Wireless Facilities Regulation

Recent developments in wireless technology have transformed the way we live and work. The advent of smartphones, digital tablets, and other mobile devices have enabled consumers to harness the power of the internet, as well as cutting edge applications, at any time and any place. In 1990, there were approximately 3.5 million wireless customer connections in the United States. Today there are nearly 350 million. (CTIA)  

This explosion in the demand for wireless broadband has led and will lead to a parallel explosion in the deployment of wireless facilities to meet the demand. For example, the number of wireless cell sites in the U.S. increased from 128,000 in 2002 to 280,000 in 2012. (CTIA) Verizon Wireless told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it expects to increase the number of its cell sites in the U.S. by 53 percent (from 42,600 to 65,000) just to meet its current needs. (FCC 2011 Wireless Competition Report)

The facilities that are being installed, however, are not only traditional cell towers. New facilities are smaller, more targeted, and more numerous than cell towers. Distributed antenna systems (DAS) and data collection units (DCU’s), for example, are often placed along the public rights-of-way on new and existing utility poles. In residential subdivisions in which utilities are underground, for example, these “mini-cell towers” are highly visible and are being installed essentially on residents’ front lawns!  

Concurrent with these changes in wireless technology have been major changes in wireless facilities law at both the federal and state levels. For example, the FCC issued an important ruling on wireless facilities siting which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in the case of Arlington, Virginia v. FCC. The FCC has also issued at least three Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM’s) in the past two years. Meanwhile, there have been new state laws addressing wireless facilities, including the PA State Legislature’s enactment of the Wireless Broadband Colocation Act in November 2012.

Most current municipal wireless ordinances do not address these new technologies or new regulations. As such, they will not protect residential neighborhoods when companies attempt to install mini-cell towers on residents’ front lawns. Most likely these ordinances also fail to address wireless facilities in the public rights-of-way or the deployment of new collocated antennas. 

The Cohen Law Group can assist your municipality in drafting a new wireless facilities ordinance or amending your current ordinance to correct these problems. It is essential that any new or amended ordinance: 1) address new technologies, including DAS and DCU’s, to preserve the visual character of residential neighborhoods; 2) protect the municipality and its residents consistent with federal and state law; and 3) incorporate recent federal and state legislative, regulatory and judicial changes. Our attorneys know the law and have the experience and expertise to achieve these goals. 

Finally, the growth of wireless facilities has also created opportunities for some municipalities to obtain more revenue from the placement of cell towers and/or antennae on public property.  This includes public lands as well as rooftops and other “vertical assets” owned by the municipality. CLG assists municipalities in negotiating cell tower and antenna leases with wireless providers. Whether these facilities are located on remote land or on the roof of a fire station, our attorneys know how to obtain maximum revenue from wireless providers while ensuring that the municipality is adequately protected.