Deadline Approaching to Set Aesthetic Standards for Small Cell Wireless

If cities want to set aesthetic standards, they must be adopted by April 15, 2019.
(Published Dec 17, 2018)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Dec. 10 denied a petition to stay its Declaratory Ruling and Third Report and Order regarding small wireless deployment. This means the order is set to go into effect on Jan. 14.

—See the FCC Order Denying Motion to Stay in Accelerating Wireless and Wireline Broadband Deployment

The petition was filed by the National League of Cities (NLC) together with many other interested parties. In denying the petition, the FCC clarified the timeframe required for cities to adopt aesthetic standards on small cell deployment.

Cities that wish to enforce aesthetic requirements on small cell wireless facilities must have such requirements published by April 15, 2019. Any aesthetic standard adopted by cities must be: “(1) reasonable; (2) no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments; and (3) objective and published in advance.”

Advantage of adopting standards sooner

Despite the clarification of the 180-day window for cities to adopt proper aesthetic requirements, the denial implies that cities must have some aesthetic requirements in place by Jan. 14. After Jan. 14, cities are not able to enforce ad hoc aesthetic limitations.

Cities that have aesthetic, spacing, or undergrounding standards currently in place may continue to judge applications against their current standards. However, by April 15, cities may only enforce aesthetic, undergrounding and spacing standards that are “reasonable, no more burdensome than those applied to other types of infrastructure deployments, and objective and published in advance.”

Next steps for cities

There is a separate motion to stay in the courts. Despite this additional request for stay filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, cities should be working quickly to draft and publish aesthetic standards in order to comply with the new requirements.

Cities without aesthetic standards should work with their city attorney and city engineer to draft and publish aesthetic standards by Jan. 14. Cities with current aesthetic standards in place should work with their city attorney and city engineer to ensure current aesthetic standards are in compliance with the FCC order. If needed, they should amend current aesthetic standards to ensure compliance by April 15.

Continued advocacy on behalf of cities

The League of Minnesota Cities and NLC will continue to advocate to maintain city authority over small cell wireless deployment and management of right of ways. LMC will also continue to provide updates on the judicial appeals and how the FCC order impacts current state law.

For more background information about this bill, read a previous Cities Bulletin article.

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