5G Deployment Advances, Takes Shape in the Field

By Jeff Schervone

5G wireless broadband deployment continues to advance into local communities across the United States.

Deemed a national priority, 5G expected to usher in newfound innovation and economic development on an unprecedented scale. The infrastructure deployment itself is taking shape resulting in a boon to providers and a bane to local governments.

The Federal Communications Commission adopted its 5G Fast Plan to speed the deployment of 5G infrastructure. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said that “currently, the US has 200,000 cell sites, ranging from 200-foot towers to backpack-sized cells mounted on utility poles. But for 5G, the US will need about 100 times that many cells. We need to see hundreds of thousands of new small cells being added in communities around the country. And we’re starting to see that.” According to the FCC, parts of 96 local communities are expected to have 5G by the end of this year.

The backbone of 5G wireless infrastructure (and enhancement to 4G/LTE) requires a dense network of small wireless facilities, or “nodes” for coverage attached to utility poles in local public rights-of-way (ROWs). Dense means that nodes are mounted relatively close together, anywhere from 200 feet to 1,500 feet apart. Coverage requires nodes to be in nearly all streets with poles including in residential, commercial, industrial, public areas. Rapid deployment means wireless telecommunication companies Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile/Sprint are filing an increasing number of ROW permit applications in local municipalities to attach 5G small wireless facilities (radios and antennas) onto local utility poles. “Hundreds of thousands of” them.

To speed 5G deployment, in September 2018, the FCC issued its Declaratory Ruling and Third Report & Order, Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment (FCC Rules). The FCC Rules went into effect on January 14, 2019 and for local municipalities, set key uniform standards for shot clocks, safe harbor caps on local fees and charges. The FCC Rules also set standards for wireless provider activities in connection with the buildout. On April 14, 2019, the FCC Rules related to local aesthetic requirements went into effect.

Already facing dozens of 5G siting application from Verizon and AT&T, a number of smaller municipalities in California recently adopted urgency ordinances to set requirements for compliance with the FCC Rules and aesthetic standards. Other local authorities around the country are adopting ordinances to generally comply with the FCC Rules for shot clocks, revenue, but all vary widely by locality to otherwise fill in the gaps necessary to actually process 5G siting applications. Municipalities recently adopting 5G small wireless facility ordinances include:

  • Ventura, CA
  • Lakeport, CA
  • Orinda, CA
  • Torrance, CA
  • Orange Beach, CA
  • Coronado, CA
  • Providence, RI
  • Syracuse, NY
  • Jackson Hole, WY
  • Lavallette, NJ
  • Bismarck, ND
  • Mandan, ND
  • Steilacoom, WA
  • Taneytown, MD
  • Baton Rouge, LA
  • Whitefish, MT

In addition, 25 states have now enacted laws to provide uniform regulation of local authority over 5G small wireless facilities deployment, the latest as of May 17, 2019 being Nebraska. About 20 states have similar bills pending. In New Jersey, the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act is now pending in the Senate Economic Growth Committee. Pennsylvania has a bill now pending in the Assembly Committee on Consumer Affairs.

Also recently, the FCC nodded approval for the T-Mobile/Sprint merger with one condition being an express commitment to buildout broadband wireless to underserved rural areas.

Given the priority, pace and resources involved in this 5G deployment, it is only a matter of time before deployment makes its way into every local community. As one Commissioner in Palo Alto, CA said: “It seems like there’s a lot of moving parts to this and a lot that we don’t know.” Even with a lot of moving parts, 5G deployment continues to take shape on the ground.

May 29, 2019. Updated to include additional municipalities that adopted Ordinances since the FCC Rules as to aesthetics entered into effect.

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