Small Cell Facilities

Small cell pole

Small cells are transmitters and receivers installed by private telecommunication providers that strengthen cellular coverage and improve data speeds for 4G and future 5G technologies.

Federal and state law requires the city of Lakewood to allow small cell poles including equipment in the public right of way, which includes streets and sidewalks. Typical antenna locations for small cell antenna equipment include streetlight poles, utility poles, free standing poles or mounted to existing buildings. The city has limited authority and can only impose visual design standards and general placement modifications to address issues including ensuring equipment placement does not change vehicle travel or parking, and does not block vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian access or visibility along the right of way. The city cannot prevent small cell facilities from being placed in the public right of way or on private property, and it doesn't regulate radio emissions involved with the facilities. 

The city has established a Small Cell Design Manual(PDF, 1MB) to help minimize the visual impact on surrounding neighborhoods by using camouflage techniques and similar colors to match existing structures. 

Can the city prevent small cell facilities from being placed in the right of way?

No. Federal and state laws require the city to allow small cell poles and associated equipment in the right of way, similar to other utilities. The city has a permit process to minimize the impact within our limited authority, which requires facilities to meet design standards to address the following placement issues:

  • Does not change vehicle travel or parking. 
  • Does not block vehicle, bicycle, or pedestrian access or visibility along the right of way.
  • Should avoid placement directly in front of structures on adjacent properties in the right of way whenever possible.
  • New pole placement must be 15' from trees, existing streetlights or utility poles.
  • Height of poles must generally be consistent with local zone districts.
  • Facilities must include camouflage elements to minimize visual impact.

How are small cell facilities different from the large "macro" cell towers?

The large "macro" cell towers are good for maintaining a strong signal over a large area; however, they can become congested when too many devices try to connect at the same time. Wireless providers are using small cell facilities to handle more connections at higher speed. Unlike large towers, the small cell facilities have the ability to be placed on streetlights or other utility poles. The small cell facilities provide wireless coverage to a smaller area, so they are less likely to become congested from too many devices connecting. 

Why are wireless providers installing small cell sites?

According to wireless providers, the large cell towers, known as "macro" towers, are congested and can't meet the current and immediate future needs of their customers.

To increase the coverage (how far the signal reaches) and the capacity (access to the data), wireless providers are installing small cells. These antennas cover a smaller area (a few blocks) and are usually connected by fiber optic cable providing additional capacity at faster speeds.  This technology will reduce the load on the larger cell towers and enable mobile devices to work as expected.

Who is responsible for regulating radio frequency emissions?

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the agency responsible for radio frequency emission regulations. You can contact the FCC here.

There is a federal statute which prevents states and localities from regulating wireless facilities on the basis of the health or environmental effects of radiofrequency (RF) emissions. The preemption is found in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(B)(iv). The statute and the case law interpreting it give sole authority for regulating in this area to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

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