Small Cell Infrastructure in Colorado Springs

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The City of Colorado Springs is receiving growing numbers of requests from wireless providers and wireless infrastructure companies to construct small cell facilities in the public right of way.  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.

FAQs

What are small cells?

Small cells are low-powered antennas installed and operated by private telecommunications providers. Small cells supplement larger cellular networks and improve cellular coverage in small geographic areas. Initially, small cells will meet 4G LTE demands, and later meet 5G demands as technology changes. In the City of Colorado Springs, small cells may be located on poles, wires, or buildings.  

What are the Federal and State requirements related to small cells?

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 states that local governments cannot prohibit any entity from providing telecommunications services, and requires local governments to act on applications for small cell deployments within a reasonable period of time.

Colorado State law establishes that telecommunications providers have the right to locate small cells in the public right-of-way.State law is specific that municipalities may not entirely deny nor discriminate against small cell infrastructure, treating the equipment in the same way as other permitted uses of the right-of-way.

What is the City’s role related small cell deployment?

The City of Colorado Springs maintains the authority to regulate small cell equipment based on public health, safety, and welfare, and deny or require change to proposals that conflict with other uses of the public right-of-way or are otherwise unlawful.

The City reviews permit applications for small cells proposed to be installed in the public right-of-way.State law requires the City to process permit applications in batches and in 90 days or less.  The City is working with each provider to standardize the aesthetic appearance of small cell equipment as much as possible.  The City is encouraging co-location of new equipment onto existing poles and infrastructure in the public right-of-way wherever possible.

Why are small cells necessary?

Research shows that mobile data traffic in North America has grown significantly in recent years, and is projected to continue increasing at a rapid rate.  Until recently, wireless phone service has typically been managed using macro cell sites, large antennas mounted on towers located on both public and private property. These macro cell sites serve relatively large areas up to several miles away. However, due to population and economic growth in Colorado Springs and the associated increase in demand for cellular data, existing cell sites have become congested and cannot continue to meet the needs of customers.

To meet the increasing demands for wireless data, wireless carriers have begun using lower-powered antenna technology, or small cells, to offload data traffic from macro cell sites.  Each of these small cells serves an area of about one to two blocks, but with very high data volumes.

Can the City standardize small cell infrastructure?

The City is exploring policies and ordinances within the parameters of Federal and State law for standardizing the aesthetics of small cell infrastructure. The City’s Office of Innovation and Sustainability coordinates with providers and City Departments to ensure small cell infrastructure and processes meet Federal, State, and City requirements. The City’s top priorities for small cell infrastructure are maximizing aesthetics and minimizing congestion of the public right-of-way. Therefore, 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 parks and historical places.
  • Enclose as much equipment as possible to minimize visual impact.
  • Collocate equipment onto existing infrastructure wherever feasible.

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.