Pushback to small cellular service antennas and why you should care.

We all understand how frustrating it is when our phones lack cell service. When your boss’s emails won’t load or your news videos are in a perpetual state of buffering you tend to blame your cellphone carriers.

Within the next year or so, most major cellphone carriers will be rolling out their 5G service which is rumored to have lightning fast speeds. Imagine video download times of mere seconds or robotic surgeries performed by surgeons from other states.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure required to roll out this 5G capability is being blocked by many of our local governments.

5G Requires Small Cells

There are so many people in cities making it impossible to find land for bulky structures like cell phone towers. 5G data requires small nodes in between these large cell phone towers to ‘pick up the slack’ of your cell phone signal. These are called small cells and they are antennas that can be affixed to rooftops, street lamps, and even electrical posts.

Municipalities are Erroneously Blocking Cell Tower Construction 

Municipalities are blocking the attempt by cellphone carriers to install small cells in various locations whether on public or private land. As more cell phone carriers are submitting proposals to local governments, the responses have been quite underhanded. The local governments have moved to change land use ordinances and impose zoning fees on private landowners who want to make money from a rooftop cellular lease. Whether a cell carrier wants to construct a small cell on a public side walk or on a church’s rooftop, the municipalities are manipulating the zoning laws.

This will prevent citizens from accessing higher speed data from the 5G network in the near future. Some of these municipalities are coming up with bolstered reasons for their decisions. For instance, one county won’t let a cell carrier construct a small cell because they aren’t “camouflaged well”.

Disputes over Small Tower Construction

There are several cases right now, some even going as far as litigation in which cell carriers are contesting the right of municipalities to box them out for financial gain. The attorney for the city of Meadville, VA discussed some of the town’s reasons for pushing back against small cell tower construction.

Why is Their a Height Requirement for Small Cell Structures?

First, they would require the height of the new structures to not exceed the height of pre-existing utility poles. But, some utility poles are not higher than the surrounding buildings and for a cell tower or antenna to work, it must be higher than hills or buildings around it in order to receive or transmit its signal.

Utility poles were constructed at a certain height to simply be out of the way, not out of a need for the technology to work properly. But a cell antennae has a legitimate reason for its height requirement.

Towns Citing Aesthetics As a Reason for Small Cell Pushback

Second, the applicants need to provide engineering studies and meet screening or camouflage requirements to make the towers more aesthetically pleasing. But what constitutes aesthetically pleasing? I’m sure that electrical lines and utility poles weren’t aesthetically pleasing to the first passers-by in the 1800s but now they are lost to our peripheral vision.

However, most towns have decided upon what they believe to be “aesthetics”. Any citizen not involved in the decision process is left to enjoy another’s person’s tastes. However, you can, as a citizen, petition to change what can and cannot be deemed “pretty” in your town. If you get enough backing, then you might just be on your way to 5G faster than 5G itself!

The big question is why are municipalities causing such a raucous with cell regulations on instillations that provide better cell phone coverage, are quite small, and look very much like pre-existing electrical or telecom installations?

Well, for the attorney of Meadville, VA it’s not a secret, “the goal is to keep them out of residential areas”.

But that’s the problem! Small cells are needed and intended for residential areas. The amount of mobile data traffic is imploding year after year. For every 5,000 mobile devices, a small cell tower is needed to provide service.

Private Landowners Could Make Money from Small Cell Lease Agreements

As a private landowner looking to lease your land to a cellular tower company. Imagine making $1,000 a month by allowing a cell carrier to construct a small cell on your building. Only to be hit with $1,700 in monthly fees or slapped with a big fine. It’s not worth it to the private landowner. And when cell carriers turn to public land, the very same people imposing the fines on a private landowner, are jacking up the fee for the cell carrier to be on local government sidewalks.

It’s obvious they don’t care the what its private citizens will be deprived of. But it seems crazy that these towns don’t care what they’ll be deprived of. They must not feel it’s important to have smart energy grids or safer transportation systems.

The Speed of the 5G Network Will Promote Growth for Businesses and Healthcare

5G will promote small business growth, employment rates, manufacturing, and community services. But of course, none of that outweighs how un-aesthetically pleasing the small cell antennas are. These town governments seem perfectly content to remain in the dark ages, denying the right to improved cellular service to its citizens out of greed or stubbornness.

The most amazing advancement that 5G will bring is a decrease in the lag time. The speed of the 5G network will be fast enough to allow doctors to perform surgeries remotely. With this system, carriers can make the signal needed for the surgery take priority to the Netflix binger in the neighboring building. This opens a world of possibilities to patients in remote locations that need to be treated by a specialist who isn’t available in their area.

The FCC’s Stance on Small Cell Sites and Municipalities

Every year, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association has a conference on all things
“Mobile”. At this past year’s conference, the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler addressed this issue, stating, “If siting for a small cell takes as long and costs as much as siting for a cell tower, few communities will ever have the benefits of 5G.”

Hopefully, the FCC takes a stand and helps pave the way for the advancement of the cellular infrastructure. This is important for private landowners researching cell tower lease rates who won’t be able to take advantage of the small cell industry growth unless there is some change.