Small cell infrastructure is vital to expanding 5G infrastructure in the United States, particularly in densely populated urban communities. Recognizing the importance of small cell infrastructure to 5G deployment and the numerous barriers local governments and municipalities have to stop their deployment, the Pennsylvania legislature recently passed HB-1621, the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act.
With the passage of this bill, consumers in Pennsylvania will not only benefit from better 5G service, but the bill will also allow the state to reap the full economic benefits of 5G deployment. Other states need to follow Pennsylvania’s lead and pass laws that facilitate the deployment of small cell technology. Failure to do so will only harm consumers and kneecap their economies that are still recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic.
Pennsylvania is one of a growing number of states that have passed bills to enhance the deployment of small cell technology. These bills “limit the authority of local governments to decide where wireless small cell equipment can be installed in the right-of-way; limit the time for action on applications to install small cell equipment; and limit the amounts that can be charged for applications and use of the right-of-way.” In short, these bills ensure that wireless carriers can bring 5G technology to their customers.
In the 2021 legislative session, only 14 states have pending small cell legislation, while 25 have passed legislation.
Compared to traditional wireless towers, sometimes known as macrocells, small cell units have several advantages. Unlike traditional towers which can be up to 200 feet tall, small cell units are significantly smaller than conventional towers, often just the size of a backpack.
The size of small cell units means instead of erecting expensive towers, providers can affix them to “street lights, utility poles, buildings, and other structures” already in existence. The small size of these units ultimately allows providers to deploy 5G faster and more cost-effectively. In addition, because of increased small cell deployment, 5G service are expected to reach much faster internet speeds, providing some consumers speeds that are more comparable to the wireline services they currently receive.
Additionally, the small size means these cells are easily concealed to “blend in with existing architecture and structures, thereby reducing the concerns some citizens may have about the aesthetics” of 5G equipment. Aesthetics is one of the main reasons citizens routinely use to oppose 5G infrastructure in their communities.
While traditional towers can provide consumers wireless access over large land swaths, their signal can be interrupted by large buildings, making them impractical for use in large urban areas. Due to their size, small cells can be placed in areas where large towers cannot provide service, ensuring large cities can receive a strong signal. Without small cells, those living in cities would not receive consistent 5G service in densely populated centers.
Yet despite the benefits of small cells, local governments have often passed ordinances that prevent them from being deployed by wireless carriers. In 2020, for example, the town of Easton, CT, unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting the deployment of 5G infrastructure. The same year, the Council in Keene, NH, voted 10-2 to block “applications from service providers hoping to launch 5G in the town.”
Unfortunately, these municipalities are only denying consumers the limitless benefits of 5G. For the broader economy, 5G is projected to create 4.5 million jobs and contribute over $1.5 trillion to the country’s GDP. These benefits would not only be felt by tech hubs like Silicon Valley but by every state.
By passing bills that prevent local governments and municipalities from enacting ordinances prohibiting small cell technology, state legislatures can ensure that consumers and their economies can reap the substantial economic benefits.
While states like Pennsylvania are moving in the right direction by passing legislation that supports the deployment of small cell technology, there is more work to be done. Lawmakers in state capitols should introduce and pass laws that will ensure that wireless carriers can deploy this small cell technology without facing unreasonable barriers erected by local and municipal governments.
Failing to do so will mean that consumers are unable to reap the advantages of 5G technology, and the wider economy can experience the significant growth potential of 5G.