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The Complete Low-Down – 5G and Small Cell Deployment in the U.S

5G Small Cell Deployment

The 5G revolution is finally upon us. America seems poised to be the first country in the world to usher in the latest generation of wireless connectivity.

There seems to be a lot of confusion in the air, considering conflicts between the federal government, state governments, and local governments. The FCC seems to be siding with progress on this one. On the other hand, communities argue the federal government is forcing their hand to make a quick decision on 5G and small cell deployment in their municipalities. There are the usual environmental concerns, not to mention understandable reservations over the new technology in historical landmarks and heritage sites.

Suffice it to say, it all seems like quite a mess right now. Don’t worry if you don’t yet understand how this will affect you. Before we dive into the legal nitty-gritty, perhaps an introduction is in order.

Table of content

What is 5G?

You may have been hearing recently about AT&T or Cox 5G about to hit the American market. But what exactly is it? And how fast is it really, compared to 4G? Mobile manufacturers are already putting 5G capable phones on the market. For example the Motorola Moto Z3 and its Moto Mod. Manufacturers have been quiel8tly running tests in 19 major cities across the country.

5G means the fifth generation of cellular wireless. Originally, the standards for 5G technology were put down in late 2017. However, this does not necessarily mean the technology will perform according to them. 5G is vastly different from the previous generations of cellular wireless. It brings three new aspects to the game:

  • Faster speed to help move more data
  • Lower latency, so the connection is more responsive
  • Connect more devices than ever before at the same time

But how does it work?

Like most other cellular networks, 5G relies on a carefully planned cell site system. These cell sites divide areas into territories and sectors and proceed to use radio waves to send encoded data. To function, you need to have each cell site connected (whether wirelessly or through a wired connection) to a network backbone.

5G and 4G LTE share a similar encoding standard known as OFDM. But unlike 4G LTE, the air interface for 5G makes for better flexibility and much lower latency. The 5G system operates on many more channels than 4G. This means it can carry speeds that are much higher than 4G. To put things in perspective, 4G channels are usually 20MHz, or 160Mhz when bonded. 5G, on the other hand, has channels up to 100MHz. Verizon 5G testing even used up to 800MHz. For more information on 5G, check out this informative blog by PCMag.

And so we establish that 5G is in fact much faster than 4G or LTE. It has a much broader path to transmitting and receiving data. On

the other hand, this means it needs larger and clearer airwave blocks than 4G as well. 5G can’t function without small cells. This brings us to our next point of discussion.
Small Cell

What are Small Cells?

With all the ongoing talk about 5G in 2019, we have seen it on display in events ranging from the Winter Olympics to the Super Bowl. You may have heard that 5G is the future. You may have heard how it will usher in a new age of the Internet of Things and smart cities.

But have you heard that this next-gen network will depend on small cells? And if you have, do you know what small cells are? Don’t worry if the answer to both these questions is no. Read on for more details on small cells and small cell deployment.

Let’s take a look at the second question first. What is a small cell? A small cell is a cellular installation that contains small equipment like antennas and radio wave emitters. Because they are so small, you can easily place them electricity poles, buildings, and streetlights. The average small cell installation is about the size of a large pizza box.

You cannot transmit or receive data on a device using a 5G network without a small cell.

In appearance, small cell installations tend to look very different from what you would expect. This is because we are more used to the wireless infrastructure of the past than we care to admit. Our minds imagine something similar to macrocells. Macrocells are the huge tower structures you see on rooftops and highways. On the other hand, small cells are tiny in comparison and have much lower power needs.

Instead of being miles apart, small cell installations occur every few blocks. The key to small cell placement is high density. Small cells can transmit data over the same low-band spectrum as 4G.

But in addition to that, they can also transmit on medium-band and high-band spectrums. This is what allows it to deliver such fast speeds. Unfortunately, medium and high-band airwaves do not travel very far, which is why you need high-density placement.

A small cell installation needs the following three things to work:

  • The first one is an uninterrupted power supply. Luckily small cell installations consume very little power.
  • The second one is a backhaul connection to the backbone network. This can either be a microwave transmission or a fiber optic cable.
  • Finally, the small cell requires a permitted space for installation.

For a more in-depth explanation of small cell sites and their workings, have a look at this interesting blog by CTIA (the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association).

Now that we know what 5G is and what small cells are, we can start getting to the meat of the matter.

The 2018 FCC Order That Started it All

On September 26, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission issued a landmark order, which was adopted on the same day. The regulatory body sought to facilitate and streamline the deployment of wireless infrastructure for 5G.

Essentially, the FCC removed barriers like historic and environmental reviews to accelerate the deployment of 5G as well as removing barriers to investment in wireless infrastructure.

The FCC report titled “Accelerating Wireless Broadband Development by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment” is fairly comprehensive. The order seeks to push America to become the first nation in the world to introduce 5G technology commercially. Below follows a brief outline of the FCC order and report.


According to the description of the order on the FCC website, the order seeks to facilitate the deployment of wireless infrastructure by removing barriers to said deployment. The order also facilitates small wireless facility siting by establishing shot clocks. But what does this all mean?

The accompanying report states that the FCC wants to do its part in ensuring America wins the global 5G race. According to the Commission, 5G will usher in a new era of economic opportunities, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

To facilitate this, the FCC seeks to remove regulatory barriers and bureaucratic red tape that is hindering or inhibiting the deployment of the necessary wireless infrastructure.

The FCC believes a smart and up-to-date infrastructure policy is essential to support 5G and future wireless deployments. The Commission is of the opinion that the deployment of 5G technology will result in more competition for a range of services. It will also support:

  • New IoT applications
  • New healthcare applications
  • The next step in self-driving and connected-car technology
  • The creation of new jobs

In fact, the FCC also provided several projections and estimations to that effect. According to the FCC:

  1. The wireless deployment will encourage providers to invest $275 billion in infrastructure
  2. 5G deployment and investment will create an estimated 3 million new jobs
  3. America’s GDP will increase by an expected $500 billion

The report also highlights the importance of making the transition to 5G as quickly as possible. Deploying 5G faster by even 12 months mean an additional $100 billion in the U.S. economy. What’s more, local communities will also get a fair share of these deployments and accompanying opportunities.

The FCC Approach to Streamlining 5G Deployment



Instead of a uniform, one-size-for-all approach, the FCC arrived at a fair, equitable, and balanced solution. The Commission wants to ensure that elected local and state officials still have a key role regarding deployment in their jurisdictions. But what does this approach involve? Three things, mainly, which are listed below.

The FCC agrees with the U.S. Court of Appeals on the standard of “materially inhibiting”. Namely, the 1997 California Payphone decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals. This decision forms the cornerstone of the FCC’s order. It deals with determining if state laws or local laws act as a prohibition or an active prohibition under Section 253 and Section 332. The FCC also draws on decisions by the First, Second, and Fifth Circuit Courts.

Section 253 of the United States Code deals with Interference with State and Federal Law. It gives the President the right to take any necessary measures to suppress any activities that:

  • Hinder the execution of State laws and Federal laws within the State. The law presumes that such activity deprives people of the rights and privileges guaranteed under the Constitution.
  • At the same time, the State cannot fail to abide by the Constitution and must protect that right or privilege.
  • Obstruct or oppose the execution of Federal laws in that State or obstructs the course of justice.

Section 332 of the United States Code pertains to Mobile Services. It primarily lays down the legal guidelines for:

  • Factors that the FCC must consider
  • Advisory Coordinating Committees
  • Regulatory Treatment
  • Limitations

2. Appropriate, Non-Prohibitive Fee Structures

The FCC is of the opinion that the levy of state and local charges, fees, and commissions on the 5G wireless infrastructure can unlawfully prohibit 5G service provision. Taking the initiative, the FCC has clarified the standard that governs State fees under the sections above. This requires the States to ensure that the levied fees are fair, non-discriminatory, and reasonably appropriate. To avoid future confusion and litigation, the FCC has also defined standard specific fee ranges for the deployment of 5G and small cell infrastructure…

Local law for 5g deployment

3. Prohibitive Local Laws

The FCC also takes into account other aspects of local law that could act as an effective prohibition on 5G service. Particularly the aesthetic concerns voiced in heritage areas that do not violate Sections 253 and 332. This has been a bone of contention between 5G deployment and State and local governments for a while. The FCC formally recognized that certain aesthetic considerations do not run afoul of Sections 253 and 332. However, it also declared small cell wireless installations exempt from historic or environmental reviews.

The Obstacles to 5G and Small Cell Deployment

There are a number of hurdles that the large-scale, commercial deployment of 5G and small cells will have to face.

5G Infrastructure

Entirely New Infrastructure

For one thing, 5G differs significantly from previous generations of cellular wireless service. This means the service providers are looking at a massive overhaul of their existing infrastructure. They will need to invest in significant upgrades to offer 5G service.

Network Densification Across Cities and States

One of the biggest hurdles facing providers is the densification of their networks. We already saw above how 5G and small cells operate. Since they work on a shorter wavelength than previous generations, providers will need to adjust for this by installing denser networks of cells. And they need to do this across cities and states to ensure a fair, available-for-all service.

Different State and Local Regulatory Laws

But since state and local laws govern wireless deployments, providers are faced with another challenge. Each state and the local government regulates deployment differently. Which means wireless service providers have to face a lot of bureaucratic red tape first.

Opposition to the FCC Ruling

The 2018 FCC ruling we just looked at above aims to ease the process for wireless providers. It also aims to make the United States the undisputed winner in the global 5G race, especially against China. These federal standards have the simple purpose of streamlining the deployment of 5G technology across States and localities. However, this is not going down well with every State and local government, which presents another hurdle.

Local Government Concerns

Many local elected officials believe the FCC ruling takes away the authority of municipalities when it comes to 5G deployment. The main concern is unfair access to public rights-of-way without allowing the city government to collect appropriate fees. Others are even more concerned with the placement of the new deployments, and how it will affect aesthetics.
Local Government Concerns about 5G

State by State Legislation

Each of the 50 states in America has a different way of regulating the deployment of wireless infrastructures. This makes it impossible to create a single piece of legislation to fit all states in the country. However, we have taken on the monumental task of going through legislation (both passed and on the table) in each state. Even the ones that are still sitting on the fence. Let’s take a look at the legislation in place in each state.

Jump to your state

Alabama Hawaii Massachusetts New Mexico South Dakota
Alaska Idaho Michigan New York Tennessee
Arizona Illinois Minnesota North Carolina Texas
Arkansas Indiana Mississippi North Dakota Utah
California Iowa Missouri Ohio Vermont
Colorado Kansas Montana Oklahoma Virginia
Connecticut Kentucky Nebraska Oregon Washington
Delaware Louisiana Nevada Pennsylvania West Virginia
Florida Maine New Hampshire Rhode Island Wisconsin
Georgia Maryland New Jersey South Carolina Wyoming



At the time of writing, the Alabama Senate has introduced a bill dealing with small cell deployment in the state. The authorizes the use of public rights-of-way for 5G deployment, establishes a permitting process, and lays down the guidelines of indemnification, exemption, and insurance/bonds.

On the other hand, municipalities are drafting their own legislation. For example, Huntsville’s elected City Council entered into a rights-of-way agreement with Uniti Fiber in October 2018. The objective is to give residents of the city access to 5G by deploying small wireless sites.

Conversely, in Hoover, Alabama, city officials have a new fee structure under consideration. This fee structure primarily deals with small cell deployments. City officials aim to have the new structure in place ahead of the actual deployments.


Alaska currently has no state-level legislation dealing with 5G and small cell deployment. However, cities like Anchorage already have had guidelines for wireless providers in place since 2016. These guidelines (for deployment in residential areas) voice aesthetic concerns about the installation of new cell towers.

The city asks providers to actively conceal the equipment and locate it on existing structures. The same guidelines also simplify the process of obtaining permits for the new equipment installation.


The Arizona Senate introduced and passed a bill as early as 2017 that includes small cell deployment into its existing statutes. The amendments to the bill ensure that wireless providers have fair access to city poles and rights-of-way necessary to deploy their small cell equipment. At the same time, the bill also places a cap on the fees that a city can charge wireless providers for the use of rights-of-way and street furniture. However, in 2019, no new legislation has been passed.


Arkansas saw a bill introduced in March 2017 by State Representative A. Davis (R). The bill sought to give wireless providers access to public rights of way. It also sought to place caps on the fee structure, allowing cities to charge a maximum of $20 per installation. The bill called the Wireless Communications and Broadband Infrastructure Act died in committee.

On the other hand, localities like Fayetteville and Little Rock have introduced their own ordinances. The new ordinances seek to make the permitting process for small cell wireless sites more streamlined.

In Fayetteville, the permitting process for small cell installations has undergone a complete revamp. The city requires providers to conceal 5G installations in residential areas. It also requires them to install the wireless sites on existing structures before opting for new poles.

In Little Rock, providers can get up to 25 permits using one simple two-page application. Local authorities require a maximum of 60 days to review and respond to the application. However, the response is not subject to the approval of the zoning commission or city council.

In June 2018, Hot Springs put a 120-day moratorium on 5G deployments to allow the city time to draft new regulations. In October 2018, the Hot Springs Planning Commission lifted the moratorium. Bear in mind that AT&T heavyweights are lobbying fiercely in Arkansas, citing an almost 250,000% increase in traffic on their Arkansas network.

In the 2019 legislative session, the House of Representatives introduced the Small Wireless Facility Deployment Act. It aims to support the development of a strong wireless infrastructure throughout the state.

san francisco California


The California Senate and House, in February 2017, introduced and approved a bill to smooth out the permitting process for wireless 5G providers. The bill sought to impose a state-mandated local program to facilitate the deployment of the new wireless infrastructure. It applied limits on city fees for existing structures and right-of-way access for wireless deployment.

It limits local bodies’ authority to reject a wireless installation plan and caps the fees at $250 for every node. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill in August of the same year.

RossSan Anselmo, and Mill Valley passed varying versions of a similar ordinance. The common thing between all three is that the city government has the right to prevent or limit small cell deployment in residential areas.

Los Angeles has been a hotbed of small cell activity since early 2015. Participating in a 5G pilot project, the city allowed small cell installation on street lamp poles. AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have deployed and are currently still deploying 5G equipment across the city. Despite this, Mayor E. Garcetti filed reservations with the FCC, asking for a year to allow municipalities to draft their own regulations.

In August 2018, Nevada City imposed a temporary moratorium on small wireless installations. This moratorium aims to give city officials the time they need to draft appropriate local legislation. The legislation also includes protecting the aesthetics of the city, especially it’s Historical District. This means setting design parameters that wireless providers must follow. The ordinance will also limit the areas where providers can use existing structures.

There is no new legislation as of the time of this writing.


The Colorado House Bill HB17-1193, introduced in February 2017, seeks to streamline the state’s existing permitting process. The bill places a cap on the maximum fees a local government can charge for access to right-of-way and existing structures. It also extends more colocation and right-of-way opportunities to providers and allows them to enter into agreements with owners of private property. The bill became law in April 2017.

No new legislation has been introduced in 2019.


In January 2017, Connecticut’s Energy and Technology Committee introduced a bill with great timing. The PURA had just denied Verizon’s application for deploying 5G wireless infrastructure across the state. Although the bill failed in May 2017, the intention was to create a uniform plan and process for the entire state regarding the siting of small cell installations.

However, the story did not stop there. A month after the bill failed, the state’s Council of Municipalities made certain recommendations to PURA. These included creating new processes for allowing permits to small cell installations for access to right-of-way and street furniture. These rules require providers to consult municipal governments when siting small cell wireless deployments.


In May 2017, the Delaware state legislature passed a landmark bill allowing wireless providers access to public rights-of-way, existing structures, and street furniture. It also seeks to create a uniform state policy that helps accelerate the deployment of 5G and small cell wireless infrastructure. The state seeks to benefit from what it considers to be the next generation of the digital economy. However, there has been no new legislation relating to 5G in the 2019 session.


In Florida, things have taken a different route entirely. House Bill 687 authorized the Department of Transport to regulate the installation and deployment of small cells. It also empowers the local governments to charge reasonable fees for permits that they issue for 5G and small cell deployment.

However, it also prevents local governments from regulating small cell wireless deployment on existing structures, rights-of-way, and utility poles. Florida saw a House Bill and a Session Bill introduced in 2019. They revise the provisions previously laid down the previous house bill. They also specify prohibitions and limitations that apply to local governments and municipalities.


The Georgia Senate Bill 426 governs 5G deployment, which Sen. S. Gooch (R) introduced in February 2018. It was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Called the BILD Act, the bill seeks to support broadband access to citizens, and expand access to residents. It aims to do this by backing small cell deployment.

The Act limits the power of local authorities to charge wireless providers for access to, or prohibit them from, the use of public rights-of-way. While passed by both the House and the Senate, the bill as of this date has not been made into law.

In 2019, the Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act was introduced and signed into law. This bill seeks to streamline deployment and address any perceived conflicts with prior legislation.


The House of Representatives saw the introduction of House Bill 2651. The bill seeks to develop a comprehensive framework and policy for the upgrading and expansion of the state’s broadband infrastructure.

Singed into law in July 2018, the bill streamlines the permitting process for deploying small cell installations across the state when it comes to small wireless providers. It allows providers to install wireless sites on county or state-owned utility poles. It also allows providers to install their own utility poles on public rights-of-way when needed.

In 2019, Hawaii legislators requested a scientific study of the effects of 5G wireless technology on biological life.


At the time of writing, there is no state-level legislation regarding small cell deployment in place in Idaho. Verizon has, however, deployed wireless infrastructure in Boise, Idaho. In Coeur D’Alene, the city council has updated ordinances, requiring providers to seek special permits for small cell deployment.


In Illinois, Senate Bill 1451 forms the basis of 5G and wireless infrastructure deployment legislation. The bill limits local governments’ ability to control the design, parameters, regulation, and installation of small cells. The bill also limits local governments’ control over access to the public right-of-way, utility poles, and existing structures. However, both these limitations do not apply to municipalities with populations over 1 million. No new legislation was discussed in the 2019 session.


Indiana House Bill 1050 has taken a fairly different route with wireless deployment legislation. The bill empowers local authorities to prevent wireless deployment in public rights-of-way. It also determines that existing public utility poles are not designed for wireless equipment. Back in 2017, Verizon began testing 5G capability in Speedway, Indiana. No new legislation in place in 2019.


In May 2017, the Iowa legislature passed a bill that was also sponsored by the Senate Commerce Committee. The legislation seeks to limit local authorities’ right to regulate, restrict or prohibit small cell deployment across the state. It also does away with local government requirements on wireless providers obtaining special permits for use of government property.

Local governments have 60 days to respond to sitting permits for small cell infrastructure. After the end of the 60-day period, the application will be deemed granted. The bill has been since signed into law. There has been no further legislation in 2019.


Kansas has a very 5G-friendly legislation in place and was one of the first states to draft legislation in favor of small cell deployment. Under House Bill 2131 (October 2016), the state lays down rules and regulations governing small cell deployment. It allows providers the right to operate, maintain, and even construct structures to support the wireless infrastructure on public rights-of-way.

The bill also gives providers the right to lease public land for at least 10 years from local governments. Collocation permit fees have a maximum limit of $500 under the legislation. The bill also places a cap on the fee local governments can charge for building new wireless sites. The bill was signed into law by the Kansas state legislature. In 2019, amendments to local regulatory limits were made.


Kentucky has no state-level legislation at the time of this writing regarding the deployment of wireless infrastructure. However, local municipalities have already amended numerous ordinances to better manage and regulate small cell deployment.

In Louisville, the Metro government has updated the permitting process to account for wireless deployment in city rights-of-way. The government also introduced a “one-touch” rule, intended to streamline the deployment of wireless equipment on existing utility poles. After a 2016 litigation against the City, AT&T announced it would deploy its 5G infrastructure in specific parts of Louisville.

Dayton amended its existing ordinances to allow local authorities to regulate the deployment of small cell infrastructure. This includes design parameters, placement, and of course, the permitting process. The same ordinance requires wireless providers to use existing structures wherever possible.


There are currently no state-level bills in the state of Louisiana relating to 5G deployment. The state has however requested a study into the effects of the evolution of 5G technology.

The Metro Council at Baton Rouge enacted legislation to define the parameters of wireless deployment back in 2017. It allows wireless providers up to 50 permits per application. It also sets down the following fee structure:

  • $500 for each node for the first 5 nodes
  • $250 for every additional node
  • Application fee amounting to $1,000

The ordinance also requires local authorities to respond to an application within 20 days. Hammond and Monroe have passed similar ordinances to speed up wireless infrastructure deployment.


State representatives introduced a relevant bill in December 2017 meant to establish state-wide standards for local governments relating to small cell deployment. It also sought to make the permitting process more streamlined for wireless providers. The bill died and was never signed into law.

However, in 2019, Maine introduced LD1517 which states that the installation of a small cell facility must be permitted use. This means it is also subject to the same limitations as other permitted uses of public rights-of-way.


Sister bills introduced in the House and the Senate in February 2018 dealt with small cell infrastructure regulations. The bills failed in the 2018 legislative session. The bills sought to bar local governments from entering into exclusive agreements with wireless providers. They also gave local authorities 60 days to respond to permit applications.


Major cities are working on their own ordinances and legislation to preserve their authority before state-wide legislation occurs.

In Boston, the city government plans to take the FCC to court over its ruling on small cell deployment and fee caps. The city government has charged up to $2,500 annually per pole in the past, as compared to the FCC cap of $500.

In Malden, the city council enacted an ordinance that governs small cell installations and fees. Lowell, on the other hand, has already entered into a small cell deployment agreement with Verizon for around $50 per pole annually.

In 2019, the legislature established the requirements, procedures, and guidelines for 5G deployment. It also prohibits local authorities from making exclusive agreements with wireless providers. It also authorizes the colocation of certain facilities and the use of certain rights of way. The legislation in question includes a House bill and a Senate Bill in the 2018 session.


The State Legislature in Michigan had two bills relating to 5G deployment pending in it in 2018. Bill SB 637 relates to the regulation of small cell infrastructure and collocation on existing structures. The bill also places a limit on how many local governments can charge providers for permits, zoning, and rights-of-way access. Bill SB 894 offers funding to meet the electricity and power expenses for the small cell sites.

No new legislation took place pertaining to 5G in 2019.


In the previous legislative session, the House and Senate saw two bills relating to 5G deployment introduced. Both bills sought to law down rules for deployment, and also amend existing laws to limit local government’s authority to regulate the deployment. Both House Bill HF739 and Senate Bill SF561 failed. No new legislation in 2019.

However, a Senate bill in May 2017 contained provisions for wireless facilities deployment. This bill became law by the signature of the Governor. The Minnesota state statutes Article 9 now incorporates this provision and governs wireless 5G providers.


Mississippi currently has no state-wide legislation governing 5G and wireless deployment introduced. However, cities and municipalities have started to draft and enact their own ordinances. Clinton has already amended its zoning ordinance to include wireless equipment deployment. Clinton will also be the first city in the state to receive AT&T’s 5G wireless infrastructure. In 2019, the Senate tried to create the Wireless Facilities Deployment Act. The bill died in committee.


Missouri House of Representatives introduced the Uniform Small Wireless Facility Deployment Act which was signed into law in August 2018. The bill modified the provisions that govern the regulation of wireless infrastructure and facilities. It sought to make it easier for providers to deploy small cell installations across the state with a uniform policy. It also removed certain fees wireless providers need to pay local authorities for the use of public rights-of-way and utility poles. No new legislation as of the time of this writing.


Montana hasn’t seen any new legislation passed that deals with 5G and small cell deployment at the time of this writing. A house bill restricting deployment near schools, and revising other siting laws was introduced but missed the transmittal deadline.

However, the city council at Missoula updated and amended its existing ordinance in 2016 to include rules on the deployment of wireless facilities. These rules require providers to install small cell sites on existing structures wherever possible and to conceal them in residential areas. It also empowers local authorities to block the deployment of such installations on public rights-of-way when needed.

T-Mobile intends to test its 5G network in Montana by 2020. One of the first cities to receive it will be Missoula, thanks to T-Mobile partnering with local telco Blackfoot.


The State Senate introduced a bill dealing with the adoption of the Small Wireless Facilities Act. The industry-friendly bill seeks to help providers gain access to public rights-of-way and place caps on associated fees. The bill was later abandoned after it stalled.

However, in municipalities like Lincoln, local authorities have charged up to $1,195 annually per pole for small cell facilities deployed on utility poles. Verizon and AT&T have filed complaints with the FCC over the issue of access fees in Lincoln.

In 2019, the State adopted the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act.


Back in 2003, the state legislature updated statutes to lay down administrative processes for the deployment of wireless infrastructure. It restricts the local government’s ability to deny applications for a permit. The Office of Science, Innovation, and Technology introduced rules that authorize the Department of Transport to make agreements with wireless providers in November 2016.

It also empowered the DOT to collect fees from providers for access to public rights-of-way. In May 2017, the bill was signed into order. No new legislation as of 2019.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has had legislation in place since 2003 governing the deployment of large wireless sites. This mainly covered infrastructure such as cell towers. In 2013, these laws underwent a revision, and the state legislature established a streamlined process for permits. According to the new rules, wireless providers no longer need to get into the land use approval processes of local boards.

It also grants municipalities a 45-day period to respond to applications. In 2019, the House of Representatives requested a study into the environmental effects of the 5G evolution.

New Jersey

The New Jersey legislature introduced a bill in September 2018 that is relevant to this discussion. The bill seeks to create a state-wide regulatory system and processes. It restricts local authorities from prohibiting, charging, or regulating small cell deployment on utility poles and public rights-of-way.

The bill also places caps on permit application fees. As of the time of this writing, the bill is pending before the legislature. In 2019, the Senate enacted the Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act across the state. It defines the application and colocation procedure. It also requested a study into the deployment and impact of 5G across the state.

New Mexico

The House of Representatives saw a bill introduced in January 2018. The Senate also saw the introduction of a sister bill. The bill primarily deals with the deployment of wireless nodes in public rights-of-way. It empowers relevant local bodies to charge providers for access to rights-of-way but also places a $250 cap on the fee per unit.

The bill also deals with rules concerning the colocation of wireless hardware on existing utility poles. It allows local bodies the power to create design parameters, especially in historic districts. The Governor signed the bill into law in September 2018. No new legislation as of this writing.

New York

The State Assembly of New York witnessed the introduction of a new bill in April 2017. The bill sought to amend the existing general municipal laws to make a uniform regulatory framework across the state. However, the bill failed in the session. At the beginning of 2017, the Governor introduced a bill that also dealt with the siting of small cell deployments on public rights-of-way. It also set limits on how many local bodies could charge for access.

However, this provision did not make it to the final version of the bill. In 2019, the Senate enacted the Wireless Broadband Eligible Facility Permitting Act. It lays down uniform, state-wide regulations. The Senate also requested a study on the effects of 5G technology. In addition, the Act requires providers to give siting notices to municipalities.

North Carolina

The House of Representatives introduced a bill in March 2017 governing the deployment of 5G and small wireless facilities. It gives providers the right to access public rights-of-way and also construct additional infrastructure where network densification is needed. It also amends existing statutes to this effect.

The bill also restricts local governments from regulating the colocation of wireless equipment. It determines a fee cap at $100 for the first 5 small installations and $50 for each additional one. It does empower local governments to charge a consultation fee of up to $500. The bill was signed into law in June of the same year.

In 2019, a Senate bill was introduced to reorganize, update, and modernize existing statutes and laws relating to local planning and development. This also includes small wireless facilities.

North Dakota

The Senate Appropriations Committee included a provision for 5G deployment in its 2017 directive. It directs the Department of Transport to “study” the public benefits of allowing providers access to highway rights-of-way. In June 2018, the DOT submitted its report in support of 5G deployment. However, no new legislation was passed in the 2019 legislation session.

The city commission of Bismarck enacted an ordinance giving wireless providers access to public rights-of-way in July 2018. The city also entered into an agreement with Verizon to install 30 small cell sites on light poles across the city. Verizon currently pays a $150 annual fee per node.


State Representatives introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to streamline the deployment of small cell wireless facilities. A provision in the bill ensures that if a municipality fails to respond to a permit application request, it will be deemed granted. However, at the same time, the bill allows municipal bodies to stagger wireless infrastructure applications to deal with them more efficiently. The bill became law in August 2018. No new legislation as of the 2019 session.


Oklahoma introduced a bill in February 2018 which became law in April of the same year. The bill outlines the regulations governing the deployment and colocation of small cell wireless infrastructure. It also determines the permitting process for the deployment of this infrastructure. No new legislation in 2019.


Municipalities like Portland have considered suing the FCC regarding fee caps. McMinnville enacted an ordinance governing the installation of small cell infrastructure across the city. There was no state-level legislation in 2018.

In 2019, the state requested a study into the effects and impacts of the evolution of 5G wireless technology.


Pennsylvania has no new legislation in place in 2019 concerning small cell deployment and infrastructure. A previous bill in the 2018 session failed in committee. The bill tried to make the permitting process easier for providers and determined caps on the fees local bodies can charge for use of public rights-of-way.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island has no current legislation in place at the time of this writing. However, in September 2017, the House of Representatives passed a bill that laid down the framework through which local bodies can regulate small cell deployment. It enables local governments to charge permit and application fees for colocation. It also allows wireless providers to consolidate multiple colocations into one application. Local governments have 60 days to respond to an application, otherwise, it is considered approved.

South Carolina

South Carolina passed a bill in 2019 relating to small cell deployment. It declared small wireless facilities exempt from zoning review and approval under specific circumstances. It also prohibits local authorities from regulating wireless providers for the use of rights-of-way and colocation.

South Dakota

Does not have any relevant legislation in 2019.  No bills have made it to the legislature since 2018.


Tennessee has passed no new laws concerning the regulation or governance of 5G and small cell deployment in 2019. However, a bill in 2018 created a uniform framework to streamline and maximize small cell deployment. It also streamlines the application process and encourages the sharing of public space and colocation wherever possible. This bill was later passed into law in April 2018.


Texas does not have any new legislation for 5G and wireless infrastructure in 2019. However, in 2017 a Senate bill was signed and went into effect that provides for new uniform rules governing wireless infrastructure. It also assigns parameters to the placement, size, and shape of wireless equipment.

It prevents local bodies and municipalities from making exclusive agreements with providers. The state of Texas has since been sued by local governments from over 20 cities including Austin and Dallas.


As of the date of this writing, Utah has no new legislation in place in 2019. However, in February 2018, a bill was introduced with provisions on the deployment of wireless infrastructure and its local permitting process. It empowers local governments to use zoning, land use and other authorities with a uniform requirement for all high-speed internet providers. It placed a $250 per year cap per node on the fees cities can charge for use of rights of way and existing structures. The bill became law in March 2018.


The rural state of Vermont has not introduced any new legislation pertaining to 5G deployment in 2019. But the state has a very colorful history with small cells. It was part of a trial program in 2012 with CoverageCo. The company deployed small cell equipment across the state but ultimately the contract ended. AT&T has since stepped in to expand the existing infrastructure and take the market from satellite internet.


The state of Virginia has not introduced any new relevant legislation in 2019. There was a previous bill in 2017 that streamlined the permitting process, capped local body fees, and placed restrictions on application processing. However, the bill failed in the session.


Washington did not introduce any new legislation on small cell deployment and infrastructure in 2019. A previous bill that never made it out of committee tried to streamline the permitting process for providers. It also sought to establish uniform standards for small cell deployment.

West Virginia

West Virginia introduced new wireless deployment legislation in the 2019 legislative session. This primarily deals with valuation of wireless equipment for property taxes. It also establishes jurisdiction of the PSC over make-ready pole access. It also lays down the basis of the West Virginia Small Wireless Facilities Deployment Act. The legislation also designated January 23rd as West Virginia for Broadband Day.


Wisconsin has not introduced any new legislation in 2019 at the time of this writing. However, an older bill in May 2017 sought to limit the regulatory authority of local bodies over small cell deployment. It also prohibited local bodies from charging service providers for access to public rights-of-way and existing structures. The bill failed.


Wyoming did not introduce any new legislation concerning small cell deployment in 2019. However, AT&T has strong lobbying efforts in place with both local and state governments. A small number of local officials have also begun the process of drafting relevant ordinances.

In Summary

America and China have always been fierce competitors in the tech industry. With a trade war going on, and the need to maintain an edge America can find, the race to 5G is so much more intense. Wireless providers are lobbying and making every effort to streamline the transition to this next-generation network. 5G promises to be a digital renaissance. From a consumer standpoint, intense competition means better prices on its optimum internet plans. It also means the beginning of a new age, the next step towards IoT and automated cars.

According to the FCC and the sources it cites in its report, 5G will open up doors to immense opportunities including:

  • $275 billion infrastructural investments
  • Creation of around 3 million new jobs
  • A GDP increase of almost half a trillion dollars

But for 5G to function, there are a number of barriers to overcome. These include:

  • Different state and local laws
  • Aesthetic concerns and environmental reviews
  • Reservations about the restricted authority of local governments and municipalities
  • Fees and fee caps pertaining to use of public rights-of-way and existing structures

The FCC’s 2018 ruling had the intention of streamlining the transition and speeding up the process of commercial 5G and small cell deployment. However, is still some dissension in the ranks, with many cities even suing or planning to sue the state or the FCC. For now, some cities are primed to receive 5G whereas others are still ironing out the regulatory details. You may want to check with internet providers in your area for more details.

Stay tuned to this blog as more on the 5G situation unfolds.




“All legislations and ordinances mentioned in this article have been duly referenced with official legal sources of each State and city. While the interpretation may be subjective, the actual legislation sources have been added.”

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