Taxes were not the only thing due April 15. The FCC’s Small Cell Streamlining Order, which ruled that overly stringent aesthetic requirements for small cells could be judged an unlawful prohibition of services, mandated compliant aesthetic ordinances be developed by local governments by mid-April.
Speakers and attendees at the Wireless West Conference last week in Phoenix said the aesthetic requirements produced by the cities have spanned the gamut from simple model ordinances to highly complex regulations meant to prohibit small cells.
Aesthetic codes have to reasonable, cannot be more burdensome than requirements of other infrastructure and have to be published in advance, according to the FCC. Aesthetics requirements must also be technically feasible and directed at mitigating public harm or deployments that are out-of-character with the cityscape.
The aesthetic code deadline came not long after the California State Supreme Court upheld an ordinance that established various standards of aesthetic compatibility for wireless equipment by the City and County of San Francisco in 2011.
“The California State Supreme Court ruling is not inconsistent with the FCC order,” said Bob Jystad, government relations manager, Crown Castle International, told eDigest before he moderated the panel, FCC & Me: Effects of the New FCC Order, on the second day of the show. “The FCC order goes into more detail, which is critical. What does it mean for the cities to act reasonably in terms of aesthetic review? The FCC order attempted to answer that.
Most of the jurisdictions have adopted reasonable design guidelines, working with the wireless industry, according to Jystad. “We have been pretty happy with what we have seen,” he said. “If you can identify a design that will go with our technology, we will go with it. We don’t want to be delayed or overcharged.”
Scott Longhurst, government relations manager, Crown Castle International, said the FCC order provides needed certainty for carriers and municipalities, creating a process for rapid small cell deployment. He is already seeing, at least for the short term, a thawing of the municipal/carrier relationship.
“If a carrier submits a design that meets those standards, they will get a permit. And, vice versa, for the jurisdictions. The carriers are going to build the types of facilities the cities want to see,” Longhurst said. “We see a lot of mutual agreements between the carriers and the municipalities. We are seeing the applicants be really flexible, extending time for the jurisdictions to figure out their processes.”
But, municipalities should not take advantage of that flexibility, according to Longhurst, or the wireless industry will come back enforce the FCC’s shot clock. “I am seeing a lot of patience, which preserves relationships. We are in a hand-holding stage, but if the order is upheld, we will need to see a more solid-fisted approach,” he said.
Jystad, on the other hand, said he likes how shot clocks can get a conversation started about what processes are really needed, such as whether a public hearing is needed for every single small cell using an approved design.
Mediator May Minimize Municipal/Carrier Conflict
In light of the conflict between municipalities and carriers, WSB engineering consultants saw a need in the marketplace to serve as a mediator between the parties.
Carly Kehoe, WSB senior planner, said a lot of cities merely want the carriers to provide model ordinances, while others are more contentious and write the most critical ordinance that they can. They try to get small cells denied through ordinances dense with details.
“There is disconnect. The cities are not listening,” Kehoe said. “It is a wide array that we are seeing in [aesthetic ordinances], Some of them are simple and some are complex and make compliance difficult. And a lot of cities don’t seem to care about meeting the aesthetic ordinance deadline.”
WSB uses its credibility gained from providing engineering services to jurisdictions and its contacts on the carrier side to act as a mediator.
“The industry is ready to deploy and it gets jammed. There is a clog in the pipeline at the local level,” Kehoe said. “We work with the local jurisdiction to determine the hold up and what the [September] FCC order means. Local jurisdictions don’t understand and they fear that the federal government is forcing them to do something with their land and they have lost their rights.”
One city that definitely is not in a listening mood is Austin, Texas, one of the cities that is suing the FCC over the Small Cell Streamlining order. Ironically, as the home of South By Southwest, the city brings in world-renown experts that speak on the latest and greatest technology annually, yet it does not want to work with any of the carriers to deploy small cells.
“They hate small cells, which is funny because this city wants to be on the cutting edge of technology,” Kehoe said.