As Americans increase their internet use and number of connected devices, there will be a need for as many as 800,000 small cells over the next few years, according to CTIA. However, not everyone is pleased with the idea of small cells “knocking” at their door. Small cells are an unwanted addition to neighborhood rights of way in Little Rock, and residents question why they don’t have a say regarding the 5G infrastructure. The Arkansas Times reported that neighbors are disappointed and concerned by the lack of “public input” around small cells.
Although the current and former Mayor champion the improvements in internet service, the placement of towers across the city is a point of contention. The Times and Inside Towers reported the U.S. Conference of Mayors has been critical of the FCC, which limited cities’ ability to impose restrictions or costs on the placement of small cells.
As of late 2019, telecommunications companies had already installed 171 small cell facilities in the state’s capital, according to the City of Little Rock traffic engineer Travis Herbner. Verizon, AT&T, and Extenet have installed the small cells to date. Currently, 50 additional small cell projects proposed by Verizon are under review.
Telecoms are allowed to place the small cell poles in neighborhood rights-of-way and pay the city a fee between $20 and $200 per facility, noted the Times. Regarding the approval process, a telecom must file a Franchise Permit Application for Small Wireless Facilities with the city. The applications include construction plans, drawings, and descriptions of equipment and must be approved or denied by the city within 60 days, under FCC policy.
City officials are trying to use what little power they have to direct placement of small cells to minimize public impact, according to the Times. In 2017, a city ordinance passed encouraging telecoms to co-locate on existing light and traffic poles and be mindful of matching the aesthetic in historic neighborhoods.
“We try to make them a little bit less conspicuous,” Herbner said. “What I’m trying to do is minimize the impact for the public.”
Still, that’s not enough for resident Ragan Sutterfield. “I think my concerns are not tied to the technology itself so much as the idea [that] I think local government should control local streets and right of way and that doesn’t seem to be a possibility here,” Sutterfield said. “And I think that’s a problem.”