What is 5G/small cell networks? 

5G is the “fifth generation” of cellular networks. Hailed as a major technological breakthrough, 5G has the potential to provide peak download and upload speeds comparable to fiber connectivity, together with real-time responsiveness, while connecting a multitude of devices simultaneously. Additionally, 5G is intended to support new technologies such as autonomous vehicles and other use cases that will require near real-time connectivity. 

Many 5G networks are created by installing multiple small cells, which complement large cell towers to provide seamless coverage. Small cells are frequently attached to utility poles, light poles, or buildings, and work collectively to create radio access networks (“RAN”) and transmit data via electromagnetic radio waves (radio frequency energy). The cells have a much shorter transmission range than traditional cell towers (typically 500 to 1,000 ft). In contrast to the longer wavelengths associated with older wireless technologies (i.e., 3G and 4G), which allow macrotowers to be separated by miles, 5G will rely on shorter millimeter wavelengths that travel only short distances, and therefore require that small cell facilities be placed closer together. 

What is the City’s role in regulating small cells? 

The City’s regulatory authority is extremely limited and is largely preempted by federal law. Under the Telecommunication Act of 1996 (“TCA”), Congress tasked the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) with creating rules for the implementation of telecommunications consistent with the Act. The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. When the FCC promulgates and adopts rules, they become legal requirements that must be followed. The TCA prohibits State and local governments from regulating the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless services facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the regulations contained within the TCA. Moreover, on or around September 27, 2018, the FCC issued an order captioned Accelerating Wireless Broadband Deployment by Removing Barriers to Infrastructure Investment, Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order, FCC 18-133, WT Docket No. 17-79, WC Docket No. 17-84 (“Small Cell Order”), which provided further guidance on the deployment of small cell facilities. 

In Indiana, the placement of a small cell facility and the associated supporting structure in the public right-of-way is considered a permitted use and is exempt from local zoning review if the total height of the structure supporting the small cell facility does not exceed the greater of (a) fifty feet measured from grade or (b) the height of any utility pole in place on July 1, 2017, and within 500 feet of the proposed small cell facility, plus 10 feet. 

With respect to the construction, placement, or use of any small cell facility and the associated supporting structure, the City is prohibited from the following: 

  • Limiting the placement of the small cell facilities by minimum separation distances or maximum height limitations;
  • Impose unreasonable requirements regarding the maintenance or appearance of the small cell facility and associated supporting structure; 
  • Limit the duration of any permit that is granted; 
  • Condition the grant of approval on the applicant’s agreement to allow other wireless facilities to be placed at, attached to, or located on the associated wireless support structure or utility pole; 
  • Prohibit an applicant from locating a small cell facility, wireless support structure, or utility pole in a residential area; 
  • Impose setback of fall-zone requirements for the associated wireless support structure or utility pole that are different from requirements imposed on other types of structures in the right-of-way; and 
  • Require the removal of existing wireless support structures, wireless facilities, or utility poles, wherever located, as a condition for approval of the application. Additionally, the permitting fees for small cell facilities are limited by state law. 

Who regulates the health and safety standards for 5G? 

The FCC. To avoid a patchwork of state and local laws governing RF emissions, Congress preempted local communities from regulating the siting of wireless transmitters based on RF concerns if those facilities comply with the FCC’s RF standards. 47 U.S.C. §332(c)(7)(B)(iv). Accordingly, the City must rely upon the FCC to ensure that the RF standards provide adequate safeguards for the public health and safety.

Have small cell facilities been deployed in Fishers? 

Yes. Telecommunications providers have deployed approximately 112 small cell facilities in Fishers, a majority of which have been deployed in the public right-of-way adjoining main thoroughfares. 

Will this technology be deployed in residential areas?

Yes. Federal and State law prohibit the City from regulating the placement of small cell facilities through zoning or separation distances. Notwithstanding, the State has allowed the City to prohibit the placement of a new utility pole or new wireless support structure in a right-of-way within an area that is designated strictly for underground or buried utilities if: 

  • (i) The area is designated strictly for underground or buried utilities before May 1, 2017; 
  • (ii) The permit authority provides a wavier process that addresses requests to install new utility poles or new wireless support structures within the area; 
  • (iii) Upon receipt of an application for the construction, placement, or use of a small cell facility on one or more utility poles or one or more new wireless support structures in an area that is designated strictly for underground or buried utilities, posts notice of the application on the permit authority’s website; 
  • (iv) The prohibitions or other restrictions with respect to the place of new utility poles or new wireless support structures within this area are applied in a nondiscriminatory manner, and 
  • (v) The area is zoned strictly for residential land use. 

In accordance with Indiana law, the City has established a waiver process whereby telecommunications providers may seek to deploy small cell facilities in residential areas through the City’s Board of Public Works & Safety. The City anticipates receiving hundreds of residential permits throughout 2020. For example, Verizon anticipates submitting nearly 400 residential permits in 2020. 

What has the city done to prepare for this emerging technology? 

The City has been extremely active in trying to balance the growing need for this technology with our ability to maintain the aesthetics of our community. The City has performed the following to date: 

  • In 2015, the City began to address the deployment of 5G technology through zoning (which was later prohibited). 
  • In 2017, the City responded quickly to State legislation that prohibited communities from regulating the deployment of small cell facilities unless it established the above referenced waiver process (the law was effective April 30, 2017 with requirements needing to be met by May 1, 2017). 
  • The City has worked with all telecommunication providers in maintaining aesthetics in our community. In general, a majority of the small cell facilities already deployed in Fishers match City infrastructure and provide additional lighting. 
  • The City has negotiated attachment agreements with telecommunication providers, allowing providers the opportunity to deploy 5G technology on existing City infrastructure (i.e., streetlights, traffic signals, public buildings). This partnership minimizes the impact of new facilities being placed within the public right-of-way. 
  • On or around May 3, 2018, FCC Chairman Brendan Carr met with Mayor Fadness to discuss the deployment of 5G technology in Fishers and the potential challenges facing our community. 
  • The City has met with every major telecommunications provider to discuss 5G rollout in our community. 

How will I be notified of permits for my neighborhood? 

Through its waiver process, and applicable State law, the City will allow any neighborhood or homeowners association to register with the City to receive notice by United States mail of any application filed with the City for the construction, placement, or use of a small cell facility on one or more new utility poles or one or more new wireless support structures in an area within the jurisdiction of the neighborhood association or homeowners association. The City will also maintain this information on its website, where a map of proposed small cell locations will continually be updated. Additionally, although not required by law, the City will also inform residents nearest the proposed, permitted sites. 

The City’s Board of Public Works & Safety will ultimately approve or deny any waiver requests to construct or place small cell facilities within residentially zoned areas of the community. In general, the Board meets the second and fourth Monday of each month. HOAs and/or residents nearest the proposed locations are welcome to submit comments to or attend any Board meeting where consideration of the permits is given. 

Can deployment of 5G be halted during the Coronavirus pandemic?

Probably not. The Department of Homeland Security issued guidance on March 30, 2020 which provided that engineers, technicians and associated personnel responsible for infrastructure construction and restoration, including contractors for construction and engineering of fiber optic cables, buried conduit, small cells, other wireless facilities, and other communications sector-related infrastructure are essential workforce. This includes construction of new facilities and deployment of new technology as these are required to address congestion or customer usage due to unprecedented use of remote services. Moreover, the FCC has provided that there are extremely limited scenarios in which emergency moratoria on 5G deployment would be permissible to protect the public safety and welfare (i.e., when power lines are down, local government may need to limit access to rights-of-way until the effected area can be restored). For more information see Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce.

Are cellular and other radio towers located near homes or schools safe for residents and students?

As discussed above, radiofrequency emissions from antennas used for cellular and PCS transmissions result in exposure levels on the ground that are typically thousands of times below safety limits. These safety limits were adopted by the FCC based on the recommendations of expert organizations and endorsed by agencies of the Federal Government responsible for health and safety. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that such towers could constitute a potential health hazard to nearby residents or students.

What is the FCC’s policy on radiofrequency warning signs? For example, when should signs be posted, where should they be located and what should they say?

Radiofrequency warning or alerting signs should be used to provide information on the presence of RF radiation or to control exposure to RF radiation within a given area. Standard radiofrequency hazard warning signs are commercially available from several vendors. Appropriate signs should incorporate the format recommended by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and as specified in the IEEE standard: IEEE Std C95.2-1999 (learn more). Guidance concerning the placement of signs can be found in the IEEE Standard: IEEE Std C95.7-2005 (available for free through the IEEE Get Program). When signs are used, meaningful information should be placed on the sign advising affected persons of: 

  1. the nature of the potential hazard (i.e., high RF fields), 
  2. how to avoid the potential hazard, and 
  3. whom to contact for additional information.

In some cases, it may be appropriate to also provide instructions to direct individuals as to how to work safely in the RF environment of concern. Signs should be located prominently in areas that will be readily seen by those persons who may have access to an area where high RF fields are present.

What happens before construction?

There are typically three groups involved at project start.

  • First is Verizon’s site selection team that goes out and looks for candidate locations. They will many times look for an A and then a B location. The SAQ as they are called put together a package that includes the location, then views looking north, south, east, and west. These are put together in a package and sent to our project managers.
  • The project managers review the candidates and compare then to the initial search ring created by our RF engineers and send these to the RF engineering team to review and a candidate is selected.
  • These candidates are then sent to NEPA consultants to review. Depending on location and design, these locations would need a complete NEPA/SHPO review. If a full review is required, the consultant will send out a historian and they also will take pictures for a full report that goes to the FCC, SHPO, Tribal, and other offices.
  • Another group that comes out after the selection, is our A&E (architectural and engineering) firm. These engineers will take pictures of locations and start mapping utility notes, items in area, obstructions, etc. This is all of the stuff that is needed for creating the construction drawings.