While 21 states have now passed legislation with the intention of facilitating small cell deployment, Illinois may have missed the mark. It has been more than year since the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act (S1451) was signed into law. The bill is typical of most state legislation, covering mounting, maintaining and modifying of standalone small cells or the mounting of wireless equipment on utility poles. It classifies them as permitted uses that are not subject to zoning reviews.
However, Illinois diverged on one big item. The measure exempted cities with more than a million in population. That has left Chicago to employ ordinances that have hindered the advancement of small cells, according to Bob Stapleton, CEO, National Wireless Ventures.
“A carrier can deploy on certain light poles but not on others. We have been denied quite a few light poles in the right of way around Wrigley Field, because wireless equipment cannot be attached to decorative light poles,” he said. “There are also moratoria on laying fiber on certain streets, and we cannot be locate within 5 feet of a fire hydrant.” Additionally, the city’s rules restrict the use of light poles for wireless equipment in cases where there are elevated roadways or bridges.
As a result, National Wireless Ventures has been forced to deploy small cells on private property in many cases. In the central district of Chicago, companies such as Sterling Bay, John Hancock, Jones Lang La Salle become the landlords for small cells when small cells are prohibited from the right of way.
The costs go up, too. While the City of Chicago may charge $1,900 annual rent, one private property owner wants $13,000 a year for a small cell placement. Because of the necessity of using private property, one carrier, which was expecting to pay an average of $200 a month, is averaging $700 to $800 a month. Another carrier is averaging $1,000 a month in rent.
“Private landlords are being encourages to charge top dollar for urban sites to make the most of the revenue. That is standing in the way of small cells,” Stapleton said.
On top of myriad restrictive small cell rules, the City of Chicago has gone one step further releasing a contract for 288,000 light poles as it moves to LED lights. In an article in Electrical Contractor, James Carlini, noted wireless expert, points to the City of Chicago as a “clear example of clueless city management,” because of its ignorance of the importance of wireless infrastructure.
“Whoever is in charge has made no arrangements for how to take care of all the communications equipment that is hanging off of the light posts throughout the city,” he wrote. “Once they get all of it off, where are they going to re-install them?”
The contract specifies that light poles drop in height from 28 feet to 17 feet, which brings up more dilemmas, according to Carlini.
“Those new posts do not stand above the tree line, so no communications antenna that was hanging on the old one is going to be able to pick up any signal at 17 feet. Where does all that connectivity go?” he wrote. How much capacity will the city lose in wireless connectivity? Did anyone even think this one through?
Of the states that have passed small cell legislation, Illinois is the only one to exempt cities with more than a million in population. Haran Rashes, director, external relations spokesman at ExteNet, is more hopeful that the bill will have a positive impact, and that it is too early to judge it, because SB 1451 has only been effective only since June 1, 2018.
“We fully anticipate, however, that the Act will streamline local regulation and facilitate the installation and growth of privately funded outdoor wireless telecommunications infrastructure in the State of Illinois, Rashes said.
“Though Chicago is exempted from the Act, it ensures that access, the process, the fees for attachment of wireless telecommunications facilities to utility poles and other structures within the public rights-of-way are the same in all other municipalities throughout Illinois,” he added.
Considering that the big cities will be the first targets for small cells by the carriers, the wireless infrastructure industry hopes that exempting them will not nullify the progress the bill is meant to promote.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 29 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence. Sharpe Smith may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.