The City of Colorado Springs is receiving growing numbers of requests from wireless providers and wireless infrastructure companies to construct telecommunications facilities in the public right-of-way. Small cells are needed for cellular companies to support existing and future demands for the connectivity we all depend on daily. The Office of Innovation is coordinating with providers and other City Departments to ensure small cell infrastructure and processes meet Federal, State, and City requirements.
Small cells and wireless infrastructure
What are small cells?
Small cells are low-powered antennas installed and operated by private telecommunications providers. Small cells supplement larger cellular networks and improve cellular coverage in small geographic areas. Initially, small cells will meet 4G LTE demands, and later meet 5G demands as technology changes. In the City of Colorado Springs, small cells may be located on poles, wires, or buildings.
Why is a small cell being installed in my neighborhood?
Private telecommunications providers have identified your area as a higher demand area for mobile coverage. The small cell will provide increased wireless coverage in your area.
How many small cells will there be?
To meet the desired coverage of all wireless customers, it is estimated that a small cell will eventually be needed about every one to two blocks throughout Colorado Springs where providers plan to provide 5G coverage. Providers will begin deployment in denser populated areas like downtown and other commercial areas. The City is asking that companies utilize or replace existing utility and light poles in order to minimize their impact.
Where will small cells be located?
Small cells will primarily be located within the public right-of-way. This is because Colorado State Statues state that telecommunications providers have the right to locate small cell facilities on light poles, traffic signals, or utility poles in the public right-of-way.
What will small cells look like?
While there will be variations, the City has implemented policies and ordinances within the parameters of Federal and State law for standardizing aesthetics. The City has implemented design standards to make the style as consistent as possible and match the character of existing neighborhoods and infrastructure. The City’s top priorities are maximizing aesthetics and minimizing congestion of the public right-of-way. Providers are required to:
- Standardize pole design elements, color, location, etc. to meet intent and character of existing infrastructure in the public right-of-way.
- Limit pole heights to match existing streetlights and other poles in the public right-of-way.
- Generally avoid placing poles adjacent to regional parks and historical places.
- Enclose equipment to minimize visual impact.
- Co-locate equipment onto existing infrastructure wherever feasible.
Wireless infrastructure authority and regulation
What authority does the City have to regulate telecommunications equipment?
Federal and state laws limit the City’s legal authority over the placement of telecommunications equipment. Beyond the design standards, the City can regulate based on the aesthetic values of public places, compatibility with the City’s traffic and utility infrastructure, pedestrian and vehicle safety, quality of life for nearby residences, preservation of historic areas, and preservation of views from residences and other sensitive sites. The City can do its best to minimize potentially adverse impacts, but cannot prevent cellular companies from installing small cells in the public right-of way.
What is the City doing about concerns about the health effects of radiofrequency (RF) emissions from wireless technology?
Radio frequency emissions are a common concern and are regulated by the Federal Government, not the City. There is a federal statute found in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which prevents states and localities from regulating wireless facilities on the basis of the health or environmental effects of RF emissions. The statute and the case law interpreting it give sole authority for regulating in this area to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Local governments can do little more than require wireless companies to certify that they will comply with the federal regulations for RF emissions.
What steps has the City taken regarding small cell development?
The City has developed a Master License Agreement for telecom companies installing small cells. The MLA establishes the process by which small cell permit applications will be approved by the City, sets the terms and conditions for the operation and maintenance of the small cell installations, and sets general aesthetic requirements for the small cells. The MLA is available on the Office of Innovation webpage.
In addition, the City has published our small cell design standards which requires all small cell equipment to be housed within the small cell pole with very limited exceptions. The standards also require poles to resemble the adjacent poles within the right of way, meaning the height, diameter, finish, and style will be as close as technologically feasible as the surrounding poles.
I don't want a small cell near my house. What can the City do about it?
Telecommunications companies are considered a public utility according to state law, and just like Colorado Springs Utilities, these companies have the right to install their equipment in the public right of way. The City has very limited legal authority to deny a small cell installation, and where we have the most authority is on the basis of aesthetics. Therefore, the City is working with the telecoms to ensure small cells are collocated on existing streetlights and traffic signals – meaning installation of new poles will be minimized as much as technologically feasible. In areas where this collocation is not possible, the City will work with the telecoms to ensure small cells resemble existing poles in the right of way as much as technologically feasible. The United States Congress has delegated the regulation of radio frequency emissions strictly to the FCC, and small cells must meet the RF emissions standards that the FCC has in place. The City cannot deny permit applications based on RF emissions, but we do ask that telecom companies provide documentation showing that they are in compliance with the FCC’s standards before we approve a small cell permit application.
Watch to learn more
Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance Video on the impact of small cell laws
What is 5G?
5G stands for 5th Generation mobile network. It is a new global wireless standard after 4G networks, which provide connectivity to most current cellphones. 5G enables a new kind of network that is designed to connect virtually everyone and everything together including machines, objects, and devices.
What are the benefits of 5G?
The main benefits of 5G over previous generations of wireless networks are higher speed and lower latency. Higher speed means 5G connected devices will be able to download data from the internet much faster than 4G LTE connected devices – no more buffering! Lower latency means data can be transferred between 5G connected devices almost instantly, increasing capabilities of autonomous vehiclesVehicles in which some aspect of operational control is automated. AVs do not necessarily need to communicate with infrastructures or other vehicles since they usually have their own sensors and cameras equipped in the car. and telehealth services. Another benefit is that 5G has a greater capacity for connected devices, meaning more devices will be able to be connected to the network at the same time.
When is 5G coming to Colorado Springs?
T-Mobile and AT&T have announced a low-band 5G network that covers Colorado Springs. The City is actively reviewing permit applications for new small cells, and we expect high-band 5G coverage to come to Colorado Springs in the next one to two years.
How does 5G tie to the City's SmartCOS initiatives?
The goals of SmartCOS are to use technology to improve City services and to drive economic development. The City plans to use 5G as the backbone for many upcoming SmartCOS projects including digital kiosks and security cameras. Further, just as 4G created the “app economy,” 5G will likely create a new digital economy that we want Colorado Springs to be a part of.
Behind the Springs podcast: SmartCOS
Hear from Ryan Trujillo and Josh Handley with the City's Office of Innovation about SmartCOS and how their group is working on everything from smart streetlights to sustainability - and 5G - and what it all means for you!
Listen to the episode!
The City’s Office of Innovation and Sustainability at Joshua.Pace@coloradosprings.gov or (719) 385-5272.
View presentation to City Council on August 26, 2019 for additional information.