Big Cities, Small Cells: Why Municipalities Shouldn’t Stand in the Way of 5G Deployment

At any given moment, the average American is no more than three feet from their wireless device. And these days, we’re doing more than tending to a virtual farm or watching endless cat videos; our mobile devices can now instantly connect us to the global community, serve as a portable classroom, and even give us access to life-saving telehealth and telemedicine services. ACT | The App Association members are part of the trove of innovative companies driving this mobile revolution, and their innovations will depend on strong and robust wireless 5G networks to support their growth. While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has assisted the 5G effort by streamlining buildout requirements, some local governments have proposed regulatory roadblocks that make 5G deployment for our nation’s innovators more difficult.

The Empire State recently offered a cautionary example. Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rolled out a state budget that included a provision that would set a statewide pricing standard for the use of telephone poles, cell towers, and other fixtures. Within the standard was a clause that would impose a $200 annual rental limit for each 5G small cell antenna placed on a pole, tower, or telecom fixture.

Here’s why this was worrisome. Like their name suggests, small cells as small cellular nodes– at roughly the size of a pizza box, they’re much smaller than the traditional cell tower – that that operate in licensed and unlicensed spectrum that have a “smaller” range of 10 meters to a few kilometers. Wireless providers have looked to deploy small cells by attaching 5G antennas to existing municipal infrastructure in New York and states across the country, because these small cells will be more effective in managing the immense new traffic spurred by mobile, connected, and internet of things (IoT) devices. Wireless carriers will need to deploy the small cells roughly 500 feet apart to support a robust 5G network, which could add up to dozens or even hundreds of small cell antennas throughout a single area – depending on the size and density of a city. Given the number of small cells needed, this endeavor could get very expensive, very fast, which is why the New York legislature wanted to impose a cap on the amount municipalities could charge for small cell placement. In fact, prior to the legislative proposal, the city of Buffalo requested $2,000 from telecom providers for each small cell deployed, every year. Without the implementation of New York state’s regulatory proposal, wireless carriers would be left questioning the economic feasibility of entering these cities or, worse, halt their existing efforts to deploy the 5G networks on which our members and our connected ecosystem depends.

Our member, StartUp Health, is a New York-based tech incubator that organizes, supports, and invests in a global army of health transformers. The group fosters a diverse array of innovative startups and technologies that address a variety of healthcare concerns, but each depends on the transfer of real-time data over a trusted internet connection to deliver their services. For these companies, a slow or weak connection could spell the difference between treatment or ailment, life or death. That’s why 5G deployment is so important – a robust wireless network supported by 5G small cells could help ensure the vital data collected from a connected health device gets to the right place at the right time, regardless if it’s in New York City or New Paltz.

The 5G small cell provision was ultimately not included in the final New York state budget, allowing municipalities to maintain free rein to charge exorbitant fees for small cell placement. We don’t want to see the worrisome trend of municipalities imposing barriers to 5G deployment as a potential money grab replicated across the country. We encourage the New York legislature and other state governments to continue pursuing reasonable and economically viable fees for small cell placement.  In the end, the additional money gained from over-the-top fees pales in comparison to the opportunities lost without 5G deployment.

5G means jobs and economic opportunity for our members and for local businesses. If municipalities take advantage of permitting fees for 5G infrastructure as leverage against wireless carriers, their constituents become the real casualties. Without a robust 5G network, our cities’ wireless infrastructure will be unable to support the extraordinary influx of 5G-enabled devices that help teachers educate their students, emergency personnel respond to crises, companies grow their businesses, and hospitals secure the health of their patients.

The app economy is a $950 billion industry that powers 28 billion IoT devices and employs more than  4.7 million Americans. 5G deployment could help drive the future of this thriving ecosystem and bring wireless connectivity to the 24 million Americans currently unconnected or underserved. 5G is integral to the growth of our local, national, and global economy, and we encourage state and local governments to support 5G deployment through common sense laws and regulations. The future of our nation’s innovative businesses, and the health of our app economy depends on it.

By |2018-07-03T14:23:27+00:00July 3rd, 2018|Blog|