The Rolla City Council adopted regulations relating to communications antennas and support structures along with preemption by or changes in federal or state law.

With the demand for bandwidth growing greatly, wireless carriers have found that microcells — which can be attached to objects within an urban area — are better for data coverage than the traditional macrocells in the form of towers, since there is less signal interference between the receiving unit and the cell, Rolla City Planner James Shields said. 

In order to facilitate the deployment of microcells, state and federal governments have enacted laws that will prevent localities from making it too difficult, timely or costly; however, local governments have been tasked with preventing that same technology from affecting neighborhood character and property values, Shields said. In anticipation of new small wireless technology, both the state and Congress pre-empted considerable local control.

Senate Bill 650 was signed into law by former Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in 2014, and House Bill 1991 was signed into law by former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens in 2018. SB 650 modified Missouri’s Uniform Wireless Communication Infrastructure Deployment Act – passed in 2013 – by repealing eight sections of the Act and enacting eight new sections related to wireless communications infrastructure deployment.

HB 1991 repealed sections 67.1830 and 67.1846 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, and enacted fourteen new sections regarding the deployment of wireless infrastructure facilities. The bill eases regulations to access public right-of-way to facilitate the deployment of the fifth generation ( 5G) of wireless and mobile broadband and specifically targets how localities regulate small cell technology that power these networks.

On Dec. 17, 2018, the Rolla City Council held the first reading on the first of two related ordinances that deal with the right-of-way regulations as they pertain to all utilities — particularly in view of small wireless and telecommunication services. The second ordinance’s public hearing and first reading on Jan. 22, 2019 dealt explicitly with zoning issues concerning small wireless services.

Both ordinances have been in development and review with Rolla Municipal Utilities as well as a special counsel, according to Shields, before the Rolla City Council passed the first ordinance that adopted a new right-of-way code.

Rolla City Administrator John Butz said that traditionally Rolla has been very right-of-way friendly to private utilities to support technology and to encourage private investment. The city also has long-standing franchises in effect with specific companies, and most utilities were placed underground, so there was less visible interference.

 “While everything had traditionally been underground except for Rolla Municipal Utilities and their pole attachment agreements, this next 5G provision is going to be much more visible, above ground, mounted to street lights, street poles and traffic poles,” Butz said. “We’ve been preempted in some regard from both state and federal regulations to make this sort of easier for telecommunications providers, so they are not subject to every city having their own arbitrary rules and regulations on the right-of-way.”

The city had expedited some local controls before deadlines were imposed by the passage of legislation that would remove considerable local control over the new wireless technology. Butz added that with the passage of the right-of-way management ordinance ten vital areas that were of concern are now addressed:

– The ordinance requires all right-of-way users to have either a franchise, right-of-way use agreement or license (requires “approval”).

– Applications for franchise or agreement require a city stipulated agreement and an application deposit of $500, capped.

– Right-of-way users are subject to city police powers on safety, building and zoning codes and are responsible for their facilities.

– The ordinance requires insurance, performance and maintenance bonds.

– While right-of-way users are permitted by state and federal law in public space the city ultimately decides how and where those facilities go, with limitations.

– Users are required to place equipment underground or co-located where feasible.

– If wireless facilities are placed on city poles or structures the user is assessed at $150 per year, capped by law. Rolla Municipal Utilities retains more discretion on their poles or structures and are not capped at $150 per year, subject to pole attachment agreements.

– All users are to provide digital mapping of their facilities.

– There are considerable permit requirements imposed, but the review, denial or acceptance is capped at sixty days (complete application).

– There are detailed excavation requirements including safety, restoration and traffic control. A notification plan is required by all users.

Both Rolla’s Community Development Department and Engineering Department will coordinate the management and enforcement of the new right-of-way code.

The second ordinance the Rolla City Council passed on Feb. 4, 2019 inserts Division 22 – Wireless Communications Facilities Code into Rolla’s zoning code.

The new division is a response to recent legislation that will preempt specific zoning authority over small cell deployment and certain utility poles, except for those areas zoned R-1 – the zoning of about 58 percent of right-of-way last August is associated with these preemptions, according to Shields.

The Wireless Communications Facilities Code satisfies both HB 1991’s requirement for cities to adopt an ordinance or develop an agreement that makes available to wireless providers rates, fees and other terms that comply, Shields said. The Wireless Communications Facilities Code also regulates the placement, construction and modification of wireless infrastructure facilities.

Shields added that the public purpose of the regulations under the insertion of Division 22 is to preserve the character, aesthetics and property values of the city.

The Wireless Communications Facilities Code final passage ensures any installation or modification of any wireless facility conforms to the Rolla Planning and Zoning Code, Shields said. Depending on the type of proposal, the proposal will fall into one of three categories – permitted use, administrative review or conditional use permit.

Rolla Municipal Utilities was agreeable to the proposed changes, and the revisions maintained equal treatment of telecommunication providers, Shields said.