A “Small Wireless Facility” (SWF) or “Small Cell” is any Wireless Communications Facility that has an antenna no more than three cubic feet in volume and are mounted on structures 50 feet or less in height. The majority of small cells will be attached to both City-owned and third-party utility street light or signal light poles in the public right-of-way. Additional sites may be permitted on privately-owned structures.
Macro Cell (traditional cell towers)
“Macro Wireless Facility” or “Macro Site” is any Wireless Communications Facility that is not a Small Wireless Facility. For Macro Wireless Facility requirements, please refer to the Office for Community Technology (OCT) website.
Wireless Communications Facility
“Wireless Communications Facility” means the equipment, and associated structures, needed to transmit and/or receive electromagnetic signals. A Wireless Communications Facility typically includes antennas, supporting structures, and equipment cabinets and may be attached to third-party utility or City-owned structures or poles in the public right-of-way.
Small Cell Examples
Above are examples of poles from other jurisdictions in the U.S. The metal poles on the left that show various configurations of small cell attachments. The photos on the right are of attachments on a wood utility pole.
The City of Portland has been proactive in establishing standards and requirements for size, volume, appearance and placement of small cell installations. For example, for structural reasons, as well as aesthetics and view impacts, “shrouding technology” must be used and there are size requirements dependent on the type of pole (metal vs. wood).
5G small cell technology is still in development and various attachment configurations will vary based on the carrier. The main component of 5G small cells are panel antennas. There are typically three panel antennas per site. Regardless of the differing configurations, PBOT has established size and weight parameters for 5G small cells.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not allow local authorities to deny public right-of-way small cell installations on the basis of concerns about radio frequency (RF) emissions if the facilities comply with FCC rules and standards. The FCC and American Cancer Society have information about RF safety on their websites:
- FCC: https://www.fcc.gov/engineering-technology/electromagnetic-compatibility-division/radio-frequency-safety/faq/rf-safety
- FCC: https://www.fcc.gov/general/oet-bulletins-line#65
- American Cancer Society: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/cellular-phone-towers.html
The Portland City Council recently passed a resolution that encouraged the FCC to complete a more thorough health and safety study regarding 5G frequencies.
Congressman Peter DeFazio has also sent a letter to the FCC urging a similar study
FCC limits to Local Authority:
The Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) order – effective January 2019 – related to the deployment of small wireless facilities. The FCC has imposed limitations on a city's ability to regulate the placement and construction of telecommunications towers and facilities.
Mayor Wheeler’s statement on FCC limiting local authority in 5G rollout. A memo from Mayor Wheeler and Commissioner Eudaly on 5G deployment can be viewed here.
Public Outreach and Notification:
Wireless carriers are required to provide public noticing of proposed small cell installations. The applicant will mail the notification to all properties and owners of properties within 200’ of the proposed site at least 3 days prior to the comment period. Comment period will be a minimum of two weeks and must occur prior to the construction. The notification will contain a deadline for comments, description of the installation, a map of the location labeled with street names, and before and after photo simulations of the site. The notification will include the name, direct telephone number, and email address of an applicant contact. For more information see the VI Program Admin Rules.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- Can the City of Portland prevent small cell facilities from being placed in the right-of-way?
- Can the City of Portland prohibit the installation of small cells due to RF emissions or other health concerns?
- Where can wireless carriers install small cells?
- Additional resources?
1. Can the City of Portland prevent small cell facilities from being placed in the public right-of-way?
No. Small cell facilities are allowed in the public right-of-way per federal and state laws, just like other utilities (electric, gas, water).
The City of Portland’s Vertical Infrastructure Program ensures that small cell facilities in the public right-of-way are placed in a way that minimizes their impacts within the areas that the City is allowed to regulate. All applications are evaluated per local telecommunications ordinances and administrative regulations.
For more information, please see the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) website.
2. Can the City of Portland prohibit the installation of small cells due to RF emissions or other health concerns?
Federal law prohibits jurisdictions from regulating facilities on the basis of concerns about radio frequency (RF) emission if the facilities comply with the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) Bulletin 65.
The Portland City Council passed a resolution that encouraged the FCC to complete a more thorough health and safety study regarding 5G frequencies.
3. Where can wireless carriers install small cells?
Wireless carriers will be able to install on both City-owned and third party (e.g. PGE, Pacific Power, etc.) poles across the City. The initial release of City poles will include certain streetlight poles, but not signal poles or ornamental poles. Carriers will need to comply with PBOT and City of Portland standards in order to be approved to begin installation. Additionally, small cells may be attached to structures on private property.
4. Additional Resources?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the FCC is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing law surrounding wireless communications facilities.
Private Wireless Telecommunications Carriers will be applying to install their wireless communications facilities in the City of Portland. For more information, please visit their individual sites.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation has adopted interim administrative rule TRN-10.44 - Vertical Infrastructure in the Public Right-of-Way that governs wireless communications facilities in the City of Portland.
The Office for Community Technology (OCT) is responsible for the franchise process for wireless carriers and regulating macro cell sites.
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