by Jeff Schervone
Municipalities across the United States are suing the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to stay, or at least slow down, the rollout of 5G small cell deployment onto utility poles in local communities. In September 2018, the FCC issued its Declaratory Ruling and Third Report & Order, Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (the “September Order”).
5G is touted as a revolutionary next generation wireless network with “transformational capabilities.” 5G wireless will purportedly empower cutting edge and future technologies, such as ultra high-speed internet, self-driving (or flying?) vehicles, virtual reality (VR), the Internet of Things (IoT) and applications “we haven’t even conceived of yet.” Utility poles are poised to be the backbone of the new 5G broadband network infrastructure.
For several years now, wireless technology has advanced towards 5G. Wireless companies have lobbied, built relationships, laid infrastructure and geared up for rapid 5G wireless deployment across the country and into local communities. This past summer, the FCC auctioned 5G operation spectrum. In localities, the small cell deployment involves attaching small wireless facilities to existing or new utility poles. The high frequency technology is limited by range, requiring “densification,” meaning attachments mounted relatively close together, anywhere from 200 feet to 2,500 feet apart onto utility poles. The ‘wireless facilities’ include power sources, transmitters, antennas, connectors and other gear.
Municipalities and local governments are already facing waves of applications for Right-of-Way (“ROW”) access onto utility poles, as giants Verizon, AT&T, others and their business partners race to install and commercially covet the new 5G infrastructure. In one case, Palo Alto’s Architectural Review Board pushed back against recent applications by Verizon for clusters of 5G small cells, with both residents and board members raising concerns about esthetics, safety and compliance with ordinances. Below is a picture of a location with a before picture and a proposed after image.