City of Gaithersburg will hold a public hearing tonight (Monday, October 2nd) on proposed regulations that would permit installation of “small cell facilities” within the City’s Rights of Way (ROW), for example on light poles or other City-owned structures.
The deployment of so-called “small cell towers” is somewhat controversial, according to City Council Vice President and Kentlands resident Neil Harris. The industry is seeking to locate a large number of towers, typically around 30 feet tall, throughout the country to support the proposed 5G wireless service, which provides much higher wireless data bandwidth but with a much shorter range. Typically these would be sited about 500 feet apart, so presumably hundreds of them would be needed throughout the City to ensure uniform coverage.
The regulations and associated ordinance provisions under consideration were a result of an inquiry from a private firm, Crown Castle, which would like to install such facilities in the City’s ROW. The City has not yet had a request to install such small cell facilities within the Kentlands. And one provision of the proposed regulations would require:
“The location selected and the scale and appearance of the Facility, including but not limited to wireless facilities, and any support structures to be installed, must be consistent with the general character of the neighborhood.” [emphasis added]
Another would stipulate:
“Without limitation, a Permittee and Right of Way Occupant will comply with all requirements and cooperate with the City on aesthetics and appearance of all Facilities including, where required, by obtaining design and location approval from the appropriate City Department, currently the City Department of Public Works. Right of Way Occupant will comply with Applicable Standards with respect to aesthetics and appearance for the duration of the Facility’s existence.” [emphasis added]
Tonight’s public hearing before the Mayor and City Council is the culmination of work dating back to April 2016, when the Mayor and City Council (MCC) held its first Work Session to review information presented by staff and heard public comment on the topic. The Consolidated Joint Public Hearing on the small cell facilities regulations is the #8 of 14 items on the agenda for the City Council Meeting that starts at 7:30pm at City Hall in the Council Chambers.
According to the City web page on the subject, small cell facilities are becoming increasingly popular as a way of expanding coverage and increasing network capacity. With mobile data traffic expected to double annually, providers have indicated that small cell facilities are necessary to expand the capacity of wireless networks.
Requests for small cell antenna installations in the City of Gaithersburg are expected to rise dramatically in the coming years as the need for data increases. The City is working on the necessary regulations and criteria to meet the requirements of federal law while respecting the integrity of our residential neighborhoods and commercial areas.
Today, use of City rights-of-way is under the jurisdiction of the City, Harris notes, yet there are significant restrictions on how the City can regulate small cell facilities put upon it by the Federal Communications Commision (FCC). And there are currently matters pending with the FCC that may further limit or even eliminate the City’s jurisdiction regarding small cell towers, he added.