Small Cell Technology Frequently Asked Questions

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Small Cell Technology in the City of Newport Beach

Wireless data consumption has grown remarkably in the last few years, outpacing the capacity of current telecommunication infrastructure. Smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, the collective devices we use to live chat with friends and stream video and music have created an unprecedented wireless data demand. Small cell technology is being deployed around the country as the leading solution to meet soaring data usage and make coverage more reliable. Small cell technology will also help deploy future technologies like 5G, driverless cars, and other concept technology like the Internet of Things. To improve wireless signal strength in the community, the City is working closely with wireless carriers to deploy small cell technology on existing public infrastructure. The City is committed to ensure small cell proposals comply with all zoning and building code requirements and that the aesthetic integrity of the city of Newport Beach is preserved.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is small cell technology?

    Small cells contain limited telecommunication equipment like antennas and radios, and are primarily attached to existing infrastructure (public streetlights or utility poles). Wireless service providers often seek small cell solutions to help complement and amplify traditional wide-area macro cell coverage (cell towers). Because small cells are capable of transmitting a large amount of data at high speed over a small area, they are a solution to provide data capacity relief for densely populated areas as demand continues to surge.

  2. What is the function of the City in the small cell site proposals? 

    Wireless infrastructure siting is regulated by local, state, and federal law. As the local regulatory agency, the City’s role is to assess applications for permits to build new or alter existing wireless facilities and ensure sites adhere to responsible regulatory practices. Several examples of these standards reviewed by the City include safety, accessibility, environmental impact, land use, and aesthetics. When wireless infrastructure is sited on public property, the City’s responsibility as the property owner is working with wireless providers to authorize and access to public property and determine appropriate rent, typically through a license agreement.

  3. How does the City regulate small cell proposals?

    The local regulations governing small cell sites are codified by Newport Beach Municipal Code Chapter 20.49 (Wireless Telecommunications Facilities) and City Council Policy L-23 (The Siting of Wireless Telecommunication Equipment on City-Owned Property) and these following documents are part of each proposal and detail cell site development standards, zoning, permit processing, fee assessment, and suitable siting locations, among other implementation criteria and requirements:

    • City License Agreement
    • Minor Use Permit, Coastal Development Permit, or Determination
    • Encroachment Permit
  4. Is small cell technology safe?

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires telecommunication facilities to comply with radio frequency exposure guidelines. Compliance with these guidelines ensure exposure levels remain well below those generally believed to cause adverse health effects. For more information, please visit the FCC’s web page on Radio Frequency Safety. The City is not responsible for handling radio frequency exposure, but instead evaluates aesthetics.

  5. What is the City's obligation to allow small cell sites?

    Oversight of wireless siting is largely established from three federal laws:  (1) The Communications Act of 1934, (2) the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (Telecommunications Act) and (3) a provision of the Middle-Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 (Spectrum Act). Together, these laws aim to facilitate and stimulate wireless infrastructure development and restrict certain aspects of local authority in review and permitting of cell sites such as time limits, location/colocation, and fees. More recently, the Federal Communications Commission passed FCC-18-133 that further removes barriers to wireless infrastructure deployment and establishes “shot clocks” for processing small wireless facility applications at the local level.

  6. What is the timeline and process for a small cell site? 

    Federal law mandates a 60-day “shot clock” for small cell submittals on existing structures. The typical time frame for a small cell site project - from application submittal to permit issuance - is approximately three to six months, but ultimately hinges on a number of logistical factors. For the most up to date information on a specific planning application in the City of Newport Beach, please consult the Planning Case Log web page.

  7. Who will maintain the small cell sites? 

    While the public streetlights are owned and maintained by the City, the upkeep of the small cell sites is the responsibility of the wireless providers. If you have concerns regarding the operation of a cell site, please contact the carrier.

  8. What if I am having issues with my wireless coverage? 

    Please contact your wireless provider directly to address coverage concerns.

  9. Will I be notified if a small cell site is proposed near me? 

    In accordance with the Brown Act and City zoning code, cell sites requiring discretionary permits (such as use permits) are publicly noticed to property owners within 300 feet of the subject site, excluding public-rights-of-way and intervening waterways, ten days before the public hearing is to take place. For sites located in the coastal zone, as required by coastal development permit, occupants of residential properties will also be notified of the public hearing.

    Some wireless cell sites have been deemed necessary for the City’s emergency response services (Fire, Police, and Lifeguard, etc.) and will be approved by ministerial review (administratively, with no public hearing); however, even in these cases, wireless providers must notify nearby property owners of proposed small cell sites upon submittal of the application for a permit as part of the terms of their license agreement.

For more information about small cell technology, please contact:

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