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Bakersfield, Calif., Rushes to Put Small Cell Rules on the Books

A change in cellphone technology could impact the view from your backyard, or maybe your front yard.

The city of Bakersfield, Calif., is scrambling to write an emergency ordinance that will regulate small cell facilities placed on public light poles and power lines.

The advent of 5G cellphone technology has forced wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon to switch from the tall antenna towers placed sporadically throughout cities to smaller boxes the size of backpacks or luggage placed closely together on public poles.

Although only a handful of these new facilities have been installed in the city, the city expects many more to arrive soon, said Deputy City Attorney Andy Heglund.

“The carriers aren’t disclosing their full build-out plan, but it could be hundreds of facilities,” he said.

In the impending rollout of the new technology, the city will have a limited ability to regulate the new cell facilities, prompting concerns that the aesthetics of the city’s streetscapes could be jeopardized.

The city wants to avoid light poles and power lines cluttered with buzzing electronic boxes.

The Federal Communications Commission approved new regulations in September that took away much local control of the 5G facilities.

Under the new regulations, which were made in the name of removing regulatory barriers from government, cities will be limited in their ability to charge market rates for fees associated with the installations, and they will lose some control of how the facilities will look.

“The city is not opposed to [carriers] rolling out this additional equipment, but we want to be able to make sure that the rollout is balanced and protects the aesthetics of the city’s right of way,” Heglund said.

He added that the difference between the market rate and the amount the city would legally be allowed to charge for fees could be as much as $1,000 per unit per year.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a state bill that had similar restrictions after an outcry from a number of California cities.

Since the FCC passed the new regulations, cities across the country have been voicing their opposition to the new rules.

Cell carriers have stood by the FCC.

“The FCC took the next step to further strengthen the United States’ lead in the race to 5G by adopting a framework for permitting and fees that will foster more widespread and robust infrastructure investment,” ATT said in a statement at the time the FCC passed the regulations. “We are excited about our continued expansion of our small cell facilities to bring advanced wireless technologies and services to communities across the country.”

Over the next two months, the Bakersfield City Council will consider adopting an emergency ordinance so the city can regulate what little will remain under its control when the new rules come into effect in January.

Barring legal action, cell carriers will begin installing the new facilities soon. The city’s Public Works Department has already received some applications for the facilities, but expects more to come.

“The city wants to encourage the rollout,” Heglund said, “but it just needs to be in a managed and balanced way.”

©2018 The Bakersfield Californian (Bakersfield, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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