Advances in wireless technology has obliged the city of Paragould to try to regulate an expected profusion of antennae.

At its meeting last week, the city council unanimously adopted an ordinance establishing safety, financial and aesthetic requirements on installers of small cellular antennae in the city.

“We are talking about the next generation of wireless communication,” said Jason Carter, general counsel for the Arkansas Municipal Power Association to a Committee of the Whole in advance of the regular council meeting.

According to information made available to the council, that “next generation” is “small cell” technology which relies upon smaller antennae placed closer to users. “Thus, across the country,” read a summary of the regulation serving as an attachment to the ordinance, “small cellular antennas [sic] are being built in the right of way, rather than on tall remote towers.”

Carter, speaking at the invitation of Paragould Light Water and Cable (PLWC) CEO Darrell Phillips, noted that the 48-page regulation “is not a set of rules that we put together because we thought it was a good idea.” Instead, he said, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had put out its own regulation pre-empting local government control and mandating small cell antenna installations be permitted on rights of way. He added that Act 999 of 2019, a state law, similarly requires right-of-way access to small cell providers. Carter said the ordinance, therefore, is to ensure connectivity while preserving the aesthetics of a community and maintaining safety on rights of way. Use of a multiplicity of small cell antennae, Carter said, will enable cellular telephones to work better and faster.

But at the same time, no one is to be allowed to install them willy-nilly. Therefore, the regulation requires those seeking to install small cell antennae to receive permits both for installation on the given right of way and (as applicable) to colocate them on poles. There are also annual fees for use of the right of way, as well as for attachment.

It also requires application fees and (if applicable) engineering costs, and expresses a preference for colocation of the antennae on poles in residential areas. Any installations of poles for the antennae are to conform as much as possible to the heights of other poles in the given area; antennae must not obstruct lines of right on the rights of way, and those colocated on poles must allow bucket truck access.

Wireless providers are to maintain and insure their equipment, indemnify and reimburse the city for any losses, provide emergency contact information.

For its part, the city is to return incomplete applications to the applicant within 10 days with deficiencies identified, and must approve or deny applications within 60 days (colocated) to 90 days (new pole). It is also to inspect completed installations in a timely manner, before a given antenna can be put into service. It is to provide inspection of the devices and may inventory all the poles with antennae belonging to a given provider.

The regulation lists aesthetic standards for its equipment that providers must meet.

Ward 4 position 1 council member Neal Adams questioned whether small cell wireless providers could compete, through wireless Internet, with the fiberoptic Internet service of Paragould Light, Water and Cable. Carter acknowledged the possibility of competition from such providers. “The challenge that these 5G signals have,” he noted, however, “is that it doesn’t penetrate walls well. When you’ve got a great line of sight, it’s [tremendously] fast ... but it’s very short-ranged.”

Carter concluded by questioning whether wireless Internet as provided by the small cell carriers would really be a significant challenge to PLWC, at least over the short term.

Adoption of an emergency clause means the ordinance, and attendant regulation, goes into effect immediately. The regulation may be viewed at the city hall, 301 W. Court St.

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