West Virginia is 22nd state to adopt rules for 5G small cell deployments

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and the CTIA have both congratulated West Virginia as being the latest state to adopt new rules they say will streamline 5G small cell deployments.

The legislation, which was signed into law by Governor Jim Justice last week, limits government fees and speeds review periods for the build-out of small cells. It allows localities to charge up to $25 per year for the use of the right-of-way and $65 per year for attachment of small cells to certain utility poles, and it requires localities to approve or disapprove of small cell attachments generally within 60 days of applications. 

“West Virginia’s leaders recognize the opportunity that 5G will create for its economy, education, and healthcare,” said Commissioner Carr in a statement. “By setting limits on government fees and review periods, they will speed next-gen broadband deployment throughout the Mountain State.”

Twenty-two states have enacted legislation aimed at greasing the bureaucratic wheels for wireless carriers deploying 5G small cell infrastructure. Two other states addressed streamlining wireless facility deployments for 4G years ago. All told, there are now 24 states with small cell laws on the books. These states include Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and now West Virginia, according to BroadbandNow, a broadband coverage and policy research company.

The batch of 5G small cell state laws broadly follow the FCC’s September 2018 declaratory ruling, which seeks to limit local government authority to regulate small cell deployments by imposing new rules around the permitting processes and fees charged to wireless carriers.

Wireless carriers and industry organizations have argued that these bills are critical to the rapid deployment of 5G infrastructure across the U.S. According to FCC data, an unnamed carrier has turned on 27,000 small cells in 2018 alone, representing an 800% increase over 2017, thanks to modernized regulations around small cells.

In an email to FierceWireless, Jamie Hastings, SVP of external and state affairs at CTIA, characterized these laws as part of wider infrastructure reforms needed to address small cell deployments. Eighty percent of future infrastructure deployments will be small cells, according to CTIA.

“Small cells can be the size of backpacks or pizza boxes, and infrastructure reform is vital to ensure that they are not treated the same as traditional 200-foot-tall cell towers,” Hastings said. She added that the 22 states to adopt new rules around small cell regulation are “incenting business development and paving the way for their residents to enjoy the economic and civic benefits of 5G wireless technology.”

Next-generation wireless networks will bring more than $140 million in economic growth to West Virginia cities Charleston and Huntington alone, Hastings said, citing Accenture data.

Despite the rosy support from the FCC and industry stakeholders, local governments across the country have objected to the measures. Officials in Portland, Oregon; Seattle, Washington; New York City and Boston all have pledged to pursue legal action against the order.

RELATED: Operators face local opposition to 5G small cell deployments

Other city governments have raised concerns that lack of authority over when, where and how small cell equipment is deployed could lead to complications such as damage to historic buildings, unsightly installations in historic or design districts, and decreased property values. The FCC exempted small cells from federal historic and environmental reviews last year.