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The adoption of rules the Hot Springs Planning Commission developed for placement of small cell wireless facilities in city rights of way is on hold following the announcement of a federal mandate limiting local control.

The enabling ordinance was pulled from the agenda of the Hot Springs Board of Directors' Oct. 2 business meeting after the Federal Communications Commission issued rules affecting local control over the placement of infrastructure that will undergird the next generation of wireless internet service.

Fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology relies on a series of small antennas and receiving stations to carry its high-frequency, short-range signal, requiring a denser infrastructure than what's provided by large cell towers that support existing cellular technology.

The FCC said small cell facilities will account for 80 percent of future wireless infrastructure placement. In March, it exempted the facilities from federal review procedures applied to large cell towers.

The faster connection speeds of 5G depend on the proliferation of small cell facilities to carry its signal, prompting the city planning commission to develop rules that limit how and where the equipment can be placed in city rights of way. The six pages of regulations the planning commission unanimously recommended last month for the board's adoption included fees for using city rights of way and design standards prohibiting the overt placement of facilities.

Federal rules announced last month limit fees to the costs local governments incur allowing providers access to rights of way. They also limit aesthetic standards cities can impose and extend the 1996 Telecommunications Act's prohibition on local rules barring the deployment of wireless service to small cell facilities.

Cities will have from 60 to 90 days to take action on installation requests under the new regulations.

"The FCC has asserted some pre-emption under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution," City Attorney Brian Albright said. "We have to be in concert with the rules they've promulgated. I think there's some role that local and state authorities can have, but we have to make sure we don't step over into (the FCC's) identified domain."

The FCC said the streamlined permitting process will encourage $2.4 billion of additional small cell construction, but mayors and municipal officials from across the country wrote letters in opposition to the new regulations. Some said limitations on local control will undermine existing agreements cities have with providers to deliver 5G service.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the regulations could slow the new technology's rollout.

"There are thousands of cities and towns with agreements for infrastructure deployment that were negotiated in good faith," she wrote in her partial dissent of last month's order. "If we want to encourage investment, upending commitments made in binding contracts is a curious way to go."

Trade policies will be more of a cost factor than local regulations, she said.

"As a result of our escalating trade war with China, by the end of the year we will have a 25-percent duty on antennas, switches and routers -- the essential network facilities needed for 5G deployment," she said

The city board imposed a 120-day moratorium in June on reviewing requests for placement of small cell facilities in city rights of way to give city planners time to develop rules on how and where the facilities can be placed.

Local on 10/15/2018

Print Headline: City pulls 5G ordinance

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