City to Develop Broadband Master Plan for Small Cell Wireless Facilities
At its regular meeting on May 7, 2019, the City Council heard more on the state of 5G and other new wireless technologies, including the possible impacts of the deployment of small cell sites in the City of Laguna Beach. The challenge for Laguna Beach is determining to what extent the City can effectively regulate the aesthetic and construction impacts these new infrastructure projects will have on residents and businesses.
Background: In October, the Federal Communications Commission published Rule 18-133 to streamline State and local review of wireless communications facility applications in order to facilitate the efficient deployment of “small wireless facilities.” Wireless carriers contend that additional small cell facilities are necessary to meet the demand for wireless data usage with an increasing number of people dependent upon their service. These new systems are smaller than traditional cell sites and may be installed on light poles, traffic signals or small power/telephone poles. The small cells are connected by a high-capacity fiber optic network capable of handling a much higher amount of data at faster speeds. The City has already received over 30 applications for fiber optic cable installations supporting 4G/LTE technology, which will also support the transition to 5G in the future. Should any single provider determine to invest in a 5G deployment for Laguna Beach, the City would expect a significant increase in the number of small cells to be located in the City rights-of-way.
Certain portions of these new Federal wireless communications requiremnts took effect in April. To protect the City to the extent permitted by law from visual blight created by the wireless facilities, impacts of wireless facilities on public rights of way, impacts to public infrastructure and impacts to private property, the City Council adopted a resolution to update the Guidelines for Site Selection and Visual Impact and Screening of Telecommunications Facilities on April 16. The adoption of the resolution creates a comprehensive set of design criteria for small wireless facilities, but the City’s discretion remains limited by federal and state law from regulating telecommunications facilities in a way that inhibits personal wireless service.
On Tuesday, the City Council received a presentation overview on how these new technologies will impact Laguna Beach, an overview of some of the challenges facing the City to comply with the new FCC order and strategies to help the City navigate these new challenges.
Under the City Council’s direction, Staff will return to the City Council with proposed amendments to the Municipal Code that would add a number of conditions for individual permits and below-grade installations, review the current permit process for small cell wireless facilities and establish design requirements, and return with a proposal for a Broadband Master Plan. The Broadband Master Plan will include guidelines on how the City will process small cell deployments, develop best practices in public policy and review how the City can leverage its existing infrastructure to facilitate these units. This Master Plan will provide policies to help manage rights of way in the anticipation of 5G technology deployment and review short-term and long-term wireless broadband infrastructure needs. The goal of the Plan is to control, as much as possible, where these structures may be placed and establish aesthetic requirements for the structures. Staff will also return with an evaluation as to whether the City can legally declare a moratorium on 5G, and options for the City to develop its own below-ground 5G fiber optic network.