Monday, the Cheyenne City Council passed one of the most important economic development and quality-of-life ordinance changes we have considered in some time.
That ordinance change was to our Unified Development Code, the body of laws that governs development in our city, to allow for new “smaller wireless communication facilities.” Extensive amendments to the UDC were necessary because at the time of code adoption, these new and smaller wireless facilities were not a known technology. The code was written for the large cellphone towers in use at the time.
So, what are these new facilities, and why is it so important for Cheyenne to update its laws and processes to allow for them?
These new and smaller facilities range in size from what we have defined in code as a “micro wireless facility” that is less than 24 inches in length, 15 inches in width and 12 inches in height to a “small wireless facility,” which could be a new standalone facility or as simple as an antenna extending above an existing structure, such as a street light.
All facilities go through a vetting process with our city staff, and must meet requirements set forth in the UDC related to size, design, aesthetics, engineering and placement. These smaller facilities do not have the same coverage power that traditional large cellphone towers do, but are used to augment the large cell tower network in areas of high wireless usage or poor coverage. They are utilized all over the country in urban areas, and provide new opportunities for wireless coverage in urban and rural areas.
We all know, anecdotally, that our dependence on wireless devices is increasing at a breakneck pace, and national data corroborates this. In discussions with our primary wireless carriers over the course of this project, I learned a lot about wireless telecommunications. One piece of data that really stood out to me was told by Verizon: according to the CTIA (national telecom association), more than 10 trillion MB of data was used in 2017 by all wireless customers in the country. That is equivalent to streaming 15 million Netflix movies each day.
That amount is up two-fold from 2015. The industry projects that by the end of 2019, the usage will go up seven-fold. There is simply no way for the providers to keep up with this data demand without new technologies such as small wireless facilities.
In addition to keeping up with existing data demands on the 4G network, the wireless providers need to be able to set up infrastructure in Cheyenne to eventually move us into a 5G network. The small wireless facilities are integral to that transition.
In a speech earlier this year related to a new federal wireless infrastructure improvement program, President Trump stated, “The race to 5G is a race America must win.” This sentiment is shared by Wyoming’s ENDOW committee, which stated in its “Transforming Wyoming: 20-Year Economic Diversification Strategy” report that the increasing demands of Wyoming industry “… require more consistent internet and cell service, yet much of Wyoming is underserved or unserved by reliable connectivity. Last-mile broadband connectivity and 5G cell service should be expanded to reach at least 95 % of the rural population …”
A first step in reaching this level of connectivity is ensuring that local governments are updating their regulations to allow for and encourage use of new technologies. Cheyenne is now a leader on this front.
One of the unique aspects of this project was the highly prescriptive role the federal government plays in regulating these facilities down to the local level. The FCC dictates to cities how long we have to review applications for small wireless facilities, what fees we can charge, what size facilities we can allow and what terms we can negotiate with providers. That level of federal involvement is rare in municipal development regulation.
As a result, we had to not only rely on our own city staff and outside counsel, but hire a national-level consultant versed in the nuances of federal law to get our code update done in compliance with federal law.
This is an exciting development for Cheyenne, one more step in a brighter future for our community. I want to take this opportunity to thank our city planning and development, attorney and engineering offices, outside counsel Davis & Cannon, national consultant River Oaks Communications, and our wireless and telecommunications providers in Cheyenne.
This was a lot of work, and was only accomplished because all of those parties, public and private, came to the table with a commitment to overcome obstacles to update our code to be compliant with federal and state laws.