Laws Promoting Small Cells Blossom in States

By J. Sharpe Smith

Senior Editor, AGL eDigest

A bill streamlining small cell deployment signed into law in Ohio appears to be the tip of the iceberg as more and more states consider similar measures. For example, Illinois, Washington State and Florida are looking to come to the aid of DAS and small cell deployments by limiting local control of the right of way. It is not everywhere, however. A bill introduced in Connecticut seeks to establish a state-wide plan for siting small cell in public rights-of-way with participation by municipalities.

We asked Van Bloys, senior government affairs counsel, Wireless Infrastructure Association, to put the state legislation limiting local control over small cell siting in the ROW into perspective.

What is driving carrier efforts in state legislatures?

Bloys: “Wireless providers are improving network capacity in the near term with small cells and DAS and looking at how 5G may be deployed in the future. With smart small cell placement today and key investments in fiber, 5G deployment could be as simple as an antenna swap out. Removing impediments to this deployment today is a key priority for wireless providers at all levels of government.”

The Mobile Now Act introduced in Congress and the FCC’s recent small cell proceeding both look to streamline small cell deployments in the public rights of way. Why pass state laws too?

Bloys: “State legislatures are one way providers are seeing short-term success—it can be faster than getting a bill through Congress or a proceeding at the FCC.”

Will we see other states get involved?

Bloys: “It’s likely we will see more bills that help accomplish the goals of speeding deployment. For instance, the Virginia legislature has passed Senate Bill 1282, which facilitates the collocation of small facilities on existing structures.”

How do these state efforts mirror or differ from FCC efforts to streamline wireless deployments in the right of way?

Bloys: “Efforts in the states and at the FCC are addressing the same underlying deployment challenges—both efforts seek to remove regulatory barriers, alleviate delay and rationalize fees.”

In the end, would the FCC’s ruling usurp state law? How would these two efforts mesh together? What is the impact of federal legislation and state law on municipal code?

Bloys: “The record has not yet been developed at the FCC, so we won’t know for some time how these laws and regulations will interact. However, the FCC has indicated that it may invoke Section 253, which authorizes the FCC to preempt state or local requirements that “prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting” a provider from delivering service. In other words, if state and federal rules are inconsistent, the FCC’s rules would likely prevail. Yes, generally, state laws place limits on municipalities.”