Reacting to a new state law passed this summer, the Lewisville City Council passed ordinances Aug. 7 to set fees and conditions for the placement of “small cell” equipment within public rights of way in Lewisville.
Senate Bill 1004, which compels cities in Texas to allow wireless providers to put their equipment in city rights of way, was passed by the legislature in May and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 9.
Proponents say the new law will help accommodate increased usage of mobile wireless devices and power next-generation 5G networks. The 5G technology is capable of transmitting 10 gigabits of data per second to and from mobile devices, a speed that is about 100 times faster than today’s best 4G (LTE) wireless service.
The Federal Communications Commission opened up new radio spectrum last summer for various upper microwave frequencies. These frequencies have both licensed and unlicensed bands. The unlicensed bands could quickly find their way into consumer devices like home wireless routers, but the biggest implications of the technology are for cellular service providers in licensed bands.
At the extremely high frequencies in this portion of the radio spectrum, the millimeter-long radio waves are said to be easily blocked by buildings, trees and weather. Because of this, having small cell nodes closer to where people use the devices would increase reliability, according to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
The Texas bill puts limits on what cities can require of wireless providers and caps the amount of permit fees and annual fees that cities can charge providers for using public lands and attaching their wireless access nodes and antennas on city–owned utility poles, light poles, traffic signals and other elevated equipment.
Because the new law takes effect Sept. 1, the council had to quickly pass a new city ordinance to define the city’s permitting process, preferred placements, setbacks from intersections and other terms allowed under state law. An ordinance also sets the fees that Lewisville will charge to the maximum allowed under state law.
The changes had to be passed Monday in order for the ordinance to be effective by Sept. 1, when the city expects several wireless providers to submit applications.
The purpose of the new law, as stated by the Senate, is to “promote the adoption of and encourage competition in the provision of wireless services.” By removing cities’ options to bargain separately for the use of their public property, the law purports to “remove barriers to entry for providers of services, so that the number and types of services offered by providers continue to increase through competition.”
The new state law establishes chapter 284 of Texas Local Government code. In addition to restricting fees and conditions that cities could impose, it also bans moratoriums and establishes strict timeframes for cities to review and approve permit applications. The Public Utility Commission of Texas has no oversight authority, with wireless service providers allowed to take cities to court for violations.
The Texas Municipal League, which represents the interest of cities in the state had opposed the new law, saying it forced taxpayers to subsidize the cell phone industry with below-market rental rates. TML also said the bill prevents cities from controlling how their rights of way are used. The City of Houston, TML notes, had already had rental agreements of at least $2,500 per node per year. The new law cut the maximum rental fee to $250 per year. TML estimates the cost of S.B. 1004 to Texas cities is $750 million per year.
The City of McAllen is leading the charge to file a lawsuit against the State of Texas over SB 1004.
Alison Vickers, a spokesperson for Crown Castle, said the wireless infrastructure company plans to deploy 20 nodes in Lewisville, which should be on-air by mid-2018. Vickers said the small cell nodes are much smaller than traditional cell towers or rooftop installations and are often inconspicuously installed. She said they are often placed on existing right–of–way infrastructure such as street signs, telephone poles or streetlights.
“These small nodes are more discreet than towers, are easier to install and maintain and can dramatically improve coverage and capacity within a given area with a relatively small number of installations,” Vickers said.