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News & Press: General News

SB 649 Addresses Permitting for Small Cell Wireless Facilities

Thursday, July 6, 2017  
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On May 31, the California State Senate approved SB 649, a bill that would establish a statewide framework for the permitting process of small cell wireless facilities. This June, local governments are preparing for the bill’s potential enactment as it is considered by the California State Assembly.  


SB 649 (Hueso) seeks to establish a non-discretionary permitting process for small cells and limit local government fees for small cell placement on city or county vertical infrastructure, such as streetlight and traffic signal poles. The bill defines a small cell as a wireless telecommunications facility using licensed or unlicensed spectrum by which antennas on the structure total no more than six cubic feet in volume and the associated equipment on vertical infrastructure does not exceed 21 cubic feet.


Entities that oppose SB 649 are concerned about the decision-making limitations the bill may impose on local jurisdictions.


“This proposal unnecessarily and unconstitutionally strips local authority over public property and shuts out public input and local discretion by eliminating consideration of the aesthetic and environmental impacts of ‘small cells’,” states the League of California Cities on its website.  


In preparation for SB 649’s possible implementation, some local governments in California have recognized an advantage in engaging a third-party firm to facilitate small cell deployment as wireless carriers seek to densify existing networks. 


The City of Fresno, for example, recently entered a multi-year agreement with 5 Bars Communities, a provider of wireless solutions for cities, communities and facilities. 5 Bars Communities will be a liaison between the City of Fresno and wireless carriers, and will help manage and streamline the city’s small cell application and installation process.


“The City of Fresno’s agreement with 5 Bars allows us to secure some local control in the permitting process before SB 649 goes into effect. SB 649 has a clause stating that if cities already have a contract in place, those contracts must be honored,” says MISAC President Bryon Horn, Chief Information Officer for the City of Fresno. “The 5 Bars approach allows us to have one agreement rather than separate agreements with four different carriers.”


As of June 20, section 65964.2 of the bill text states, “Existing agreements between a wireless service provider, or its agents and assigns, and a city, a county, or a city or county’s agents and assigns, regarding the leasing or licensing of vertical infrastructure entered into before the operative date of this section remain in effect, subject to applicable termination or other provisions in the existing agreement, or unless otherwise modified by mutual agreement of the parties.”


The City of Sacramento has an agreement with 5 Bars Communities as well, and recently approved its first small cell test sites with two major wireless carriers. 5 Bars Communities, on behalf of the City of Sacramento, is working with four major carriers to deploy small cells with minimal visual blight. The ability to minimize visual blight with SB 649’s statewide permitting process is a key concern for local governments.  


“Small cell deployment is both a new problem and a new opportunity for cities. 5 Bars Communities offers solutions that bridge the gap between carriers and cities to serve residents in the best possible way,” says Monnie McGaffigan, President of 5 Bars.


In the Bay Area, some cities are collaborating and approaching SB 649’s potential enactment as a region. The cities of Alameda, Campbell, Cupertino, Fremont, Gilroy, Hayward, San Leandro, Mountain View and Sunnyvale meet regularly and share information frequently to stay updated with each city’s experience as they prepare for SB 649. 


“As wireless carriers approach the City of Alameda, they are also approaching our neighboring cities. By understanding the conversations happening between cities and carriers, we are better able to develop fair agreements throughout our region prior to SB 649,” said Carolyn Hogg, Information Technology Director for the City of Alameda.


As data consumption and demand increases, carriers are approaching local governments assertively to secure assets that will help them develop 5G networks competitively and organizations in support of the bill contend that in many California localities, the framework for wireless infrastructure permits is outdated, inhibits current wireless demand and interferes with the development of 5G innovations. CTIA, the sponsor of SB 649, promotes small cell deployment in California as a necessity to make next-generation 5G wireless networks a reality.


SB 649 is advancing through legislature with great momentum and local governments are encouraged to address the bill quickly to secure some local control before the bill passes. As of MISAC’s publication date, SB 649 is currently pending in the Assembly Committee on Local Government. MISAC will continue to monitor the bill and provide an update in the fall issue of the newsletter.

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