More states expected to pass small cell legislation in 2019

So far, 21 states have enacted legislation aimed at speeding up the deployment of small cells. And, according to one top wireless industry executive, that number is set to expand significantly next year.

“There will be a substantial number” of states that pass legislation on small cells during 2019, predicted Jonathan Adelstein, head of the Wireless Infrastructure Association trade group, which represents tower companies and other wireless network buildout firms. He declined to say exactly how many additional states might pass such legislation, but he said the trend lines indicate movement. “We’re gaining a lot of momentum in the states. It bodes well for more success in 2019.”

Adelstein’s comments come just days after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed SB-637 into law, legislation intended to reduce government fees around small cell deployments and to speed up the small cell review process.

Not surprisingly, the action generated cheers from small cell proponents.

“We are thrilled to support this balanced and bipartisan bill and thank the sponsors and the Governor for their leadership,” Adelstein said in a statement following the passage of the legislation in Michigan.

“Michigan’s leaders understand the economic opportunity that 5G can enable and have acted to speed deployment throughout the Wolverine State. They’ve done so by setting reasonable limits on government fees and review periods. I congratulate Governor Snyder and the state legislature on its forward-looking leadership,” said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement (PDF).

Indeed, Carr is the commissioner who pushed through a September FCC vote to approve rules aimed at speeding up the deployment of small cells and other 5G network equipment by regulating in part the fees and timelines cities and states can impose on wireless network operators and other wireless players.

Specifically, the small cell rules passed by the FCC in September in part allow state governments to charge wireless providers for the costs associated with reviewing small cell deployment, but prohibit what are described as excessive fees. The rules also require local governments to conduct approval processes within 60 days for small cells being added to existing structures and 90 days when a provider wants to put up a new small cell pole.

Thus, Michigan’s new legislation dovetails with the FCC’s rules and essentially puts the details in place on how operators can go about deploying small cells there. As Carr noted, Michigan’s small cell bill allows localities to charge up to $125 per year for the attachment of small cells to certain utility poles, and it requires localities to approve or disapprove of small cell attachments generally within 60 days of applications.

In an interview, WIA’s Adelstein explained that the FCC’s ruling on the matter helped bring the small cell issue to the forefront. He said the ruling could also create added motivation for other states to ink their own small cell legislation. He said that’s important because “the states can do a lot of detailed work on local zoning rules that go beyond the broad scope of the FCC's authority."

"I expect that we're going to see a lot of activity again in the states in 2019, in those states that haven't yet enacted laws,” he said.

However, there remains conflict around the FCC’s rules. A large number of U.S. cities, both big and small, voiced concerted and coordinated opposition to the FCC’s small cell rules prior to the agency’s September vote, and since that vote a number of localities have filed legal challenges to the rules.