Significant deployment of 5G networks — fifth generation wireless technology for cellular networks — started last year across the country and telecommunication companies will soon launch the technology on the Palouse.
The new technology can handle more traffic than today’s cellular network and is faster than 4G, but the introduction of the technology — and the small cells, antennas and transmission equipment required to make it work — has raised concerns about aesthetics, local government control and health effects.
“There’s just a lot of visual clutter concerns that come along with it,” Moscow Planning Manager Mike Ray said. “A lot of these (cells) are going to be located in the public right of way because that’s where a lot of the light posts and telephone poles are located.”
Ray presented a small cell wireless facilities draft ordinance to the Moscow Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday night at City Hall’s council chambers.
Ray told the commissioners — including two who participated virtually — that the city’s existing telecommunications code does not address small cell wireless facilities.
Small cells serve the same basic purpose as traditional cell towers as they connect wireless devices to nearby cellular networks. They need a power source connection to fiber optic cables, which typically run through public rights of way or other public spaces.
Unlike cell towers, which can be spaced farther apart, small cells need to be closer together.
The more obstacles present, such as trees and buildings, the more small cells will be required.
The proposed Moscow ordinance is intended to allow reasonable access to provide desired services, minimize visual clutter on utility poles and ensure installations are as aesthetically pleasing as possible and do not obstruct sidewalks and roadways among other things, Ray said.
The draft ordinance defines a small wireless facility as a telecommunications facility that the structure on which the antenna facilities are mounted is 50 feet or less in height, no more than 10 percent taller than adjacent structures or not extended to a height of more than 10 percent above the height as a result of the co-location of new antenna facilities. The facility must meet other conditions as well to be considered a small wireless facility.
Co-location is the placement of one or more antennas on an antenna support structure, or the placement of an antenna on an antenna tower on which one or more antennas are already located.
An antenna support structure is any structure or building not constructed primarily for the purpose of supporting an antenna but that supports an antenna as a secondary or accessory use. The University of Idaho’s Theophilus Tower is an example of an antenna support structure, Ray said.
He said co-location on existing support structures would be permitted under the draft ordinance.
If mounted on the side of a structure, the equipment would require certain heights above sidewalks and roadways and the antenna shroud, or covering, would need to be limited in size.
Ray said new small wireless facility antenna towers would require a conditional use permit approved by the Moscow Board of Adjustment. The tower would be permitted as high as 40 feet unless the Board of Adjustment approves a higher allotment.
The new tower could also have a maximum of one shroud; could be located no closer than 250 feet away from another small wireless facility antenna tower; and the tower pole would need to be powder-coated black with no more than a 14-inch diameter antenna shroud.
Commissioner Victoria Seever voiced concerns about the potential “proliferation” of cells and shrouds on buildings.
“I wouldn’t want to see our downtown buildings, which are much lower and in your face, have a ton of shrouds on them,” Seever said. “That would not look good.”
Ray said only one shroud containing all required small cell wireless equipment would be allowed per antenna support structure, such as a building, under the proposed ordinance.
According to a memo from City Attorney Mia Bautisa, the city is not allowed to place a moratorium on the deployment of 5G small wireless facilities; cannot deny an application for installing 5G small wireless facilities on the basis it would produce radio frequency emissions; and cannot implement criteria or standards that would materially inhibit the deployment of small wireless facilities.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing this summer on the draft ordinance. Ray said before Wednesday’s meeting that he expects the draft ordinance to be presented to the city council around September.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.