Iowa Joins 7 States Passing Small Cell Bills

May 15, 2017 —

By J. Sharpe Smith

Senior Editor, AGL’s eDigest

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, May 9, signed into law a measure to streamline and standardize rules that will accelerate the deployment of small cell technology, after it passed the Senate 50-0 and the House 93-0.

The law, which takes effect July 1, 2017, makes deployments in the right-of-way considered as a permitted use, as well as establishing fees and a shot clock for the approvals.

“With this bill, the wireless industry achieved a path toward regulatory certainty across Iowa,” said Michael McDermott, executive director, State Government Affairs at Verizon. “It establishes parameters for municipalities and wireless service providers when deploying small cells. It provides each with regulatory clarity so everyone knows their role.”

Most important, the law helps carriers avoid the need for expensive and time consuming zoning board hearings.

“The municipalities were reluctant to give up any of their zoning authority,” McDermott said. “But as a result of this law the municipalities cannot zone small cells out of existence.”

Municipalities will still have a role in determine if a pole in the right-of-way is suitable for wireless equipment.

“It is not a situation where we can go unfettered without input by the city. They have to do an inspection to see if it meets electrical standards and safety standards,” McDermott said. “It the municipal authority rejects an application, it has to tell the carrier why it denied the application and allow the carrier to remedy the situation to get it approved,” McDermott said.

The measure establishes two fees: an application fee for the permits and a recurring annual rate for attaching antennas to structures in the right-of-way that are owned by the municipality. It establishes a 90-day shot clock for the city to act on the application and the ability for a carrier to batch multiple permit applications.

“We have access to structures in the right-of-way, whether it is a street lamp or stop light, and we have fair compensation for accessing the publicly owned structures in the right-of-way, McDermott said.

Iowa is one of eight states that have passed small cell legislation so far, including Kansas, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona and Colorado. Four more bills are working their way through the process in California, Minnesota, Missouri and Illinois.

McDermott said the municipalities in Iowa were collaborative in writing the bill, which improved the final version. Other states, such as Minnesota, have been less so.

“In Minnesota, the League of Cities has been less than cooperative in the effort to reform the small cell zoning process,” he said. “The cities don’t want to be told what to do and don’t want to forfeit the control of zoning, but it is really all about putting an “ATM” on every small cell so they can wrench all of the cash out of it that they possibly can.”

What is a Small Cell?

To attempt to answer the question of what wireless facilities should be covered by the legislation, the bill included these two definitions:

  • “Micro wireless facility” means a small wireless facility with dimensions no larger than 24 inches in length, 15 inches in width, and 12 inches in height and that has an exterior antenna, if any, that is no more than 11 inches in length.
  • A “small wireless facility” is define as one where each antenna is no more than 6 cubic feet in volume and all other equipment associated with the facility is cumulatively no more than 28 cubic feet in volume.
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