Lightower says patchwork of local permitting timeframes delays small cell rollouts

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Lightower has joined wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon's outcry against local communities that have been posing too many barriers to building out small cell wireless networks.   

Having already established itself as a wholesale provider a number of Tier 1 wireless operators, Lightower began offering small cell services in 2013.

However, the service provider noted in an FCC filing (PDF) that the permitting timeline to install network equipment on existing utility poles and other community rights of way (ROWs) has become a barrier to timely expansion.  

 “As the last three years have progressed, Lightower has noticed a concerning trend of jurisdictional permitting time frames growing longer, requiring complex and timeconsuming zoning processes, and sometimes grinding completely to a halt for months, if not years,” Lightower said in the FCC filing.

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Inconsistent processes

At issue for Lightower is what it describes as a patchwork of local processes that delay and/or effectively prohibit small cell deployment.

The service provider cited that some of the reasons for deployment delays center around three issues: the lack of an application process, requiring small cell permitting be handled through a zoning process, and moratoria imposed while cities draft ordinances to address small cells.

In addition, a number of cities and towns have demanded what Lightower says is “arbitrary amounts of money or “donations” in exchange for use of the ROW for telecommunications infrastructure with no clear relationship to a jurisdiction’s costs of ROW management.”

“These burdensome requirements, lengthy processes and delays, arbitrary fees, and unfair demands are imposed only on wireless equipment in the ROW, and are not required of other users of the ROW,” Lightower said. 

As a result of these delays, Lightower said the deployment time frames in some municipalities are nearing three years.

One jurisdiction in North Carolina has been resistant to wireless operators installing small cells and related network infrastructure, for example. As a result, consumers and businesses that reside in the community have very poor wireless coverage.

Lightower said it had been working with the North Carolina jurisdiction to get approval to deploy the small cells for over a year and a half. However, a change in the municipality’s zoning code prompted the service provider to halt further action.

“After aesthetically pleasing utility poles were legally placed in the ROW, the jurisdiction changed its zoning code to encompass the ROW, which then required the removal of such previously lawfully installed poles,” Lightower said. “As of these comments, Lightower has still not been able to deploy a single small cell within the jurisdiction because the jurisdiction’s process itself has been a moving target that continues to frustrate deployment efforts.”

Shortening the process

Lightower has asked the FCC to propose a plan that would speed up the local permitting process to install small cells.

Citing the 2014 Infrastructure Order, Lightower said that the FCC confirmed since small cell technologies are used to provide personal wireless service, the Shot Clock Order applies.

“In the Shot Clock Order, the Commission determined that 90 days is a presumptively reasonable time for a municipality to act on a collocation application to attach to an existing pole,” Lightower said. “Although it does not meet the definition of an 'eligible facilities request' (if there is no existing wireless installation), a DAS or small cell installation on an existing utility pole is more like a collocation under Section 6409 of the Spectrum Act, an application for which a municipality would have 60 days to act or otherwise be deemed to have approved the application.”