Leaders in Aurora, Ill., Reluctantly Accept Loss of Small Cell Local Control

A recently passed state law gives telecommunications companies right-of-way when it comes to the installation of small cell antennas on public property.

by Steve Lord, The Beacon-News / July 19, 2018
Small cell antenna installations, similar to this one, are becoming increasingly popular in cities across the country. Shutterstock/kriang phromphim

(TNS) — Aurora officials are looking at a regulatory ordinance with little regulation.

The city council will consider an ordinance involving the permitting, regulation and development of small wireless facilities throughout the city.

But officials admit that because of a new state law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner earlier this year that took effect June 1, there is very little the city can do to regulate location of small wireless facilities.

The new ordinance “represents what we can do,” said Corporation Counsel Richard Veenstra, talking to aldermen during the Committee of the Whole meeting this week.

“There is not a lot of wiggle room,” he said.

The push in the General Assembly for the legislation, known as small cell regulation, has been going on for several years. Last year, a bill formed that usurped almost all local control over placement of the small cell technology, even though it will be in local, public rights-of-way.

Because of united and vocal opposition from local government, the Legislature and the telecommunications companies — primarily AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile — did negotiate a bill that allows local government to go through a permitting process.

“At the end of the day, we did get some concessions,” said Alex Alexandrou, Aurora’s chief management officer. “We are going to make the best of it.”

Small cell technology is the latest in wireless communication, the 5G network affecting basically smartphones and tablets.

Chicago was exempted from the new state law. Veenstra quipped this week that it means Aurora will be the largest city adopting a local ordinance — since it is the second largest city in the state.

The state law means in essence that telecommunications companies can locate their new facilities anywhere they want in public right-of-way.

Alexandrou said “the good news” is that AT&T and Verizon have indicated they would try to work with the city “despite the new law.”

“They really are looking to locate on existing poles,” he said.

He said AT&T came in with a preliminary list of possible locations, and there were 20 within the city’s 45 square miles. That was fewer locations than city officials anticipated, Alexandrou said.

But that was just a preliminary list, and other companies have yet to submit any proposals to the city, he said.

Veenstra stressed that the state law gives the companies the power to use current city poles, or put up new poles where they want in the public right-of-way.

Aldermen will discuss and consider the new ordinance at the regular city council meeting next week.

©2018 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.