Questions about the Amended MN Telecommunications Statute

October 15, 2018

The State of Minnesota updated its Telecommunications Statute in 2017 to include new and collocated small cell technologies. With small cell technologies, cities are attracting economic development and positioning themselves for the future. The amendment focuses on telecommunications infrastructure in the public right of way.

Ideally, small cells provide end users an improved cellular experience in congested urban areas. Small cell technology improves capacity and coverage of cellular service and is a stepping stone for 5G technology. It’s why cellular carriers are rushing to get the process moving toward construction of small cell antennas. The Statute says municipalities are now required to allow carriers to install small cell infrastructure. Learn more about small cell technology in this National League of Cities Guide.

Good news for cities out in front of the new technologies, they are able to attract economic development opportunities and position themselves as a city embracing technology. The challenge is more carriers requesting to install the small cell infrastructure will result in an uptick in permit applications across the state. As a result, cities are taking a close look at zoning requirements and changes to the city permitting process to help make better decisions to accommodate the need for structures to meet the anticipated demand. Why the concern? Each carrier will need to strategically install their own antennas to help meet consumer demand. 

We sat down with Telecommunications Group Lead Dan Zienty to discuss some of the most common questions cities are asking about the new amendment and small cell technologies.

Here are 14 of the most common questions cities are asking:

Small cell photo
New regulations surrounding small cell technology are paving the way for 5G technology.

Can cities charge cellular companies to build the infrastructure on the public right of way?

Yes. Cities can collect permitting fees and ongoing fees for placing antennas on the right of way such as traffic lights, street lights and power poles. They can also charge (fixed) rental fees for building a structure on city-owned property. 

What is the timeframe to respond to the carriers who want to install infrastructure?  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has interpreted that a “reasonable period of time” for local governments to grant or deny siting requests is 150 days for new facilities, and 90 days for collocations. This presumed time limitation is 

commonly known as a “shot clock.” (source National League of Cities) 

1. What are the reasons a city can deny a permit application?

Section 16. Subdivision 4 says that a permit can be denied if it is necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public or when necessary to protect the right of way in its current use.

2. If small cell antennas need to be 25 feet off of the ground, how does that affect our city’s standard 16-18-foot light pole?

This is something that can be worked out with the carrier. Either the carrier can adapt and co-create a structure on top of the existing light pole, or the carrier can work with the city or utility to provide a replacement structure or request a variance. 

Collage of small cell photos
There are size limitations in Minnesota as to how much small cell equipment cellular providers can add to public areas.

3. Can the carrier add as much equipment as they want on the pole?

No, the statute places a limit based on space (volume).

4. Isn’t there a maximum cubic foot requirement for antennas? What about ground equipment?

Yes, each antenna and its elements should be able to fit inside of an enclosure of no more than six cubic feet in volume. The ground equipment associated with small cell should be no more than 28 cubic feet.

5. Does the radio frequency (RF) from the antennas pose a health concern? 

No, small cell sites produce no more Radio Frequency (RF) than it takes to power a 40-watt light bulb.

6. Is the radio frequency regulated by the FCC?

Yes. The FCC auctions off the frequency bandwidth used by the carriers and provides that information to the city in its application.

7. Can small cells be mounted on buildings?

Yes, in this instance though, they would not be governed by the statute, as they are not within the right-of-way.

8. If the antennas were located outside on a second or third story window (such as in a downtown area) are there any health concerns?

No. As stated above, there shouldn’t be any health concerns. However, cities can explore this as one of the four reasons to deny a permit (see number 1).

9. Are there any concerns over firefighters getting hurt with regard to small cell technologies?

As previously discussed with regard to RF signals; this is believed to be a non-issue. 

10. What are the limits for reimbursement for professional services related to a particular installation?

Reimbursement costs are based on the actual costs incurred by the local government in managing the public right of way.

11. Are there any noise concerns with how the equipment operates, such as cooling fans, etc.?

No, small cell technology does not generate the heat normally associated with other cellular technologies, so they do not require cooling fans.

12. What should a city do in areas where it is trying to keep utilities underground, and they need special poles for installation?

The carriers may be required to obtain a special or conditional use permit to install poles in these areas.

13. Can a city end up with multiple carriers in a small area or intersection?

Yes, because small cell locations are dictated by need, which is defined as capacity and speed. Small cells are a network enhancement. They are not co-locatable with other carriers because they are generally connected by fiber or a backhaul antenna to a macro (primary or hub site).

Note: This response is based on technology requirements – the statute is not. The statute allows for micro cells (mini macros). However, as discussed above, the space (volume) allowed is controlled.

Collage of small cell photos
Small cells are placed closer (typically within two miles) together than their macro cellular technology cousins.

14. What are the minimum spacing requirements for small cell installations?

Typically, small cells (grouping) are placed within a two-mile radius from one another, supported by the primary site. But, they can be placed closer if agreed upon by the municipality.

Summing it up

5G technology is coming sooner rather than later, scheduled for 2020. And, it will change a lot more than just download speeds. Municipalities are set to see a number of changes to both their physical infrastructure and how they interact with the carriers offering this new technology. Being ahead of the curve when it comes to 5G will set cities up for future success.

About the author

Dan Zienty

Dan Zienty is a telecommunications expert who believes a proper understanding of 5G regulations now will help cities to be successful down the road, in providing infrastructure to meet the growing communications needs of its residents and businesses. Contact Dan

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