City Considers Amendments to Regulations for Small Cells

Photo | Submitted Industry provider Crown Castle shared this example of light pole small cell mounted equipment with the City of Gaithersburg

Photo | Submitted
Industry provider Crown Castle shared this example of light pole mounted equipment with the City of Gaithersburg.

The Mayor and City Council, at its Dec. 18, 2018 meeting, approved the introduction of amendments to regulations adopted in December 2017 that govern the installation of small cell/wireless facilities within city rights-of-ways (ROWs).

Staff proposed these amendments in response to a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that affects the city’s right to regulate small cell facilities in the ROW, as well as requests from the industry, notably Crown Castle and AT&T, for reevaluation of city regulations.

Proposed amendments will be the subject of a public hearing on Jan. 7, 2019, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. The city’s December 2017 regulations established application processes, requirements, notices and appeals for installation of facilities within city-controlled ROWs. They were the result of a lengthy study, discussion and public input period that began in spring 2016.

“This has been a tough issue,” Mayor Jud Ashman said at the Dec. 18, 2018 Mayor and City Council meeting. “We’ve spent a lot of time in good faith, a lot of homework and a lot of meetings and a lot of thought on this. The Council and I and staff … want to see all of our residents have access to good service, cellular, Internet, everything. At the same time, we want to preserve and establish our authority to regulate our rights-of-way for aesthetics, for public safety, for any number of reasons. … The FCC is continually moving toward encroaching on our ability to regulate our rights-of-way. … It’s in our best interests to stay a little bit ahead of the FCC, at the very least to establish the parameters of our authority.”

The FCC’s new ruling establishes “shot clocks and fees effective Jan. 14” and “restricts how the city can regulate these types of facilities within our rights-of-way,” explained Dennis Enslinger, deputy city manager.

The city has until April 15, 2019 to address “aesthetic” concerns governing small cell facilities installed in its rights-of-way. According to the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), the new FCC ruling “preempts aesthetic requirements for small wireless facilities unless they are (1) reasonable; (2) no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments; (3) objective; and (4) published in advance. Under this standard, requirements that all wireless facilities be deployed underground are preempted, as is any undergrounding requirement that ‘materially inhibits wireless service.’” NATOA adds that this “implies that minimum spacing requirements likely could not meet this standard.”

To establish its authority over small cell facilities, the city is working toward publishing amendments to its regulations in advance of the April 15, 2019 FCC deadline. Over the past four or five months, city staff has worked with industry providers Crown Castle and AT&T to develop proposed changes. These are an increase from 2.0 cubic feet to 2.5 cubic feet maximum for mid-wire connections; an increase in connector length from 6 inches to 12 inches; an antenna circumference of 22 inches located at the top of pole for all installations (not side mounted); an increase in maximum standard equipment housing from 2.8 cubic feet to 12 cubic feet; variance in dimensions for sub-sized equipment housing and ground-mounted equipment with no increase in volume; simplified paint specifications; and a pole reservation system based on specific industry provider applications.

Regulations governing placement, spacing and height of wireless facilities within the ROWs are not affected by these proposed amendments, Enslinger explained. Current city code states that small cell facilities must be located at least 500 feet apart.

While the current discussion focuses on 4G cellular network technology, 5G wireless Internet is on the horizon and its signals must be relayed by equipment that is, on average, 500 feet apart.

City Councilmember Neil Harris commented that 5G could result in 300 million small cell facilities across the U.S.—or 100 per square mile.

“The needs of the industry can’t trump the needs of the people,” he cautioned. “All of the neighborhoods in the city are going to be affected by this,” City Councilmember Mike Sesma said. “And at this point, we really haven’t seen a lot of input or representation from a lot of these neighborhoods.”

For more information, visit the city’s Project Page at A copy of the proposed modifications to the regulations can be found here.

The Mayor and City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments on Jan. 7, 2019, 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Comment can be made at the meeting or in writing. Address comments to Deputy City Manager Dennis Enslinger, 31 South Summit Ave., Gaithersburg, MD 20877 or via email to