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No. Under State and Federal law, telecommunications carriers have a right to install wireless facilities in the public right-of-way. The City, however, can regulate certain aspects of the design, location, and placement of those facilities.
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A small cell wireless facility typically consists of a small antenna placed on utility poles or street lights along with small pole-mounted radios and other accessory equipment. Small cells are typically installed on utility poles or street lights. The antennas and equipment can be mounted on top or on the side of the pole. In some cases equipment boxes are installed on the ground or underground.
Small cell facilities will help wireless service providers in meeting the continuously increasing demand for wireless telephone and data services. The increased use of smart phones, tablets, health monitors and other wireless devices in every-day life relies on a robust wireless network. A small cell network is designed to add capacity and improve coverage in San Bruno neighborhoods. These small wireless facilities are placed with the intent to fill in areas that do not have sufficient capacity. Increased capacity will help improve voice quality, reliability and data speeds for San Bruno residents, businesses, first responders and visitors using the wireless networks.
A typical small cell within the right-of-way is 50 feet or less in height, consists of one or more antennas and one or more equipment boxes. The antennas will be mounted either at the top of the pole or on the side. The equipment boxes will be attached to the pole, installed on the ground, or in the case of new streetlight installations, potentially in the base of the pole itself. While every system varies, the equipment boxes typically include a disconnect switch, and computers to control the antennas. Some wireless facilities may also feature an equipment box, on the same pole or in a box near the pole, that contains batteries used to provide temporary emergency power to the facility in case of a power outage.
Public right-of-way refers to a strip of land, which is used as a roadbed, either for a street, railway or other accessway. The land is set aside as an easement or in fee, either by agreement or condemnation. The public right of way generally consists of the roadway, sidewalks and a strip of land behind the sidewalk (which varies by neighborhood).
A number of factors dictate the range of small cells, including objects that can potentially block the signals such as trees or buildings. On average, these systems have an approximate range of 150 to 500 feet due to their low mounting height and low power output (either 66, 100, or 174 watts). For comparison purposes, a typical "macro" facility, with higher power usage (e.g. 10,000+ watts), and a higher mounting location, can have a range of a mile or two.
After the Planning Commission approved the project, a neighbor appealed the decision to the City Council. The City Council upheld the appeal, finding that the facility was inconsistent with the height of other infrastructure in the neighborhood. Verizon then sued the City in federal court, seeking to invalidate the City’s current ordinance as too restrictive, and asking the court to overturn the City Council’s decision. The case is currently pending.
CBR Group on behalf of Verizon Wireless is the only company with active applications for new small wireless facilities in residential zones throughout the City. Other wireless companies have inquired about residential installations but to date no application has been received. The Verizon Wireless applications consist of adding an antenna and associated equipment onto existing facilities located within the public right-of-way. The table below includes a current list of the proposed small wireless facilities in the City. The City has not taken any official action on these applications except the application at 123 Elm Avenue which was denied by the City Council.
The City Council has joined a national coalition of more than 50 cities and local agencies in fifteen states to file suit in federal court opposing a new FCC order that would further reduce local control over small cell facilities. Other California cities that have joined are Burlingame, Fairfax, Monterey, San Jose, and the Marin Telecommunications Agency, along with nine cities in Southern California, including the City of Los Angeles. The cities seek to overturn the FCC order, which would otherwise go into effect in January 2019, and which would otherwise result in many small cell applications being approved with little or no local oversight.
5G is the fifth generation of mobile communication networks. Most consumers now use 3G or 4G/LTE networks, which were introduced to the public in 2001 and 2009, respectively. AT&T shuttered its 2G system in early 2017. Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint have said they’ll continue to operate their 2G networks through 2019, 2020, and 2021, respectively. It is anticipated that 5G systems will use existing cell towers and small cells.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in consultation with numerous other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, has developed safety standards. The FCC explains that its standards incorporate prudent margins of safety. It explains further that radio frequency 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. The FCC provides information about the safety of RF emissions from wireless telecommunications facilities on its website. See this FAQ for additional information and resources.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) provides information on its safety standards and determinations on its website.
Questions regarding potential Radiofrequency (RF) hazards from FCC-regulated transmitters can be directed to the Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau:
455 12th Street SWWashington DC, 20554Phone: 888-225-5322 (1-888-CALL-FCC)Email RF Safety
The Telecommunications Act of 1996 contains provisions relating to federal jurisdiction over the regulation of human exposure to RF emissions from certain transmitting devices. In particular, Section 704 of the Act states that “No state or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of environmental effects of radiofrequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emission.” (47 U.S.C. §332(c)(7)(B)(iv).) Further information on FCC policy with respect to facilities siting is available from the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and in the Local Government Official’s Guide to Transmitting Antenna RF Emission Safety (PDF).
Yes. Currently, the City’s existing Wireless Telecommunications Facilities Ordinance requires a Use Permit (UP) for the installation of wireless facilities both on private property or within the public right-of-way. A license agreement - and annual fee - is required for installations on City-owned poles. No license agreements have been entered into to date.
Installation of small cell facilities on existing street light poles may be deemed categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to, but not limited to, Sections 15302 and 15303 of the Guidelines for CEQA.
Streetlight poles are owned and maintained by the City of San Bruno. The majority of wooden utility poles are maintained and controlled by members of the Northern California Joint Pole Association (NCJPA) such as PG&E. Utility poles may have several utilities on any given pole, including electric, telephone, and cable providers.
Wireless carriers have proposed and installed similar networks in cities throughout the Bay Area and the United States.
The FCC has issued a declaratory order stating that a moratorium amounts to an “effective prohibition” of service in violation of Federal law. As such, the adoption of any moratorium is legally risky.
We are not aware of any cities, including those mentioned, with an outright prohibition on installations in residential zones. In fact, to do so would violate the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. Some cities that have attempted to impose such bans, or who have denied small cell facilities in residential areas (such as the City of San Bruno recently did at 123 Elm), have been sued in federal court by the carriers.
If a proposed FCC order goes into effect as scheduled in January 2019, it would prohibit cities from requiring carriers to prove that there is a "significant gap" in coverage and that they are using the "least intrusive alternative" to fill that gap. Instead, the FCC order establishes a new standard to govern local regulation. Pursuant to this new standard, cities cannot "materially inhibit" a carrier from competing "in a fair and balanced legal and regulatory environment," or from "densifying a wireless network, introducing new services, or otherwise improving service capabilities."
Along with more than 50 other cities nationwide, the City issued the FCC to block the implementation of the proposed order. See this FAQ.
The City’s regulations may include provisions deeming installations in residential zoning districts, or near schools and parks as the City’s least preferred locations. This does not mean that they will never be installed at these locations, but the intent is to encourage carriers to seek out locations in other areas of the City. If ground-mounted equipment is proposed for installation on school property or in City parks, the agencies can control the placement of the wireless facility and require license agreements.
Improvements will vary depending on location and carrier. If you are interested in additional information please contact your service provider.
Current technological limitations make it difficult to place two small cell antennas on a single pole. It is unlikely at this time that, for example, both Verizon and AT&T would share a pole. Note, however, State and Federal law prohibits the City from denying a proposed installation on a pole with an existing wireless facility, if it complies with certain requirements including size limitations.
Questions regarding potential RF emissions from FCC-regulated transmitters can be directed to the Federal Communications Commission, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau445 12th Street, SW Washington, D.C. 20554; Phone: 888-225-5322 (1-888-CALL-FCC);FCC by Email
If you have concerns in the future that the facility is not in compliance with the FCC Guidelines, you should report your concerns to the FCC's Enforcement Bureau:445 12th Street, SW,3rd floorWashington, DC 20554Phone: 202-418-7450.
For additional information regarding RF emissions safety and compliance, please see the following resources from various federal, state and independent sources. Please note that these links are provided for information purposes only and the views expressed in them should be attributed to the original source.