The City of Colorado Springs is receiving growing numbers of requests from wireless providers and wireless infrastructure companies to construct telecommunications facilities in the public right-of-way. Macro cells and small cells are needed for cellular companies to support existing and future demands for the connectivity we all depend on daily. The Office of Innovation and Sustainability is coordinating with providers and other City Departments to ensure small cell infrastructure and processes meet Federal, State, and City requirements. The Planning and Development Department ensures macro cell infrastructure and processes meet Federal, State, and City requirements.
What are macro cells and small cells?
Until recently, private cellular companies managed wireless phone service using large antennas mounted on towers, or macro cells, usually located on private property. Macro cells serve relatively large areas up to several miles away. Private telecommunications providers have explained to the City that existing macro cells are becoming congested and that installing more macro cells will not keep up with rapidly growing demand for high-speed wireless data. Therefore, carriers have begun using new lower-powered antenna technology, or small cells, to offload data traffic from the macro cells. Each of these small cells serves a much smaller area but with capacity for much higher data volumes.
Why is a small or macro cell being installed in my neighborhood?
Private telecommunications providers have identified your area as a higher demand area for mobile coverage. The small cell or macro cell will provide increased wireless coverage in your area.
How many small cells will there be?
To meet the desired coverage of all wireless customers, it is estimated that a small cell will eventually be needed about every one to two blocks throughout Colorado Springs. Providers will begin deployment in denser populated areas like downtown. The City is asking that companies utilize or replace existing utility and light poles in order to minimize their impact.
Where will small cells be located?
Unlike macro cells, which are typically on private property, small cells will primarily be located within the public right-of-way. This is because Colorado State Statues state that telecommunications providers have the right to locate small cell facilities on light poles, traffic signals, or utility poles in the public right-of-way.
What will small cells look like?
While there will be variations, the City is exploring policies and ordinances within the parameters of Federal and State law for standardizing aesthetics. The City is implementing design standards to make the style as consistent as possible and match the character of existing neighborhoods and infrastructure. The City’s top priorities are maximizing aesthetics and minimizing congestion of the public right-of-way. Providers are required to:
- Standardize pole design elements, color, location, etc. to meet intent and character of existing infrastructure in the public right-of-way.
- Limit pole heights to match existing streetlights and other poles in the public right-of-way.
- Generally avoid placing poles adjacent to regional parks and historical places.
- Enclose equipment to minimize visual impact.
- Co-locate equipment onto existing infrastructure wherever feasible.
What is the City doing about concerns about the health effects of radiofrequency (RF) emissions from wireless technology?
Radio frequency emissions are a common concern and are regulated by the Federal Government, not the City. There is a federal statute found in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which prevents states and localities from regulating wireless facilities on the basis of the health or environmental effects of RF emissions. The statute and the case law interpreting it give sole authority for regulating in this area to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Local governments can do little more than require wireless companies to certify that they will comply with the federal regulations for RF emissions.
What authority does the City have to regulate telecommunications equipment?
Federal and state laws limit the City’s legal authority over the placement of telecommunications equipment. Beyond the design standards, the City can regulate based on the aesthetic values of public places, compatibility with the City’s traffic and utility infrastructure, pedestrian and vehicle safety, quality of life for nearby residences, preservation of historic areas, and preservation of views from residences and other sensitive sites. The City can do its best to minimize potentially adverse impacts, but cannot prevent cellular companies from installing small cells in the public right-of way.
What is the difference in the approval process for macro cells versus small cells?
The approval processes for macro cells and small cells are different due to federal and state laws, the type of equipment, and the zone district where the proposed equipment is to be located.
Typically, macro cells are located on private property and must follow City Planning and Development requirements similar to any land use or development application. This includes review by the City Planning Staff and the City Planning Commission. (See Macro Cell Tower application processes [Link]. Telecommunication facilities may be constructed or located within certain zone districts in Colorado Springs if they do not substantially adversely impact the visual integrity of the City, its neighborhoods and important view corridors. These telecommunication regulations are in City Zoning Code Section 7.4.601. These regulations also strive to provide the public an opportunity to comment on the visual impact and land use compatibility of all proposed telecommunications facilities.
Small cells are a public utility and cities are required under federal and state laws to allow cellular companies to install small cells within the public right-of-way. The City’s permit process for equipment located in public right-of-way is an administrative review and approval process, and does not require public notification. See question: “What authority does the City have to regulate telecommunications equipment?”
Who can I contact with additional questions?
The City’s Office of Innovation and Sustainability at Joshua.Pace@coloradosprings.gov or (719) 385-5272.
View presentation to City Council on August 26, 2019 for additional information.