often located closer to people in deployments than prior cellular technology generations, the level of worry is elevated.
The 5G race
Network operators should benefit from the removal of regulatory barriers that could slow rollouts, thanks to the FCC order last year. The agency has encouraged cities to approve permits quickly and limit fees they charge carriers but claims some damage has already been done.
In one FCC statement, the agency said: “regulatory obstacles have threatened the widespread deployment of these new services and, in turn, U.S. leadership in 5G.”
However, the FCC has gone on record saying that if reasonable design guidelines are in place before wireless operators come to town with building plans, the carrier must comply with them. That includes having builders place some 5G-enabling equipment below ground.
The FCC order sets out the following guidelines for processing 5G applications; 60 days for device collocation on pre-existing structure and 90 days for new construction. The deadline begins upon application submission. If it's missed, the application is approved immediately.
Dozens of cities and counties have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the FCC rule. The suit is currently in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Another court has already ruled that San Francisco can limit 5G infrastructure over aesthetics.
One city’s take
Whitefish, Montana may not be atop wireless operators’ 5G’s rollout list, the city is among the first wave of potential locations to set guidelines and fees required for permits needed to deploy small cell equipment within town limits before any operators arrive.
The city’s regulations set up a small-cell permit that is required for any small wireless facility proposed in the public right-of-way or on private property. Those applying for a permit must give notice to adjacent property owners.
The city wants infrastructure to be installed on existing streetlights or replacements for concealment opportunities. Aesthetic requirements cover overall height limitations, camouflaging and concealment, equipment volume, and landscaping.
Finally, per the city’s regulations, it says it prefers installation in industrial and commercial areas over installation in residential locations.
A four-letter word
Fees could become a four-letter word for operators looking to deploy 5G in municipalities. This is not a new issue as carriers have had to deal with franchise fees in the rollout of TV services and costs for erecting cell towers in towns and other medium-populated areas. The difference is that 5G networks are comprised of an extremely high volume of devices, and throughout towns and cities.
As per the regulations approved by Whitefish, the application fee for collocation of up to five small wireless facilities on an existing structure is $500. The city’s fee for collocation of each facility beyond the five is $100. A new or replacement structure to support a small wireless facility carried an application fee of $1,000. Further, the city established an annual fee for attachment of each facility to city infrastructure of $270.
Once again in telecom history, non-tech issues threaten to slow and limit the deployment of an awaited network service. The courts are involved, but decisions will by no means stop 5G rollouts. Any rulings might serve to slow deployments, increase costs for carriers, and have enterprises changing the point on the timeline where 5G – and what it enables - becomes real.