The digital era marches on, and with it comes the need for adequate infrastructure to support wireless internet users across New Jersey.
With the roll-out of 5th generation (5G) wireless services technologies, the Township of Berkeley Heights is taking steps to draft a right of way ordinance that will offer the town limited regulating power and the town engineer permitting authority — as companies such as Verizon and AT&T begin to deploy wireless network nodes across the state.
The Telecommunication companies’ infrastructure plan revolves around the installation of “small wireless facilities,” (SWFs) within a town’s rights of way as a means to bolster and expand 5G wireless connectivity.
During the June 1 Berkeley Heights Town Council Meeting, the governing body heard a presentation from Frances McManimon of the law firm McManimon, Scotland and Baumann.
McManimon’s firm was hired to assist the township in drafting a right of way ordinance.
A right of way ordinance, according to a presentation given by McManimon, would “establish an application review process.” This includes a pre-application meeting with the telecommunications company proposing the deployment of a node or nodes. Additionally, the application would require the telecom company to provide a project description and demonstrate compliance with FCC radio-frequency emissions.
Moreover, a municipality such as Berkeley Heights would be able to give consent for the deployment of any node, but cannot out-right ban, or prohibit “an entity from providing telecommunication services,” according to state law, noted the presentation.
The deployment of 5G across New Jersey is “designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together, including machines, objects and devices,” said McManimon. The 5G nodes would not replace, but instead would bolster existing cell towers and would be deployed within a town’s rights of way, according to the presentation.
McManimon covered legal grounds surrounding a municipality’s actual power in regulating the deployment of SWFs, explaining that a town cannot outright prohibit 5G nodes within its right-of-ways, but can create permitting standards overseen by the town engineer.
According to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) order, municipalities will have “shot clocks,” or established time frames in which the town has to review applications for the deployment of SWFs.
Within an application as part of any future ordinance, the township could potentially extract fees from the company proposing deployment of any 5G node.
“Fifth generation wireless technology will be deployed using small cell networks consisting of hundreds of antennas and nodes,” explains The New Jersey State League of Municipalities. “These antennas and nodes oftentimes need to be placed within line of sight of each other in order to function effectively.”
Questions arose from the council as to what Berkeley Heights can expect in terms of node deployment density, or simply put, how many nodes should residents expect to see across the town’s rights of way.
McManimon did not provide an estimate of units, but did remark that these SMFs — the 5G nodes, are limited in their coverage area.
With many of these nodes already deployed in more urbanized areas of New Jersey, it wasn’t immediately clear what kind of numbers residents can expect in Berkeley Heights given the suburban character of the municipality, according to the presentation.
McManimon also mentioned pending legislation in the New Jersey State Assembly that “imposes uniform regulations for SWF deployment in New Jersey.”
Furthermore, this pending legislation “provides wireless providers the right to install SWFs and related infrastructure without zoning approval, or municipal consent,” noted McManimon.
If the assembly passes such legislation, a municipality cannot require a right of way agreement.
“This legislation would unwind a lot of what the ordinance does,” explained McManimon. “We’re not sure how long it [the legislation] will take, or how far it will proceed.”
Jesse Winter is a journalist with TAPinto Berkeley Heights. Republished with permission from the publisher.