AT&T praises Minnesota legislation pricing small cells at $150/year on municipal structures

Minneapolis-St. Paul will see accelerated small cell growth thanks to Minnesota's new pricing legislation, AT&T said.

AT&T issued a press release today praising Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton for new legislation in the state that the carrier said will “streamline and standardize rules that will accelerate the deployment of small cell technology, helping pave the way for the next generation of high-speed wireless services in Minnesota. Small cell technology is an integral building block for 5G, the next generation of wireless technology.”

In its release, AT&T said the new law would allow it to “accelerate its deployment of small cells in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, especially as the company enhances its network in preparation for the ‘Big Game’ in February 2018.”

However, AT&T did not put any specific numbers to its planned small cell rollout in the state.

According to a detailed report on the new legislation from AGL, the law sets fees for small cell attachments to municipal structures at $150-a-year, plus $25 for maintenance and electricity costs. The bill also will allow small cell deployment as a permitted use in most public rights-of-way, and it requires officials to rule on applications for small cell deployments within 90 days.

“Municipalities repeatedly cut the head off the legislation and the wireless industry would bring it back from the dead. It came to be known as the Lazarus Bill,” Rep. Marion O’Neill told AGL, explaining that the state’s lawmakers pushed the bill through the state legislature to ensure cellular companies would continue to invest in the state ahead of the 2018 Super Bowl. “We jumped through a lot of hoops to make sure this bill became law, for sure.”

Related: Tensions rise as officials struggle to address small cell deployment challenges

Minnesota isn’t alone in looking to ease small cell deployments. The wireless industry is backing similar legislation in at least 20 states this year, according to a recent report from NPR. Legislation on the topic is moving forward in Arizona, Colorado and Virginia, among other states, and last year Kansas and Ohio passed laws to address the matter.

Other communities though are moving in the opposite direction. As noted by Philly.com, Pennsylvania's Public Utility Commission recently voted 4-1 to reaffirm an earlier vote to no longer designate distributed-antenna companies as utilities, essentially moving against easier small cell deployments.

AT&T’s praise for Minnesota’s new legislation comes as little surprise. Wireless players across the industry have made no secret of their desire to speed up the deployment of small cells. But zoning and permitting headaches have slowed the market. Some municipalities are fighting small cell deployments based on concerns over aesthetics, noise, rights-of-way issues and other worries.

Partly as a result, the FCC voted last month to move forward with plans to make it easier for wireless carriers and their partners to deploy small cells in municipalities across the country. The agency approved “an examination of the regulatory impediments” (PDF) at the state and local levels that can slow the rollout of small cells and other transmitters in an effort to streamline siting and deployment processes.