Small Cell Wireless Policies and Guidelines 

Clip Art Image of  a Small Cell Site Collage

What is a Small Cell Wireless Device?

In comparison to a traditional “Cell Tower”, (a tall tower holding panel like antennas that we usually see within an industrial zone or on top of a mountain), a small cell wireless device is much more discreet and mounted on existing structures like rooftops or on utility poles almost looking as a piece of equipment similar to a small utility box. Sometimes, they are accompanied by refrigerator-sized equipment placed on ground level in the surrounding area. Because small cells only supply a few hundred feet of coverage, they are best suited for dense areas like downtown areas to alleviate capacity constraints where crowds can gather. A small wireless facility delivers high transmission data transfer speed at a lower range, typically 300 to 1,000 feet. (Small refers to the range, not its physical size). Although a traditional cell and small cell complement each other, they also serve different purposes; a small cell assist by stretching large scale-cell coverage.

Why are Communication Devices important?

From our connected homes, where mostly everything can be controlled by the internet, to our workplaces, where reliance on wireless and wire line broadband infrastructure is becoming essential for almost every type of job, technology is influencing every aspect of our daily lives. This, is also known as the “Internet of Things” or (I.o.T). Needless to say during an emergency event, communication can save our lives.

Cities navigate this changing integration of new technologies, and more innovative ways to serve our residents and local businesses by facilitating the required aesthetics guidelines and standards for deployment of these telecommunication facilities. Wireless providers need to maintain and roll out new communication devices to meet the increasing demands of service consumers. With that, city officials must also face a number of policy, public safety, land-use and right-of-way considerations and meet mandated federal requirements regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) who oversee three federal laws:

1. The Communications Act of 1934

2. Telecommunications Act of 1996

3. Spectrum Act (Provision of the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012)

Who is the FCC?

The Federal Communications Commission, regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. The FCC is an independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress; the commission is the United States' primary authority for communications law, regulation and technological innovation. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has broad control over cell phone and wireless technology to ensure the swift deployment of these technologies. Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act provided that “a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base stations”. The FCC created regulations in support of this law, specifying that these requests must be approved within 60 days of application, and that this definition includes Distributed Antenna System (DAS) and small cell facilities. If a city finds that an incomplete application has been submitted by a provider, it has a limited period in which to pause its review time by notifying applicants in writing of the missing information and relevant local requirements. During the City of Fort Bragg’s November 12, 2019 City Council meeting, staff presented a report to adopt a resolution to revise and update the City’s aesthetics guidelines and standards for deployment of these telecommunication facilities to comply with FCC requirements.

What is the City of Fort Bragg doing?

During a special City Council meeting on April 12, 2019, Ordinance No. 947-2019 was adopted which provided Aesthetic Guidelines for the Deployment of Wireless Communications in the City of Fort Bragg. This ordinance was adopted as an Urgency Ordinance due to the FCC's short notification for local agencies to act upon and; to ensure that the City preserved its rights to have some control of the aesthetics and public safety concern for small cells in the public right-of-way, guidelines had to be in place by April 15, 2019.

Acknowledging that the adopted guidelines were a place holder, Resolution No. 4158-2019 requires the City Council to review and confirm or revise the Aesthetic Guidelines by April 12, 2020. Those guidelines were revised as required at the November 12, 12, 2019 City Council meeting. Based on the FCC Regulations, all City permits and authorizations for small cells placed on an existing structure must be issued within 60 days from submittal of the application materials. The total processing time for small cells placed on a new or replacement structure is 90 days from submittal. If the City does not meet the shot clock review timelines, the City will not have complied with federal law. To comply with the FCC Regulations and the shot clock requirements, City staff and a consultant developed revised and updated Aesthetic Guidelines along with a new small cell wireless facilities permitting process, which will provide a streamlined, uniform and comprehensive set of rules for the development, siting and installation of wireless and other telecommunication facilities in the public right-of-way. Sign up to receive updates regarding Small Cell Wireless related news and much more by visiting the "Notify Me" web page.  

Below are additional links to the City of Fort Bragg's Small Cell Wireless Aesthetic Guidelines & Forms. For additional information or questions related to this subject, please contact Tom Varga, Director of Public Works at (707) 961-2824 Ext.132.