Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Small wireless facility model ordinance ready to go

By Eric Budds, Deputy Executive Director
Anyone who uses a cell phone or other wireless device knows the increasing importance of speed and access regardless of where you are located. The telecommunications industry is rapidly building out next-generation wireless networks and its associated infrastructure to meet this growing need. 

Read more about this issue in the March Uptown.

The challenge the telecoms face, however, is the need to enhance their infrastructure with a denser network of antennas, deployed at heights closer to street level, to supplement and communicate with traditional cell towers. These antennas and support equipment — called small cells or small wireless facilities (SWF) — are attached to a pole or support structure such as a building. The control equipment mounts on either the pole or structure, or on or under the ground near the pole or structure.

Cities and towns are increasingly feeling the impact of these telecom challenges because many companies need to place these SWFs in publicly visible — and in most cases publicly regulated — spaces.

Depending on the number of mobile device users and volume of data processed, the average spacing of SWFs in urban areas ranges from a city block to a few thousand feet compared to cell towers built many miles apart. To understand the potential impact, the City of Columbia’s experience is revealing. In less than two years, the city permitted 64 SWFs and continues to process permit requests.

Over the past year, the Municipal Association has been working closely with a variety of state telecommunications companies to hammer out a model ordinance that balances municipal and telecommunications interests by streamlining the review and permitting process.

At the same time, our goal was to preserve municipal authority to control rights of way and the design and aesthetics of SWF facilities to the extent permissible in state and federal law. The model is now online for cities to access and use.

Under this model ordinance, small wireless facilities are classified as a permissible use, subject to administrative review, in municipal rights of way and abutting utility easements unless the proposed SWF location is within a historical, design or underground utility district. In these supplemental review districts, SWFs are a conditional use that affords the municipality additional review authority and protection for the character of the districts. Fees for use of the rights-of-way and business license reflect the limitations imposed by the SC Telecommunications Act of 1999.

Get more details about this issue in the
March Uptown. Download the model ordinance.

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