The headache that is tower-siting
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Strategies for approval
Exactly how much effort an enterprise must put into the site-approval process depends on numerous factors, including the purpose of the wireless network and the jurisdiction in question.
"I haven't really run into any hiccups, as long as you comply with the city and county [rules] out here in the Northwest," said Dean Ballew, site development manager for Day Wireless, a large dealer with LMR sites in the states of Oregon and Washington. "I haven't permitted anything in California, but I do understand that there's challenges in that market."
Indeed, certain jurisdictions in California are infamous in the wireless industry for being especially difficult to get wireless facilities approved.
"What typically happens in Southern California is that Network A will come up with a plan to add 80 sites in a 10-county area," Seybold said. "At the end of the year, they've added 20 sites, and the rest of them are stuck in city councils and county government."
Some of the local resistance to wireless sites stems from a backlash to FCC rules, with local officials believing that the federal government should "butt out" of city and county planning issues. Meanwhile, other opposition is based on the fact that traditional wireless towers and cell sites are not considered aesthetically pleasing to most (see picture), but they are becoming increasingly prevalent as wireless communications become more common. As a result, some jurisdictions require cell sites to be camouflaged to look like trees, for example (see picture), Seybold said.
Both Seybold and Higgs said that they believe it is important for wireless operators to be proactive in seeking support in a community when applying to deploy facilities for networks — something that is easier to garner than in the past, because most people use mobile devices and about 30% no longer have a landline phone.
"I've found that my clients that go in and have a proactive approach to organizing some of the community in advance of the zoning hearing almost always get what their looking for," Higgs said. "And the ones that show up cold to a zoning hearing and are shocked when they see some sort of organized community opposition are the ones that end up having a lot of trouble getting their projects pushed through."
One approach that Seybold advocates is to have local jurisdictions treat the wireless industry as it would other development sectors and develop a master zoning plan for wireless facilities, with a requirement that all facilities be able to host multiple network operators — commercial and private — so the total number of wireless facilities in the jurisdiction can be minimized.
Meanwhile, Seybold said that he is interested to see what effect the deployment of the much-anticipated 700 MHz LTE network for public safety being built by FirstNet could have on wireless siting.
"Once FirstNet starts looking at networks, if I go to a city and say, 'We need a cell site here, but we need it for Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and public-safety broadband,' is that going to have an impact?" Seybold said. "I don't know the answer to that yet."