A company representing U.S. Cellular has requested approval from the city of Keene for six new small cellular installations in the public right-of-way. As we enter the age of 5G cellular service, which runs on technology that requires a high density of small cellular installations, this marks the beginning of what is likely to be a large wave of similar requests to build new small cellular deployments across the city.
Today, the city is being asked to approve six new sites, but as 5G comes to fruition, the writing on the wall says that there are dozens more on the way.
That being the case, it would be appropriate for the city to consider this not as a one-off request, but rather to fit it into a broader policy that considers how to manage an influx of requests to build new small cellular sites all over town.
In crafting such a policy, the city should include a requirement that cellular companies collocate their infrastructure, so that antennas from multiple companies share a single utility pole, rather than having carriers build separate poles for each antenna. I’m of the opinion that utility poles and cellular antennas are ugly things, and so minimizing the number that are out there should be a priority for the city.
Further, it would be appropriate for the city to charge telecommunications companies an appropriate annual rent for the use of the public right-of-way. For example, the city of San Jose, Calif., had a rate-structure charging between $750 and $2,500 a year per antenna. While I think this is an entirely reasonable charge, lobbyists representing the telecoms industry take a different view.
These lobbyists have successfully convinced the Trump-appointed leadership of the Federal Communications Commission to seriously restrict the amount cities can charge wireless companies that are building new antennas. Nationally, this is a $2 billion give-away to a very wealthy industry, and it will deny Keene a significant source of revenue.
Suffice it to say, many other cities have filed lawsuits against the FCC about this, and the rule restricting what cities can charge stands a strong chance of being thrown out. So I hope the city of Keene will avoid signing any agreements with U.S. Cellular that preclude the possibility of later charging the company an appropriate annual fee, if and when that becomes something that cities are allowed to do again.
66 North Lincoln St.
(This writer is a candidate for Keene City Council from Ward 2.)